Star power ensures event shines even brighter

Juliette Binoche’s attendance at the French Film Festival in Dublin is a major coup for the IFI, writes Padraic Killeen

THE 13th annual French Film Festival begins on Thursday with a screening of Michael Haneke’s Amour, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Other films showing on the 12-day programme at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin include Atomic Age, the much-vaunted debut of Héléna Klotz, which won prizes at Cannes and Berlin; veteran Alan Resnais’ You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet; and Farewell, My Queen, the latest from prolific director Benoit Jacquot, about the last days of Marie-Antoinette’s court.

Jacquot will attend, as will the wonderful Juliette Binoche at the screening of her new film, Another Woman’s Life. The actress’s guest appearance is a coup for the film festival.

The festival’s programmer, Marie-Pierre Richard, believes Binoche will bring a special glamour to the event. “It’s fantastic,” Richard says. “Juliette Binoche is a huge star with a great international profile.”

Binoche is famous for her Academy Award-winning performance in The English Patient and her turn in the romantic drama Chocolat. Cinema lovers will know her as one of the finest actresses of the past 25 years.

Her career has encapsulated so many different facets of French cinema, from her early work in the poetic-punk films of Leos Carax, to her turns in crossover international fare, like Chocolat, to her sensational performances in two of the great masterpieces of our times, Three Colours Blue and Caché (Hidden).

“In the early days, I remember seeing Juliette Binoche in the Carax films Mauvais Sang and The Lovers on the Bridge, and also in The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” says Richard.

“She was this beautiful girl delivering these amazing roles. She is one of these actresses that always seem to be young and vibrant. There is a sense of eternal youth about her.”

This latter quality prompted director Sylvie Testud to cast Binoche in Another Woman’s Life. The film hinges on a woman who wakes up one morning with the belief that she is 10 years younger, and at the beginning of a romance rather than at its end.

Richard has been director of the IFI’s French Film Festival for the past few years, but her involvement dates to 1996 when, having moved here from France, she worked on the original festival in Dublin’s famous Screen cinema. Having worked in film distribution in Paris, specifically in the area of classic French cinema, Richard is well-qualified to programme a festival dedicated to the cinema of her native land.

What distinguishes French cinema is that it’s a self-sufficient industry, says Richard.

“It produces over 200 films every year,” she says. “So people aren’t really looking at making films for the box office. There are not a lot of special effects.

“There is a tradition of story, great dialogue and characters. That dominates, and you can see it in the films we’re programming,” says Richard.

One of the strands at this year’s festival is a celebration of Les Films du Losange, the independent production company set up by Eric Rohmer and Barbet Schroeder in 1962 at the dawn of the French New Wave.

The continuing vitality and influence of Les Films du Losange in France is evident in that it is the company behind Amour, the most eagerly anticipated film on this year’s programme. Haneke’s film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as an elderly couple whose love for one another is tested by the increasing mental decline of Riva’s character.

“It’s just an extraordinary film,” says Richard, who caught Amour when it won the Palme d’Or in Cannes.

“The direction, the performance and the editing are all so controlled. It reaches a level that you very seldom see in cinema. There have been comparisons to the films of Ingmar Bergman, and you can see why. There are very few films like this.”

If Amour is a film about the endurance and the challenge of love, it is also, in part, a love letter to the legacy of the French New Wave. “The film starts with the camera following them on a bus through Paris and, straight away, it’s like a jump to the days of the New Wave. You have Trintignant, the star of My Night with Maud, and Riva, the star of Hiroshima Mon Amour, and they have the same voices and you recognise them straight away. It’s fantastic that Haneke did that. It’s a lovely little treat.”

One of many such treats in the festival.

* The French Film Festival runs at the IFI Nov 14-25

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