Three to see at LFF if you like... French films

Jonathan Romney recommends three hot tickets at this year’s BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut, and a wild card.

Jonathan Romney
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The new film from an established director…

Nocturama

Nocturama (2016)

Nocturama (2016)

What’s it about?

A group of young people go on a mission around Paris, planning an apocalypse that will bring the city to a standstill. Then, overnight, they hole up in a department store, waiting for their moment of truth.

Who made it?

Bertrand Bonello is one of French cinema’s leading provocateurs, the director of films including The Pornographer (2001), House of Tolerance (2011) and Saint Laurent (2014). Here he works with a terrific young cast, with unknowns alongside leading young names Finnegan Oldfield and Adèle Haenel.

What’s special about it?

Nocturama has all the elegance and gloss of a tightly-coiled political thriller à la Costa-Gavras, especially in the opening sequence, as the characters cross paths on the Paris subway and streets. Then it enters a coolly satirical stretch when they settle in for a night in the department store, surrounded by luxury brands. But this is also a highly provocative contemplation of terrorism, materialism and corrupted idealism that, in view of recent events in France, could be seen either as highly contentious or as more directly tuned to the current political climate than most other French cinema. Either way, this brilliantly directed film is not to be missed.

The breakthrough…

Mimosas

Mimosas (2016)

Mimosas (2016)

What’s it about?

A young, possibly mad storyteller is entrusted with escorting an elderly sheikh and his retinue across the North African desert, but encounters many obstacles en route to a surprising and enigmatic outcome.

Who made it?

Morocco-based Spanish director Oliver Laxe previously made You Are All Captains (2010), about children in Tangiers – Mimosas lead Shakib Ben Omar also appeared in that film. If some images in Mimosas seem familiar, that’s because this was the film-within-a-film glimpsed in British artist/filmmaker Ben Rivers’ recent The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid…, in which Laxe played the lead.

What’s special about it?

Laxe has described Mimosas – a quest narrative influenced by the tradition of Sufi storytelling – as being about faith rather than religion. It is partly a consummate figures-in-a-landscape study, with characters – and their mules – often merging into the vastness of a varied, but usually profoundly inhospitable landscape. But it is also an ethnographic study, a homage to the Arabic art of story, and a fabulous study of individuals, with Laxe showing an unerring eye for faces that tell a story – including Ben Omar, who has a mesmerising otherworldly presence, with his candid features, intense gaze and eccentric delivery.

The wild card…

Lost in Paris

Lost in Paris (2016)

Lost in Paris (2016)

What’s it about?

Fiona, a naive Canadian librarian, leaves her snowbound home on a rescue mission to Paris, where she must search for her long-lost aunt. There she teams up with homeless Dom, to wonderfully balletic comic effect, as the dizzy sight gags cascade deliciously.

Who made it?

Comic acting and directing duo Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel are one of the best-kept secrets of European cinema – creators of their own distinct comic style in films such as The Fairy (co-directed with Bruno Romy), which combine their love of Keaton-esque silent-era film comedy and their own uniquely gawky, elastic physical prowess as clowns.

What’s special about it?

Lost in Paris is at once, as the title suggests, a love letter to Paris; an exquisitely oddball romcom; and an exuberant display of comic invention, as Gordon and Abel use their inimitable body language to transform the recognisable world around them into something quite different, with the whole city becoming their plaything.

Joining in the fun are veteran French comic Pierre Richard and acting legend Emmanuelle Riva – from Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012) and Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour (1959) – who lets her hair down to join in some goofily dizzy gags. Look for the love-in-a-tent sequence, and the scene in which a bateau-mouche restaurant is set shaking to some dancefloor bass lines. Heady as champagne quaffed on the Pont Neuf.

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