The French Film Festival UK is now in its 19th year, and as such has come to impose itself as a dominating feature on the Scottish cultural landscape. Founded in Edinburgh, it now covers most towns in Scotland as well as London and other English cities. Surprisingly, it is funded mostly privately or by French public bodies – including the Consulate in Edinburgh and the Alliance Française in Glasgow, and receives next to nothing from the British side. This is a shame, but we should nonetheless be thankful for the possibility of a yearly foray into the relatively obscure, sometimes strange world of francophone cinema. The public has also responded en masse this year with large audiences.
This year’s events include Daniel Auteuil’s directorial debut, The Well Digger’s Daughter, which received its UK premiere at the festival, and appearances in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow by Christophe Honoré introducing his latest film, The Beloved. The programme is suitably eclectic, with screenings ranging from the animated film A Cat in Paris to classics of French cinema, notably a Claude Chabrol retrospective at the Institut Français in Edinburgh. Also included are a plethora of new or recent films, both the more successful ones (Romantics Anonymous, The Conquest, Service Entrance…) and those which even a French audience will not necessarily have had the chance to see. Indeed, it seems to be one of the Festival’s objectives to promote independent cinema and courts-métrages (short films).
Hence the pairing last Friday night of Robert Mitchum Is Dead with Le plein d’aventures, a pleasant 22-minute film by the Belgian director Dominique Reding. Not that the main feature of the evening was particularly well-known. Robert Mitchum Is Dead does not have a star-studded cast, or the backing of multi-millionaire producers: it is a low-budget, Franco-Polish coproduction. The story is simple: Pablo Nicomedes is Franky, a failed actor and insomniac, who embarks against his will on a fantastic odyssey through Alsace, Poland and Norway with his impulsive, alcoholic manager Arsène. The result is a delightfully quirky road-movie in the style of Jim Jarmusch, but with a distinictive European feel.
This is what the festival is all about: bringing to British cinemas a sample of that French and European culture which is so often filtered out of mainstream distribution, and demonstrating that there is a wealth of great cinema beyond Hollywood.