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The French Touch At The Miami Film Festival
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Friday, March 7---------Films from France have traditionally been among the strongest and most loved at the Miami International Film Festival. Not only does Miami have within its borders a large French expatriate community, but immigrants from French-speaking Africa and the Americas round out the French language contingent in this multi-cultural town. Even for those not fluent in “la langue,” French cinema has been the most popular non-English film product for more than 70 years in the United States. Look in your newspaper, and there is sure to be at least one French film playing at the local art multiplex.
For the Miami International Film Festival, the French touch (referred to in French as “le gout”) has been the event’s commitment to cinema as one of the arts. In fact, in France, cinema is routinely referred to as “the seventh art,” on a par with painting, sculpture, architecture, writing, music and dance. This philosophy has certainly been a cornerstone of the Festival in its past quarter century, and it is no surprise that the last two Festival Directors, Nicole Guillemet and Patrick de Bokay, are French citizens who see film as a critical cultural and educational art form that demands attention and support.
For the public, there is the reveling in the French language, atmosphere and gastronomy that pervades the French films in this year’s program. In fact, the year’s most critically praised French film, and the winner of three Cesar Awards (the French Oscar) including the top prize for Best Film, will screen today as a U.S. Premiere. THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN (LE GRAINE ET LE MULET) was a surprise winner for Best Film (up against considerable competition from the animation memoir PERSEPOLIS and the critically lauded THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY). However, this drama mixes all the French elements…family drama, social issues and many scenes of characters sitting down to eat amidst lively conversation. The film, directed by Abdel Kechiche, centers on an interconnected group of first-and-second generation immigrants from northern Africa who live in a decaying port town in southern France. To watch the film is not only to appreciate the intriguing mix of French and Arabic communities, but also to participate in the current dialogue of how to define contemporary French culture.
Other French films in the program have also intrigued Miami audiences. In director Christine Carriere’s DARLING (which has its final screening tomorrow night) a woman, unloved and mistreated as a child, wants to escape from her boring existence, but her choice of partner turns out to be even more of a disaster. Marina Fois, who was nominated for a Best Actress Cesar Award, gives a wonderfully rich performance as a woman who attempts to change her circumstances through sheer act of will.
Olivier Assayas has a reputation as one of the “bad boys” of French cinema. This designation comes from his freewheeling style and his lack of hesitation to deal in the arenas of sex and violence. In his newest film BOARDING GATE (which had its U.S. Premiere here last evening) sex, guns and money fuel an erotic thriller that stars Italian cult actress Asia Argento and Quentin Tarantino protégé Michael Madsen. The film had a scandalous opening at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and soon became one of the most buzzed about film on the Croisette. It will open in theaters next month via Magnet Films.
Oscar-winning French actress Juliette Binoche brought her enigmatic presence to the Israeli/French co-production DISENGAGEMENT, directed by Israel’s most honored filmmaker Amos Gitai. Family secrets surface when the Binoche character and her half-brother reunite in France after years of separation. The film, which also stars French legend Jeanne Moreau, is a meditation on national and personal identity and the strong bonds of family and community pride.
In the French/U.K. co-production MY ENEMY’S ENEMY, director Kevin MacDonald trains his documentary eye on the notorious war criminal Klaus Barbie, known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for his brutal treatment of Jews and political dissidents during the darkest days of World War II. The film offers an unsparking look at the contradictory nature of wartime politics and Barbie’s long years of escaping prosecution by serving the Allies in their fight against their greater post-war enemy: Russia. The film offers yet another perspective of the Holocaust and a piece of French history that still remains a taboo subject of discussion.
With French-born Patrick de Bokay now firmly at the Festival helm, we can expect not only a greater contingent of strong French films to grace the Festival in the future, but also that special “French touch”, a commitment to the moving image as this century’s most important and prolific art form.
Sandy Mandelberger, Daily Wrap Editor
The Bulletin Board
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