Celebrating its 26th year in 2015, the Alliance Française French Film Festival is a highly anticipated and extremely popular event on the Australian cultural calendar.

It is not only the biggest film festival in Australia; it is also the biggest festival of French films outside of France. Over a period of eight weeks, a program consisting of blockbusters and independent films alike will screen at palace cinemas in eight cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Perth and Hobart. The festival also includes glamorous opening nights, Q&As and special events with renowned figures of French film.

The opening night film is Gemma Bovery, a comedy based on the popular graphic novel by illustrator Posy Simmonds (the similarly themed Tamara Drewe). It stars Gemma Arterton (who also starred in Tamara Drewe), Fabrice Luchini and Jason Flemyng. The closing night film is the popular 2006 anthology Paris Je Taime.

The festival screens in Sydney from March 3-22; Melbourne from March 4-22; Adelaide from March 5-24; Canberra from March 6-25; Brisbane from March 13-April 1; Perth from March 19-April 7; Byron Bay from April 9-14; and Hobart from April 16-21.

Check the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival website or Palace cinemas website for details.


last updated March 9.


A nice coming of age drama, The Last Hammer Blow deals with many familiar themes of the genre, including adolescent angst, first crushes, family problems, identity, insecurity and fears about the future, but is remarkably subtle and unsentimental.

The Last Hammer Blow centres around soccer mad 14-year-old Victor (played by appealing newcomer Romain Paul), who is facing a number of issues. Victor is uncertain about his future. His mother (Clotilde Hesme) is dying of cancer, and her treatment is not going well. They have fallen on hard times financially and live in a rundown trailer park near the sea. Victor trains to be part of a soccer team, but fears that he is not good enough to be selected for an elite academy, despite the praise of his coach (Farid Bandali), who seems to take a paternal interest in the boy.

And then the father he barely knew returns. Samuel Rovinski (played by Gregory Gadebois) is a renowned orchestra conductor who has briefly returned to the region to conduct a local orchestra as they prepare to play Mahler’s 6th symphony. Victor tries to reconnect with his father, but Samuel initially rebuffs the boy. But slowly they bond as Samuel softens his gruff attitude tries to establish a relationship through music.

It is driven by the superb performance from newcomer Paul, who is virtually on screen the whole time and carries the film on his shoulders. He captures Victor’s sense of frustration, hurt, confusion and anger. Luckily he is an appealing and charismatic youngster, who also looks a little like a young River Phoenix. He delivers a largely internal performance in which his expression reveals very little about his complicated feelings or anxiety. Hesme brings a painful vulnerability and awkward quality to her role as Victor’s mother, while Gadebois is also quite good as the initially gruff and reserved father.

This is the second feature film from director Alix Delaporte following the romantic drama Angela & Tony (which also featured Hesme), and she handles the material with compassion, sensitivity and restraint. The action is accompanied by some beautiful classical music on the soundtrack which adds to the film’s tone. And it looks good too courtesy the superb widescreen cinematography from Claire Mathon (Stranger By The Lake, etc)

The title comes from a device Mahler used in his symphony – he used percussive drum beats to represent fate knocking – and this becomes a metaphor for the role that fate plays in determining Victor’s future. As Victor discovers, life can be tragic, but it can also be beautiful and rewarding. A little gem, and a nice companion piece to The Good Life, another superb French coming of age film that travelled the festival circuit last year.


The wonderful, upbeat and life affirming comedy drama The Intouchables, about the relationship between a paraplegic and his carer from the wrong side of the tracks, was one of my favourite films from 2011. And it seems that the rest of the world loved it too, as it grossed over $440 million. However, the follow up film from directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, which also looks at an unusual friendship, is nowhere near as crowd pleasing nor as accessible. Samba is a cross cultural romantic drama with a dark edge, as it also explores the plight of refugees in detention and illegal immigrants in France, a theme that will resonate strongly with local audiences here in Australia. Samba balances politics with some broad humour, but somehow it is not as engaging as the pair’s previous film.

The film reunites the directors with their The Intouchables star Omar Sy, who plays the eponymous Samba. He is a refugee from the African nation of Senegal who has lived in France for over a decade, working as a kitchen hand, and living in the small and cramped apartment he shares with his uncle Lamouna (Youngar Fall). But after he is arrested and detained by authorities he faces deportation. He meets with immigration lawyer Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a novice intern on her first day of the job. The inexperienced Alice ignores her colleague’s advice not to give out her phone number to clients as it can only lead to trouble. And soon Alice is drawn into a complicated romantic relationship with Samba.

The charismatic Sy brings a combination of anger, frustration, humour and compassion to his performance in a role written specially for him. Gainsbourg is also quite appealing with a more introspective performance as the naive and shy lawyer drawn towards Samba’s wild nature, and it’s nice to see her doing something a bit more lightweight after her recent emotionally draining films for Lars Von Trier. But the standout character in the film comes from Tahar Rahim, from A Prophet, etc, who brings plenty of energy and humour to his scene stealing performance as Wilson, a Brazilian refugee who befriends Samba and helps him land some menial jobs while he tries to avoid being deported. He enlivens the screen every time he appears, but he inextricably goes missing for much of the last half hour or so, and his absence is noticed.



The French seem to churn out these romantic comedies about sex and relationships at will, but they sometimes seem to follow a predictable formula. So it is with Sex, Love & Therapy (aka The Missionaries, in some territories). Lambert (played by Patrick Bruel, from What’s In A Name?, etc) is a marriage counsellor and recovering sex addict who has been abstinent for nearly a year. When his colleague has to suddenly return home to Israel to look after her sick mother, Lambert looks around for a new assistant. Through a chain of circumstances he comes to hire sex addict Judith (Sophie Marceau, from Happiness Never Comes Alone, etc), who has recently been fired from her previous job as an international sales director for a large corporation for having sex with the clients. She dresses provocatively in colourful, tight body hugging outfits that “explode when she moves,” as Lambert notes.

Sparks fly between the two as they argue, but ironically it turns out that Judith instinctively knows more about therapeutic practices and has a great sense of compassion and empathy for their diverse range of clients. The pair deal with the fallout from the battlefield of love everyday, and they begin to flirt despite their reservations, and the relationship between the two becomes more complicated as it seems to move away from the purely professional to something more personal. Can Lambert put romance ahead of sex? Can Judith curb her primal lust?

But anyone who has seen a number of these lightweight romantic comedies will be able to guess where this one is headed within about twenty minutes of their first fiery exchange. The script from writer/director Tonie Marshall (Venus Beauty, etc) occasionally lets fly with some sparks, and there are some great one-liners and zingers. There is some sexually provocative discussion here, but it is played mainly for laughs, and there is little real insight. The script is laden with some leaden double entendres that lose something in the translation.

There is unfortunately a lack of palpable chemistry between the two mismatched leads. Bruel is not your conventional handsome romantic lead, but he does have lots of charisma, and he uses his frustrated demeanour and expressive face well. Marceau has an alluring and sexy presence which is put to good use here as the man-eating Judith. She has displayed an affinity for light comedy in the past, and again she acquits herself well.

Like most French comedies though, it is short and sharp, and doesn’t outstay its welcome with unnecessary padding. The animated title sequences are also quite nice, and set the tone for this cheeky but familiar romantic comedy. Marshall maintains a light touch throughout, but ultimately Sex, Love & Therapy offers little that we haven’t seen before.


In the gritty 1971 film The French Connection, William Friedkin gave us an almost documentary like thriller depicting one of the largest drug smuggling busts in history. It starred Gene Hackman as a maverick New York cop who tracked a massive heroin smuggling ring and became obsessed with capturing the operation’s kingpin. This French thriller, which has been inspired by real events, views the heroin smuggling operations from the French perspective, and can be seen as a companion piece to Friedkin’s film.

The film is set in Marseille, which was the home of the lucrative heroin smuggling operation, and by the mid 70s crime and corruption was out of control in the beautiful Mediterranean resort city and gang wars had erupted amongst various gangs for control of the smuggling operations.

The newly appointed magistrate Pierre Michel (played by Oscar winner Jean Dujardin, from The Artist, etc) was determined to stop the drug smugglers, and bent every rule in the book to try and destroy the smuggling ring. In particular he became obsessed with bringing down the enigmatic Zampa (Gilles Lellouche, from Little White Lies, etc), the head of the operation. It was an obsession that took a heavy personal toll on him and his family. Michel butted heads with the bureaucracy and the justice system. Meanwhile, Zampa also grew paranoid, and driven to try and maintain his collapsing empire.

Director Cedric Jiminez grew up in Marseille in the 70s, and has wanted to make this film about the drug wars and crime wave for a long time. Jiminez hails from a background as a documentary filmmaker, and he uses this background to shape The Connection. Jiminez tries to emulate Friedkin’s hard hitting and realistic approach, and his use of handheld cameras lends the material an immediacy. Jiminez also captures the look and feel of the 70s, and the soundtrack is liberally peppered with Blondie, Kim Wilde, etc, which also adds to the mood and period authenticity. Cinematographer Lauren Tangy has shot on 35mm, giving the film the look and feel of a 70s movie.

The pacing and detail of this exploration of the criminal underbelly of Marseille and the complex and morally murky world of the drug trade is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese. However, the film unfolds in leisurely fashion; it seems a little too long with a running time of 135 minutes, and the pace occasionally flags.


A rather dreary mix of comedy and drama. Antoine (Lambert Wilson, from Of Gods And Men, etc) is a 50 year old man who is part of a close knit group of friends who he met at business college, and their wives hang out together. But then he suffers a mild heart attack, which forces him to reassess his life and priorities. He gives up the pressures of work and tries to enjoy a stress free life. He organises for his friends, who are all experiencing their own personal problems, to go on a holiday at a luxurious villa in a picturesque valley in the south of France. But that is when the cracks in the long time friendships begin to show as all of Antoine’s friends are undergoing their own midlife crises. Baptiste (Franck Dubosc) and the high strung Olivia (Florence Foresti) have separated and they continue their feuding during the vacation, while Laurent (Lionel Abelanski) is facing business difficulties. Yves (Guillaume de Tonquedec) is a neurotic fussbucket who doesn’t like to take chances. And the simple minded mechanic Jean-Michel (Jerome Commandeur) becomes the butt of many cruel jokes and put downs. The two week vacation is tainted by petty jealousies, adultery, secrets and lies, and the concerns of middle aged men undergoing midlife crises. Barbecue is the latest film from writer/director Eric Lavaine (Incognito, etc) and it offers up some gentle observations about the nature of friendships and relationships. Lavaine maintains an unhurried pace throughout. While Barbecue is billed as a comedy, it is such a dreary and dull film and there are precious few laugh out loud moments here. And the neat happy ending seems overly contrived. There is plenty of wine, food and conversation throughout this barbecue, but it amounts to very little overall.


Based on a novella written by the prolific crime writer Georges Simenon, creator of Maigret, this erotic psychological thriller depicts the aftermath of a torrid love affair gone wrong. It deals with themes of passion, obsession, betrayal, lust, memory, recollections, and explores how different people can recall events differently. Successful businessman Julien Gahyde (played by Mathieu Amalric) is married, but he has an affair with Esther (Stephanie Cleau, from Park Benches), the wife of a local pharmacist. Esther is an old school friend of Julien’s, but they lost touch for quite some time. When they reconnect, almost by accident, their passion is reignited and they conduct an illicit affair. Much of the film unfolds in a series of extended flashback sequences as Julien is questioned by the police over two deaths. But Amalric, who also adapted the screenplay along with co-star Cleau, takes a more oblique approach to the material and he provides no easy answers as to the nature of the crime committed or indeed who is guilty. Probably best known for playing the villain in the disappointing Bond film Quantum Of Solace, Amalric takes over the directorial reins for this film. But he adopts a rather unconventional approach to the material that is disorienting and unsettling, letting the film unfold in a fractured narrative. Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne works in close up at times, which becomes oppressive, but he also employs some unusual compositions that add to the unsettling nature of the material. Francois Gedigier’s editing also enhances the ambiguous mood and tone, as does Gregoire Hetzel’s ominous piano driven score. Amalric also uses plenty of symbolism throughout the film – drops of blood, blue and red colours, even bees – which adds to the opaque nature of the drama and the motivations of the two central characters. The film runs for only 75 minutes, but even so it’s languid pace and Amalric’s unusual directorial choices will frustrate many who prefer their crime dramas more clean cut and wrapped up in satisfactory fashion.

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