One of the challenges of covering a film festival is finding a unifying theme. Sure, most of the films here are recent and French, but even this does not hold true for all of them. Some are from 2009, and there is one from Chad and another from Canada. So far, I have found that many films star either Diane Kruger or a small dog. Other than that, of roughly half of the festival films I’ve seen, most seem to focus on upper middle class people fallen on hard times. Perhaps this is no coincidence, since this is probably the first French film festival to include films entirely conceived after the economic crash of 2008.
The opening film is the much-hyped silent film ‘The Artist,’ probably the first such big budget film to be made since Mel Brooks’ ‘Silent Movie’ in 1976, which was the first one to be made since the late ‘20s. ‘The Artist’ is set in Hollywood during the end of an era and is, in fact, as much fun as they say it is. The story is reminiscent of ‘Singing In The Rain,’ about an actor who has problems adjusting to talkies. On top of this, he also loses his life savings in the stock market crash of 1929, and the story does a good job of actually making you care about people who make bad investments. There is also a lot of Hollywood trivia, and the sets provide a stunning period piece.
WAR AT HOME AND ABROAD
The other much anticipated film of the festival is ‘La Guerre Est Déclarée’ (“Declaration Of War”), which is not a war movie, but instead about a young couple from a wealthy family that loses everything when their newborn child has to undergo prolonged radiation therapy. The film starts where most love stories end, the young couple (called Romeo and Juliet, of course) are quickly whisked through their dating period before the troubles begin. The story is based on real life experiences and the couple in question write, direct and star themselves. It’s hard not to empathise, but the story of Romeo, Juliet and their terminally ill baby might not be everyone’s idea of a great date flick.
Unlike the aforementioned film, ‘Forces Spéciales’ is in fact a war movie, set in modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Diane Kruger is a journalist, reminiscent of Norwegian war correspondent Åsne Seierstad, who is captured by the Taliban and has to be rescued by the Special Forces of the title. If you don’t mind cartoonish villains and the gung-ho machismo of the French elite soldiers, the film works well for what it is.
DIANE KRUGER IN THE DARK AGES
Diane Kruger shows up again in ‘The Dark Ages’ (also known as ‘Age of Ignorance And Days Of Darkness’), which is Denys Arcand’s follow-up to the wonderful ‘Barbarian Invasions’ from 2003 and ‘The Decline of the American Empire’ from 1986. Sadly, this is the only Québécoise contribution to the festival this year and it was realeased in 2007 and has been available on rentals for years. That said, the film is a mildly amusing story of a man who learns to outgrow his fictional girlfriends, but it is lightweight compared to its illustrious predecessors. If Arcand continues his naming scheme, his next film should be called ‘The Renaissance.’ Can’t wait.
‘Le Refuge’ is again about a couple of rich parentage who lose everything, this time because of drug addiction. He dies of an overdose, she survives, finds herself pregnant and leaves Paris to recover. Slow moving, but the scenery is lovely.
THE GIRL WHO LOVED JESUS TOO MUCH
Slow moving too is ‘Hadewijch,’ about a nun who is too devout for the convent and is sent back into the world. There she hooks up with a group of Islamic radicals. The film explores a range of themes, including the sexuality of a young girl in love with Christ as well as the connection between all religious fundamentalists, but doesn’t really do any of them justice. Nor does it answer why her parents (again, on the wealthy side) don’t seem to worry very much when she goes with her new friends to a conflict zone. In fact, the idea of liberal parents and religious teenagers is better dealt with in the Stieg Larson thriller ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.’
As always, the French Film Festival features considerable variety, and it is gratifying to see the festival blossom. It has become a staple on the Reykjavík cinema scene, providing some much needed relief from standard Hollywood fare while we wait for the next RIFF festival.
All films are shown with English subtitles, apart from ‘Forces Spéciales,’ ‘La Guerre Est Declare’ and ‘The Artist,’ but in the last case, this probably won’t matter much.
The film festival runs until February 9. See schedule here.