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Steyn du Toit
OVER the past couple of months, French artists of all disciplines have infiltrated our stages via this year’s French Season.
This festive menu comprises a wide range of more than 70 different projects, performances and initiatives: it is both a showcase of the numerous links existing between France and SA, and an opportunity to reinforce a wide range of existing collaborations.
And whether it was entertaining audiences at the recent National Arts Festival in Grahamstown with productions such as !Aïa or Pudique Acide/Extasis, or showcasing the work of internationally celebrated French illustrator and artist Jacques de Loustal via his ongoing countrywide road trip, the French certainly leave their cultural mark wherever they go.
According to the curator of this week’s French Film Festival, Nicolas Duyard, from the French Institute of SA, the goal is to improve mutual understanding.
“For several years, France has been engaged in a series of reciprocal seasons with its key international partners, including China, Japan, India, and Brazil.
“With our partnership with South Africa this year, however, this is the first time we are teaming up with a sub-Saharan country.
“Our goal is to improve mutual understanding and contribute to the diversification of France’s image in South Africa – and South Africa’s image in France by emphasising the modernity and values that the two countries share,” says Duyard.
This will be the second French Film Festival in SA, following on from its debut last year.
“The big difference with this year’s festival is that it is now part of the official French Season in South Africa. Apart from a few technical and admin issues, we managed to integrate the two very well,” he says.
“We kept the same basic festival format, with minor improvements: examples of this would be the fact that all our films will be screened in a professional digital or related film format, as well as an increased number of screenings. By showing films several times, and in more cities, we hope more people will have access to them.”
Outside festivals such as this, Duyard explains, it is generally difficult for French film fans to see quality films locally.
“Theatres have a tendency to screen blockbusters, or what we call commercial films. Unfortunately French films tend not to fall into this category and although there is a demand for this kind of film, it is still difficult to get access to them in this country.”
The film festival line-up offers 10 films, including several recent offerings, to be shown from today until Sunday at the V&A Waterfront Cinema Nouveau. According to Duyard, this year’s programme includes a medley of films for all tastes and moods, as well as the presence of specially imported French guest stars at glamour opening screenings. The important French cinema figure, Benoit Jacquot, will also be in attendance.
“Several of our films were chosen based on the fact that they were made by renowned French directors, such as Les adieux à la reine (Farewell my queen), Les bien-aimés (Beloved), La guerre est déclaree (Declaration of War).
“Others were selected because they have been widely hailed by critics, such as Angèle et Tony (Angel & Tony), Americano and Poulet aux prunes (Chicken with Plums).”
Duyard and his team also opted to include a film by SA film-maker Ramadan Suleman. Zulu Love Letter’s cast includes Sophie Mgcina, Kurt Egelhof and Mpumi Malatsi.
The plot explores the complexities of political and personal reconciliation in post-apartheid SA.
Suleman will also participate in some of the festival’s debates and master classes.
The film festival will include a retrospective on French film-maker Claire Denis, whose work has strong links with the African continent.
“Claire is one of France’s most cherished film-makers. She spent most of her childhood in Africa, and therefore her movies have a strong link with her past experience.
“After screening one of her films, White Material, at last year’s festival, we decided to do a retrospective this year.
“This will allow the South African audience to go more deeply into her universe, her approach of cinema, and her characters.
“The films that we will be showing are Beau Travail, L’Intrus (The Intruder) and 35 Rums (35 Shots of Rum).”
l For programme information, see www.fff.org.za To book, see www.sterkinekor.com