21 May 2024

Preview: 2024 French Film Festival Aotearoa

From Widescreen, 1:56 pm on 21 May 2024

The annual French Film Festival goes from strength to strength. Dan Slevin samples a selection from this year’s programme.

Still from the 2023 French film Lucky Winners (Heureux gagnants)


There are 24 feature films in this year’s French Film Festival and all of them come to us with a record of domestic commercial success. One wonders whether this means that the French Film Festival has mopped up all the crowd-pleasers, leaving the more challenging or difficult films for the NZIFF later in the year. Time will tell, but any audience member wanting to enjoy some recent French hits should find something suitable in this year’s programme.

The organisers put on a preview screening for the media at the programme launch a few weeks ago and I’m sorry to report that Lucky Winners (Heureux gagnants) – a cynical anthology comedy did not align remotely with my tastes but the rest of the audience seemed to find it a hoot. Just my bad luck, I guess.

In any case, I was offered a chance to preview some other titles in the programme so – as I like to do – I picked a few at random.

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan (Les trois mousquetaires : D'Artagnan)

Still from the 2023 epic French film The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan, the first of a two-part adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel


The first cinematic adaptation of The Three Musketeers appeared back in 1903, barely 60 years after the publication of Alexandre Dumas’ novel and it has been a staple of the big screen ever since. There have been dozens of films inspired by the story – faithful, unfaithful, fanciful – but as long as France still has plenty of chateaux and chapeaux the Musketeers will continue to buckle their swashes on to our screens.

The latest version is a two-part, star-studded affair that was the second most expensive production in France last year.

Ambitious young D’Artagnan (François Civil) travels from Gascony to Paris to join the royal Musketeers, Louis XIII’s personal army. The capital is a city consumed by intrigue. Catholic France is under threat from Protestant insurgents, but King Louis XIII (Louis Garrel) wishes to avoid war.

There are spies everywhere and no one can be trusted, least of all the King’s top advisor, the fiendishly manipulative Cardinal Richelieu (Éric Ruf).

In a famous scene, D’Artagnan inadvertently finds himself fighting a duel with three different musketeers: Athos (Vincent Cassel), Porthos (Pio Marmaï) and Aramis (Romain Duris) until they are interrupted by a bigger enemy – Richelieu’s men.

This version of the famous story does a good job of honouring the fictional adventures of these (mostly) real people while grounding them in a gritty, historically accurate context. Although, allowances are made for modern gender expectations and the women characters (Vicky Krieps as Anne of Austria, wife of the King, Lyna Khoudri as Contance, her maid, and Eva Green as Milady, the mysterious super spy) all get more agency than they have in the past.

D'Artagnan is thoroughly enjoyable up until the end when – if you don’t already have tickets to the second film – you will be frustrated by the cliffhanger ending.

The President’s Wife (Bernadette)

Still from the 2023 French comedy The President's Wife

Photo: laurent champoussin

Palace intrigue is also a theme of The President’s Wife, a vehicle for the indomitable Catherine Deneuve, an actor who now owns the description ‘legend’.

She plays Bernadette Chirac, wife to French politician Jacques (Michel Vuillermoz), who finds her loyalty tested when he ascends to the presidency in 1995 and she is sidelined as a “first lady” instead of an independent and assertive woman with political ambitions of her own.

Her attempts to transcend the role of presidential spouse bring her into conflict with her husband’s old fashioned political advisors but are not nearly as damaging as his own romantic dalliances away from home (as it were).

It’s quite something to see a comedy about political leaders that were in power so recently – Chirac was only ousted from the presidency by Sarkozy in 2007 – and it would appear that French audiences have a healthy scepticism about those who would lead them.

But in a New Zealand context this is like watching a comedy about Joan and Jim Bolger, in which the prime minister is a bit of a bumbler, driven by polls, led by his handlers, socially inept and not all that hard a worker.

Hold on a minute, I have an idea …

The Crime is Mine (Mon crime)

Still from the 2023 french film comedy The Crime Is Mine, directed by François Ozon

Photo: carole bethuel

There are at least three crimes in The Crime Is Mine, including the one at the centre of the film’s plot (which I will come to later).

The biggest is committed by Isabelle Huppert about halfway through where she waltzes into the movie from nowhere and proceeds to make off with it single-handed. It’s a bravura performance that the film has needed up to that point and she makes it look like that kind of larceny is simply no big deal.

There’s another crime committed by the French Film Festival website which fails to mention that The Crime Is Mine is the latest film by François Ozon, auteur of 8 Women (2002), Swimming Pool (2003) and By the Grace of God (2018). Surely there must be some fans of the French Film Festival who would see his name and automatically jump online to secure a ticket?

The new film is lighter than his recent dramatic efforts, an amusing mash-up of Chicago and Sunset Boulevard in which Madeleine (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), an out-of-work actress, is accused of the murder of a wealthy theatre producer and decides – with the connivance of her flatmate/lawyer, Pauline (Rebecca Marder) – to take responsibility for it but claim she was only protecting her virtue.

Once acquitted, Madeleine becomes notorious and her career takes off, leading to fame and considerable fortune. Then the real murderer arrives on the scene wanting a cut of the profits.

At times quite delicious, everyone involved is hamming it up – especially Fabrice Luchini as the investigating judge – and the 1930s setting is a treat for the eyes. I would have liked it to move a bit faster but there’s still a lot to enjoy, especially Mme Huppert who shows us how it’s done.

This year’s French Film Festival opens on 29 May in Auckland and then plays in 17 more centres during the period 30 May to 3 July. Details of the films playing closest to you (and when) can be found at the official website.