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

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

Jonathan Romney

The new film from an established director…

The Image Book (Le Livre d’image)

The Image Book (2018)

What’s it about?

‘What’s it about?’ doesn’t really apply with Jean-Luc Godard. This fragmented essay-doc is ‘about’ images and language, the histories of film, literature and painting, the Holocaust, the Middle East… but it’s also about the textures, energies and radical potential of pictures in combination with word and sound. And, naturally, about the singular mind of its creator. 

Who made it?

Now 87, Godard continues to expand the possibilities of visual communication in a way that’s as radical as any direction he explored in his days as a pioneer of the French New Wave. Nearly 60 years after Breathless, he continues to be one of the most provocative and innovative creators around.

What’s special about it?

The Image Book isn’t easy viewing by any means: it’s a meditation in sight, sound, text and blazing colour that’s intractably hardcore even by the standards of Godard’s own recent work. It mobilises a dizzying flash storm of spoken and on-screen texts, film and TV clips, artworks et al to create the impression of a suggestive discourse about the contemporary condition – although the meaning of that discourse is to be read strictly between the lines and the images.

It’s as stimulating – no, electrifying – as anything in moving image art today. 

See this if you like…

Godard’s recent work, notably Film socialisme and 3D experiment Goodbye to Language – and before that, his pioneering series Histoire(s) du cinéma.

The breakthrough…

School’s Out (L’Heure de la sortie)

School's Out (2018)

What’s it about?

Laurent Lafitte – from Paul Verhoeven’s Elle – plays Pierre Hoffman, who signs on as replacement teacher at a prestigious private school, following the suicide of a staff member. The pupils prove formidably intelligent, and strangely hostile, as the intrepid newcomer tries to uncover their secrets.

Who made it?

This is second feature from writer-director Sébastien Marnier – following 2016 thriller Irréprochable. Along with star Lafitte – also familiar from Marion Vernoux’s Fanny Ardant starrer Bright Days Ahead – it features director-turned-actor Emmanuelle Bercot (also in the LFF acting in Girls of the Sun), French cinema stalwart Pascal Greggory and a terrific cast of young up-and-comers. 

What’s special about it?

At once psychological thriller and a portrait of a generation, this is an ingenious drama with disturbing psychological twists, a wonderfully devious sense of character and a keen connection to the anxieties of an era seemingly dancing on the verge of apocalypse.

There’s a long history of films about children and young people with mysterious, even uncanny knowledge of the real ways of the world, such as The Innocents and Village of the Damned. This is a sophisticated update on that cycle, with a superbly unexpected payoff.  

See this if you like…

TV’s French supernatural series The Returned, and They Came Back, the Robin Campillo film that inspired it; Paul Schrader’s First Reformed; Michael Haneke’s Hidden.

The wild card…

I Feel Good

I Feel Good (2017)

What’s it about?

A clueless chancer decides that he’s going to get rich quick by offering cheap and cheerful cosmetic surgery. He enlists his big-hearted, socially conscious sister for his first nip-and-tuck package tour to Bulgaria, with the proverbial hilarious – and politically provocative – results. 

Who made it?

Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern made their name as TV pranksters on various French satirical series, then took to the big screen with films such as Aaltra, Louise-Michel and Gérard Depardieu starrer Mammuth. Here they’re teamed with regular collaborator Yolande Moreau and The Artist’s Jean Dujardin. 

What’s special about it?

The writer-directors have staked out their own distinctive terrain – a singularly spiky, surreal and sometimes poetic brand of comic anarchism that, more often than not, has a potent political bite.

This is one of their more joyous and knockabout films, and it also displays their tenderness for social outsiders and all forms of human eccentricity. It’s partly a tribute to France’s Emmaüs centres, where homeless people get involved in recycling used goods, and features a cast of real-life Emmaüs residents (and sometimes their musical skills) to vibrant effect. 

See this if you like…

Aki Kaurismäki; Spike Milligan; the French comedies of veteran clown Pierre Etaix or, more recently, of cult director Quentin Dupieux.

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  • BFI London Film Festival

    BFI London Film Festival

    A big thank you to all our Members who supported this year’s Festival, which welcomed over 600 filmmakers from all over the world to London.

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