Top Ten Club: French Film Festival by Dove Alarcon and Andrew Gunn for Product Magazine, 2014


Six features chosen by Dove Alarcon (Marketing and Publicity)

La Cour de Babel (School of Babel), dir. Julie Bertuccelli

At a secondary school in Paris’s tenth arrondissement there is a ‘reception class’, where students between the ages of 11 and 15 are taught their first lessons in French. Some of these immigrant children, newly arrived, know a few phrases in the language of their adopted country; others can’t speak a word. Their families have come from across the globe, from Ireland, Senegal, Morocco, Brazil and China, fleeing persecution or just looking for a fresh start.

Shot over a year, this observational documentary by Julie Bertuccelli (Since Otar Left, The Tree) is a kind of non-fiction counterpart to Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or-winning The Class, staying within the confines of the school, recording the children’s candid and heated discussions, and the interactions between parents and teachers. The result is illuminating and extremely touching, a multifaceted look at the French melting pot, its frustrations and its hopes for the future.

9 mois ferme (9 Month Stretch), dir. Albert Dupontel

Actor-writer-director Dupontel’s follow-up to The Villain (2009) is a crowd-pleasing comedy with great visuals and a dark, unapologetically cartoonish sense of humour. Sandrine Kiberlain (The Women on the 6th Floor) plays an uptight, ambitious, defiantly single judge who gets dragged to a New Year party and ends up pregnant with no idea how it happened or who’s responsible. While Dupontel punctures the pomposities of the French legal system, Kiberlain takes a lump out of her leery colleague’s head with a golf club (to obtain his DNA, of course). Unwholesome fun.

De Toutes nos forces (The Finishers), dir. Nils Tavernier

Wearing its heart on its sweatband, this comedy-drama follows a father and wheelchair-bound son as they join forces to compete in the gruelling Ironman Triathlon: 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and a marathon. Unemployed Paul (Jacques Gamblin) whiles away the hours at his local bar in Southern France, avoiding his overbearing wife and teenage son Julien (newcomer Fabien Héraud). Julien will stop at nothing to persuade Paul to sign them up for the Ironman contest. Finally Paul relents – and the race is on to the Rocky-style finish.

Gazelles (Les Gazelles), dir. Mona Achache

Achache’s first feature since the multi-award winning The Hedgehog (2009), this romcom is inspired by Camille Chamoux’s one-woman show Camille Attaque. Chamoux plays 30 year-old Marie, readjusting to single life after splitting from her long-term boyfriend. Her mother (Josiane Balasko from The Hedgehog) doesn’t approve of her separation and worries about how she’ll pay her mortgage. But Marie finds support from single mother Sandra (Audrey Fleurot from Untouchable and TV hit Spiral) and party girl Judith (Josephine de Meaux), and slowly starts to like her looser, freewheeling way of life. 

Weekends (Weekends in Normandy), dir. Anne Villacèque

A simple misunderstanding in a car park, and the lives of two couples are changed forever. Anne Villacèque’s third feature follows four friends of 30 years who spend their weekends in neighbouring country houses in Normandy. When one couple’s relationship crumbles, the other pair start to question their own lives. Writer-director Villacèque has created a darkly funny film about the two constants in life, love and fear, by focussing on the ‘almost nothings’ and trivialities of everyday life. 

La Vie domestique (Domestic Life), dir. Isabelle Czajka

The wonderful Emmanuelle Devos (Read My Lips, Kings and Queen) delivers another commanding performance as a dissatisfied mother trying to balance family and career aspirations. Czajka’s critical but sympathetic film unspools over 24 hours in the suburbs. It’s an immersive satire and a mesmerising skewering of the middle-class foibles, with a brilliant female cast whose fascinating characters are immensely likeable despite their many flaws. A must-see.

Four shorts chosen by Andrew Gunn (Marketing and Short Film Programme)

Les Chiens (The Dogs), dir. Angèle Chiodo

A vagabond Père Noël pilfers Christmas decorations: the perfect prologue to this offbeat walk in the woods. Maud Roulet and Slimane Yefsah let their dogs off the leash; their sharply written dialogue reveals a little about human-canine relationships and a lot about men and women. Grainy cinematography and inventive lighting create a thick atmosphere, and the film moves from naturalism to magical realism in the space of a striking stop-motion sequence. It’s also very, very funny.

Rétention (Undocumented), dir. Thomas Kruithof

Immigration continually redefines Europe: it’s arguably the most important subject of our times. Kruithof and co-writer Alice Bougenot find a tense personal drama within the bureaucracy of deportation—humanity as a loophole in the system. Similarly, the camera glides through the metal and brick geometry of the detention centre for sans papiers and closes in on harried rights worker Anne Azoulay as she races to save Miglen Mirtchev from expulsion.

Argile (Clay), dir. Michaël Guerraz

The weathered hands of blind sculptress Edith Scob (Holy Motors) unnerve young model Laurent Delbecque, and Guerraz’s film has the same sure, impressible grip. Scob and Delbecque make a terrific duet, working from a tight, melancholy script by Guerraz and Olivier Dreux. Guerraz plays with the tension of human contact, and the mood is thickened by Sylvain Rodriguez’s sly, waxy cinematography.

T’étais où quand Michael Jackson est mort? (Where Were You When Michael Jackson Died?), dir. Jean-Baptiste Pouilloux

A comic misunderstanding on a Parisian street leads to an engaging and revealing micro-affair, beautifully underplayed by Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds) and Élodie Navarre (Love Me If You Dare). Pouilloux’s first film as writer/director has a casual, winning confidence and the after-hours urban encounter is all too brief: like the couple, you want more. My favourite short of the programme.

Originally published by Product Magazine, 7 November 2014.