Hong Kong French Film Festival

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As the Hong Kong French Film Festival returns, the event’s film consultant Aurelien Dirler tells Ben Sin about his six highlights of the showcase’s 42nd instalment

Though most of Hong Kong’s cultural ties are to England and China, our prestigious cinematic history has a lot in common with the French – especially when our most famous crime films, with their dark humour, violence, and cynical themes, feature heavy elements of film noir – whose love of cinema is legendary. As a matter of fact, the French are credited with holding the first ever film screening in Hong Kong when the Lumière brothers brought their ‘Cinématographe’ device, which functioned as the camera, projector and printer, to City Hall in 1897. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that, in the Hong Kong French Film Festival (also known as the French Cinepanorama) – which enters its 42nd year – the French have the longest running film festival here.

Aurelien Dirler, film consultant of the festival, has worked as a film curator for the French Consulate in Hong Kong and film festivals in his native land, and spent many months building this year’s HKFFF lineup. He believes every festival’s film programme should be personal. “I want people who see these films to know that we made choices with these selections, it’s not just the biggest films with the biggest names. These films mean something to every one of us working at the French Cinepanorama.” 

With 105 screenings of 57 films, including the Asia premiere of French hits such as Guillaume Nicloux’s The Nun and Eric Rochant’s Mobius, this year’s festival should continue to build the bond between French cinema and Hong Kong’s film lovers. To help you sort through the huge lineup, Dirler has provided his six personal highlights of this year’s festival… 

Blue is the Warmest Colour

“This film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. I watched it there, and there was absolutely no doubt in everyone’s mind that the film would win the big prize. I’m actually not a big fan of this director, but this film is amazing. Yes, the characters are lesbian, but it’s also a film about life that resonates with everyone. The director is coming to Hong Kong.”

Les Apaches

“This is the debut of a young director, Thierry de Peretti, who used to direct theatre. And you can see that here, the mise en scène (‘visual theme’) is beautiful. This story is set in Corsica, a French island that’s often romanticised in films as either being full of gangsters or being super exotic. The director is from Corsica, and he sets out to smash every stereotype and cliché about the island. It’s a drama about five teenagers who are on
the run after stealing, and how tension builds as their trust for
each other erodes.”

Games of Cloud and Rain

“I had the opportunity to show this director [Benjamin de Lajarte] around Hong Kong when he visited last year, and he had the idea for this film in mind, and Simon Yam was his first choice for a major role. Fortunately, he got Yam for the movie. This is a film of three connecting stories of six people with very complex lives. But unlike American ensemble movies where everyone does their own thing and then suddenly everyone meets, the connections here are very subtle. It’s got a Wong Kar-wai feel to it.”

Henri

“Henri was the opening film of the ‘Director’s Fortnight’ segment at Cannes, and it was very well received. It’s about a restaurant owner in his 50s who deals with the sudden death of his wife. Completely distraught, his daughter suggests he hire someone to help out at the restaurant, and that’s when the widower meets a woman who is upbeat and kind, but slightly mentally handicapped. The bond between the two is interesting, in that it almost becomes a love story, but not quite.”

Jimmy P.

“Directed by Arnaud Desplechin, one of the most important directors in French cinema, Jimmy P. is a departure from Desplechin’s previous work, about a former soldier suffering from post war trauma who seeks help from a psychoanalyst. It’s a story about a friendship between two people with nothing in common.”

Oggy and the Cockroaches

“Based on the famous French TV series, this is about a big blue cat that fights three cockroaches. It’s sort of like the French version of Tom and Jerry. It’s very popular with not just children, but adults, in France. This film puts Oggy and the cockroaches in three different eras, from prehistoric age to current times to the future. It has no dialogue, but features an original score from the Orchestra de Paris that sounds completely grand and epic.”

The 42nd French Cinepanorama Various locations, Nov 20-Dec 12. Visit hkfrenchfilmfestival.com for full programme and ticket details. 

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