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A French film feast on your home screen

French Film Festival @ifihome; Wednesday until November 22

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Emmanuelle Béart

Emmanuelle Béart

Gerard Depardieu and Michel Houellebecq

Gerard Depardieu and Michel Houellebecq

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Emmanuelle Béart

For 21 years, the IFI has been running its hugely popular French Film Festival. It's something I have attended for many of those years - and while I will have to pass up my tradition of enjoying dinner in the cafe before a screening, one of the benefits of lockdown is that this year, the festival is online and so it is available to audiences outside Dublin.

Everything gets under way this Wednesday, November 11 and runs until Sunday November 22. The festival features its customary broad selection, while this year's retrospective is of pioneering filmmaker Jean Grémillon. There will be screenings of his films The Woman Who Dared (Le Ciel est à vous) a lovely, uplifting film, especially given its creation and release in the France of 1944, and Stormy Waters (Remorques), the 1941 maritime epic.

The festival opens, however, with more modern fare, Emmanuel Courcol's comedy The Big Hit, which also opened the special three-day Cannes Film Festival event to great acclaim. Inspired by true events, it revolves around an infrequently employed actor (Kad Merad) who teaches drama in prison, working with convicts to stage a production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

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Gerard Depardieu and Michel Houellebecq

Gerard Depardieu and Michel Houellebecq

Gerard Depardieu and Michel Houellebecq

 

Other comedy screenings include Sophie Letourneur's award-winning Enormous and a couple of romance and dating-flavoured films. À l'abordage (All Hands on Deck) is about a young man who goes in search of a girl he's just met while Éric Lartigeau's #IAmHere sees Alain Chabat travelling to Seoul to encounter a woman he met online.

Two very powerful but different dramas are Red Soil and Lola. The former is about a father and daughter who react very differently to a cover-up at the chemical factory where they both work, and the latter is a Belgian film about a father trying to build a relationship with his estranged transgender daughter.

The issue of corporate responsibility teased out in Red Soil is approached from a different angle - redundancy - in Those Who Work. Also worth noting is Emmanuelle Béart's comeback in the moving drama Margaux Hartmann, about a woman in her 50s who faces being alone for the first time. It's the sort of thing the French do so well.

There's more family drama, this time about long-buried family secrets in Mehdi Barsouai's A Son, while if you've been missing Gerard Depardieu, you can catch him chatting to literary provocateur Michel Houellebecq in a health spa in Thalasso.

There are also documentaries and animations, so there's something there pour tout le monde.

Áine O'Connor

Video of the Day

See ifihome.ie; tickets €7.50

 

The Life Ahead

Netflix From Friday

There is a joy in seeing Sophia Loren in her first starring role in 16 years. Loren's wonderful face and presence imbue this simple, emotional story with a depth that it might not otherwise have had. Directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti, the camera looks lovingly at its leading lady, who, along with her young co-star, create a relationship around which the film revolves.

In the southern Italian city of Bari, Holocaust survivor Madame Rosa (Loren) unofficially fosters prostitutes' children. When she is mugged in the street, she is at first reluctant when asked to take in the perpetrator, 12-year-old Senegalese orphan Momo (Ibrahima Gueye). However, she relents and their relationship forms the heart of the story. Momo, already tempted by street life, needs love and help, but so too will Madame Rosa.

The film is based on Romain Gary's novel The Life Before Us and it was made into a better, harder-hitting film in 1977. This version touches on immigration, religion, crime and dementia but does not go deep. There are other characters and events but it is Momo and Madame Rosa who create the beating heart. And, because those leads are so good, and one of them is Sophia Loren, this is a lovely, beautiful-looking and shamelessly emotional story.

★★★ Áine O'Connor

 

Looted

UK Cert 15; Curzon Home Cinema

When he's not looking after his bedridden father, Rob (Charley Palmer Rothwell) is helping best pal Leo (Thomas Turgoose of This is England fame) steal cars. Apart from these things and getting off his face with Leo and Leo's girlfriend Kasia (Morgane Polanski, daughter of Roman), there isn't a whole lot more to Rob's life in his depressed English port town.

Inside him, however, are glimmers of a better person if he can just break away from everything. Any redemption is put in jeopardy, though, when Leo coerces him into doing a job beyond their usual remit.

London-based Dutch filmmaker Rene Pannevis draws on his own life for this coming-of-age crime saga, and there is no doubting the authenticity of the characters and motivations with which he fills the story. Rothwell and the excellent Turgoose make for credible foils, and illustrate the informal hierarchy that can exist in criminal pairings.

What is less appealing about Looted is its tendency to slump into grinding melodrama. This becomes overheated in the finale, as things play out just as you predicted.

★★★ HIlary A White

 

Lucky Grandma

VOD From tomorrow

It's a great week for seeing different views of life through cinema. The comedy Lucky Grandma, for example, is set in the Chinese-American community of New York with the added interest that its protagonist, as the title suggests, is an elderly woman. It's good fun.

Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) visits her fortune teller who tells her she is about to have the most extraordinary luck. The gruff, chain-smoking lady interprets this advice to mean she should withdraw her life savings and head to a casino in Atlantic City. The money she comes back with, however, belongs to one of the Chinese triads and when they send goons to take it back, Grandma hires protection from a rival triad in the form of bodyguard Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha).

Sasie Sealy directs the screenplay she co-wrote with Angela Cheng to deliver a comedy with cultural insights. It rises and falls, comic scenes subside into lulls that can at times feel like the drama is running out of steam, but Tsai Chin is great as the grumpy granny who fears nothing except losing her independence or those she loves.

★★★ Áine O'Connor

 

Luxor UK

Cert 12; Curzon Home Cinema

Having taken leave, Hana (Andrea Riseborough), a warzone medic, arrives to the eponymous Egyptian city to recharge the batteries. She knows the place well because she had lived there previously as an archaeological worker. She bumps into old flame Sultan (Karim Saleh), an archaeology graduate who now works on one of the many digs around the city. As they spend time together, the gap in years and experience between the pair narrows and a tentative reconnection becomes apparent. Hana, however, is still spiritually at sea, and she must repair her traumatised soul if she is to make good on a second chance with Sultan.

Riseborough is at times astonishing in her front-and-centre role, achieving an almost translucent quality in her bereft character. Writer-director Zeina Durra, meanwhile, finds rare textures and patterns in this quietly aching drama about the conversations we can have with the past and what it can tell us about where we are in our lives. So richly in tune is she with the setting and its history that Durra manages to embed this exotic backdrop into the human narrative with remarkable delicacy. The result is at once bemusing and meditative, and recalls the spacious potency of the great Joanna Hogg. A perfect exotic balm for these times.

★★★★★ Hilary A White


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