Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Few countries can boast a film industry as prolific, diverse and identifiable as France. Each year when the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival rolls around, you can be assured of a rich slate of films that have won international prizes and become box office champs in and outside of France.
Now in its 24th year, the festival is a well-oiled machine, and with over 126,000 patrons last year, as popular as ever. Screening at Palace Cinemas around the country throughout March and April, it's a great chance to see films before their official release or, in many cases, possibly the only chance you'll get to see them at all.
The line-up always seems to have an accent on crowd-pleasing comedies, whether they lean towards the romantic, dramatic or flat out rib-ticklers. That's not to say there aren't also some historical dramas, documentaries and children's films on offer. And of course it wouldn't be a French film festival without a few navel-gazing, angst-ridden relationship talkfests.
The schedule is broken up into headings which verify the genres above: Should We Laugh?, Love Is All Around, Women Stories, Bring Your Kids, Beyond Fiction, Back In The Past, and a few others.
The Opening night film is Haute Cuisine, and has all the ingredients you'd expect to pull in the crowds: it's a light comedy about food, featuring a strong female protagonist played by one of France's grande dames, Catherine Frot, and has been a huge home-grown hit.
Interestingly, the closing night film is the 1945 Les Enfants Du Paradis. To say this film is a classic is an understatement. Regularly appearing in critics' lists of one of the greatest films of all time, it is a landmark in cinema history - an epic love story that dazzles the eye and captures the heart. This is a rare chance to see the masterpiece on the big screen.
Elsewhere, there is an impressive slate that includes many of the current Cesar (French Oscar) nominees. These include Camille Rewinds, a French variation on Peggy Sue Got Married about a woman who goes back in time and has the chance to set her life on a different course. A huge hit in France, the film has scored the most Cesar nominations, even more than Best Film Oscar nominee Amour.
Other films that have garnered Cesar nominations for best film include Farewell, My Queen, starring Diane Kruger as Marie Antionette - a critical and commercial success around the world, and In The House, which sees iconoclastic director Francois Ozon back in the kind of provocative form that brought us Sitcom and Swimming Pool.
Diane Kruger also stars in Fly Me To The Moon. Co-starring Danny Boon (star and creator of the phenomenal success Welcome to the Sticks) this is director Pascal Chaumeil's follow up to Heartbreakers, and is another high-concept romantic comedy with a pair of charismatic leads.
Even more of a success across Europe is What's In a Name? Known as Le Prenom at home, this is that rare comedy which has crossed borders and been a hit outside its native country.
A couple of films that screened at MIFF 2012 are in the line-up. The excellent (though disturbing) Our Children and the much praised Sister. Sex change dramedy Laurence Anyways, which recently had a run at ACMI, is also featured and is notable for many reasons, but foremost is the fact that precocious writer director Xavier Dolan is one of the rising stars of world cinema.
The sole animated film on offer is Ernest & Celestine, although one could argue that live action Asterix and Obelix in Britain is the most cartoonish film screening.
Documentaries include Field of Enchantment, from the makers of Microcosmos and Genesis, and featuring the same incredible wildlife cinematography as its predecessors. Another doco, Journal de France is a must for fans of photojournalism.
Of particular note for historians is Renoir, depicting the lives of both famous artist Claude Renoir, and his son, the legendary filmmaker Jean.
As usual, there's a lot to choose from, and two and a half weeks doesn't seem like anywhere near enough time to see it all. So if you speak French, are learning French, or are just a fan of good cinema, there are plenty of reasons to check out the programme. Book your tickets early though, plenty of sessions sell out well in advance.