WHEN the French Film Festival started back in the early 1990s, French movies weren’t quite the regular fixture they’ve since become in British cinemas – nor were film festivals, the number of which seems to have grown exponentially over the last two decades.
But if the latter phenomenon has created more competition, this year’s FFF has responded by displaying its maturity. As it comes of age on its 21st birthday, not only has it secured a raft of enticing premieres and guest appearances befitting its well-established reputation, it is also sharing films with newer events, such as this week’s Inverness Film Festival.
It’s all appropriately egalitarian for a festival that has always striven to lift French cinema out of the arthouse ghetto in order to bring it to as wide an audience as possible. With screenings taking place in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Kirkcaldy and Bo’ness, as well as London and Warwick, festival director Richard Mowe and his team have certainly curated a programme that will provide audiences across the country an opportunity to sample at least a soupçon of great French cinema over the next month.
They’ve also scored a coup by securing the British premiere of Sylvain Chomet’s live action debut, Attila Marcel. Best known for his animation hits Belleville Rendezvous and the Edinburgh-set The Illusionist, the director – who is also the festival’s patron – will attend the Edinburgh, Glasgow and London premieres of the film, which promises to be as lively and inventive as his animated work. Other notable guests include Jean-Pierre Jeunet regular Yolanda Moreau, who will be in Edinburgh to introduce and discuss her second film as a writer/director, Henri.
There’s also a chance to catch the first two parts of veteran actor Daniel Auteuil’s adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s Marius-Fanny-César trilogy – and an there’s an opportunity too to preview the closing instalment of Cédric Klapisch’s Pot Luck trilogy, Chinese Puzzle, which, after 2002’s Pot Luck and 2004’s Russian Dolls, reunites Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly and Cécile de France to catch up on how their characters’ lives have turned out (think Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight films re-imagined by Richard Curtis). Rather more intriguing is the latest from François Ozon, Jeune & Jolie, and Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915, which stars Juliette Binoche as the tragic sculptor driven mad by her affair with Rodin. And for those hooked on French TV drama The Returned, there’s a special cult screening of the 2004 film of the same name that inspired it.
lThe 21st French Film Festival runs from Thursday until 7 December, www.frenchfilmfestival.org.uk Follow Alistair Harkness on Twitter at @aliharkness