With the upcoming French Film Festival taking place in the IFI this November, Conor Barry takes a waltz through some of the better French entries
The French certainly know how to make films, which should come as no surprise as they invented the whole thing in the first place. In celebration of the upcoming IFI French Film Festival, otwo takes a look at some of the films that should be watched to whet your French cinema appetite.
With Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s latest film appearing as part of the Film Festival it only seems right to take a look back at his most loved work, Amelie. Probably the most watched French film by people who aren’t actually French, it’s a strange mixture of a stock love story and a magical Disney film. Set in the type of Paris we’d like to think exists, but clearly doesn’t, we follow the mild adventures of Amelie, a naïve waitress who falls in love with a mysterious stranger with whom she plays games in an attempt to make him fall in love with her.
As well as the film just being ridiculously cute (she’s like a real life doll!) it’s actually a very touching and well made piece of cinema, complimented perfectly by an amazing soundtrack by Yann Tiersen. If this film doesn’t make you feel all warm inside it’s because you actually have no soul.
Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)
A bizarre film all round. In short, the film is an animation about a man who fulfils his childhood aspiration of cycling in the Tour de France, only to be kidnapped midway through by the French Mafia, forcing his grandmother and pet dog on a rescue mission to release him. You know, the usual.
Completely dialogue free, the film lets its retro animation style do the talking, a style that is as anti-Disney as possible. This point is consciously hammered home at one stage when we see a Mickey Mouse head shaped turd floating in a toilet bowel. Not exactly subtle but it raises smile. And it is more than refreshing to have a cartoon that’s not patronising yet completely family friendly. This is inoffensive but genre redefining stuff that is definitely worth a watch.
Allegedly the most walked-out-of movie in the year of its releaase, after the first couple minutes it’s easy to see where the shock came from. Irreversible bluntly opens with a man storming into a gay club and beating another man to death with a fire extinguisher. No explanation; just graphic violence. We then see the film unfold backwards showing us what happened leading up to this event. Needless to say, it’s not exactly pretty either.
While it may sound like unnecessary ultra-violence, it is more accurately described as a finely crafted and thoroughly involving thriller which stars the seemingly infallible Vincent Cassel. You can’t help but be drawn into the film by the moody atmosphere with the strangely dreamlike camerawork and the hard, realistic dialogue (well, obviously some weren’t drawn in since they walked out of the film, but they were probably pansies). If you can manage a little bit of ultra-violence, you’re in for one of the most rewarding films in recent French history.
Bande à part (1964)
You know when you think of a stereotypical super-cool Frenchman, you imagine a well-attired gent with a cigarette always in mouth, and rarely speaking? This film is the epitome of that stereotype: it simply oozes cool. In fact, Quentin Tarantino was so taken with the film that he took it as the name for his production company and, in a lot of ways, recreated the tone in Pulp Fiction.
The plot very loosely follows two men as they try and persuade a young girl to assist them with a burglary. In fairness though, the plot isn’t as important as the style, crafted by director Jean-Luc Godard. At one point three main characters spend a full four minutes doing the same dance over and over in a small French café. It is a credit to Godard that this one of the most memorable scenes in cinema. Bande à part champions the impressive trophy of making the mundane shockingly slick.
Hopefully this wide spectrum of some of French cinemas best will provide you with a taster of what they’ve got to offer. Obviously I’m leaving out classics such as Les Quatre Cents Coups and Cool Runnings but this selection should more than get you in the mood for the IFI’s upcoming festival.
The IFI French Film Festival runs from 19th-29th November. Information on schedules and pricing at www.ifi.ie