There’s just something about French cinema: the ability to be so hauntingly naturalistic – setting the precedence for tremendously compelling dramas such as La Haine and A Prophet; or to be so whimsical, experimental and alluring – with contemporary features like Amélie standing out. It’s a film industry that has always been one of the most prominent and influential in world cinema too, spawning films such as Les Enfants du Paradis or La Grande Illusion, and inspiring, venerable filmmakers ranging from Cocteau to Renoir; from Tati to Truffaut to Godard.
In 2012, French cinema enjoyed it’s biggest box-office success in Britain for a decade, with attendances going up on the previous year by 157%. That might sound like a surprising statistic, but given the sheer wealth of remarkable films to come from France that year, it completely makes sense. The likes of Academy Award winning The Artist, as well as the Palme d’Or winner Amour, or even Untouchable and Rust and Bone.
So how does 2015 fair in comparison? Of course it’s too early to know exactly, but it’s fair to say that the industry remains in a good place – and Flickreel can give you the low-down on the very best French cinema has to offer this year.
One of the names not mentioned in the above list – but wholly deserving to be amongst such names – is Alain Resnais, and the late filmmaker’s very final project Life of Riley was released to the British public in March, following its showing at the Berlin Film Festival the previous year. Based on an Alan Ayckbourn stage play, Resnais manages to maintain the pomposity and prude sensibilities of English people, but with an injection of whimsical farcicality.
One of the stars – Hippolyte Girardot – has passed his talents over to his daughter too, as Ana appears opposite Guillaume Canet in the dark, captivating drama of a serial killer Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart. Canet is of course married to major French star Marion Cotillard, who was nominated at the Oscars for her turn in Two Days, One Night – one of last year’s very best offerings.
Another Academy Award nominee was the emotive, heartbreaking documentary The Salt of the Earth, focusing in on the life of revered photographer Sebastiao Salgado – which is co-directed by the subject’s very own son, alongside Wim Wenders. Then of course you also have the excellent melodrama Elle L’Adore, starring Sandrine Kiberlain – a satirical, witty farce that is grounded by a harrowing narrative.
On the other end of the spectrum, comes the effervescent, playful endeavour Lou! starring Ludivine Sagnier in a film that she can actually show her kids for once; while Adele Haenel turns in her career best to date in Love at First Fight – a performance which had earned her a César award for Best Actress. The level of talent amongst young French performers is most evident in Girlhood, marking the debut performance for Karidja Touré – which you won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
Former Palme d’Or winner Laurent Cantet, the director of The Class, also returns with his latest, Cuban-set drama Return to Ithaca – which all takes place across one night on the roof of a high-rise building in Havana, as an old group of friends reunite. While there are also new offerings from Mia Hansen-Love, presenting Eden, and Benoit Jacquot’s 3 Hearts, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The Nymphomaniac star can also be seen in Samba – the latest production for directing duo Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, the men behind the unforgettable comedy Untouchable. Once again Omar Sy takes the leading role, in another film that survives off that same, affable spirit, and ability to combine drama with pathos.
Another of the most eagerly anticipated productions is the latest Francois Ozon, casting French superstar Romain Duris in the lead for The New Girlfriend, of a widowed husband who finds himself wearing his late wife’s clothes, remaining faithful to that droll wit that makes the auteur’s work so special. Other big name stars appearing in films coming out this year are Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche in Cedric Jimenez’s thriller The Connection.
It’s not just French stars illuminating the screen either, as big, Hollywood stars are making the move to France to shoot movies. Be it Gemma Arterton – who shines opposite the great Fabrice Luchini in Anne Fontaine’s Gemma Bovery, or even Kristen Stewart – who appears alongside Juliette Binoche in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria.
So there truly is something for everyone this year – and the best part of all, is that the films mentioned in this piece merely represent those currently with a UK distributor. There are still so many hidden gems out there from this wonderful nation that are yet to be picked up, but given the public’s yearning to immerse themselves in French cinema, needless to say there are bound to be a few additions to those already mentioned, and there are few things more exciting in cinema than the unknown.