My French Film Festival is a month-long online festival, with a host of features and shorts available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema, MUBI and more. For the full line-up click here.
The return of My French Film Festival once again allows the discerning cine / Francophile the opportunity to seek out some of the best of modern French cinema. While there are plenty of excellent features to discover as part of the selection, the festival also has some brilliant shorts to unearth.
Chief amongst these is Maïmouna Doucouré’s Mother(s) [Maman(s)], an affecting story of a young girl dealing with complex changes to her life. The film has already proved a hit on the international festival circuit, playing at major fests, including London, Sundance and Toronto (and winning an award at each of them to boot).
At the centre of the film is an extraordinary performance from Sokhna Diallo as eight-year-old Aida who lives with her family on the outskirts of Paris. When her father returns home from Senegal with Rama – a woman who he introduces as his second wife – and baby in tow, her family is turned upside down. Seeing how dismayed her mother is at the new state of affairs – as well as having to give up her room for the new arrivals – Aida vows to get rid of the interlopers.
Doucouré explores not only a clash of cultures but a clash of generations. The violent upheaval in her family dynamics not only frustrates Aida due to her loss of space and status within a family but acts as a reminder that she is an ‘other’: neither wholly French or Senegalese. The drab world presented here is of French tenement buildings and grey tower blocks, far removed from the ‘soap opera’ that Aida and her family finds themselves in. Indeed, one moment sees Rama watch a Spanish soap opera whose melodrama seems tame compared to the real life situation of which she is at the centre.
Doucouré deliberately eschews this melodrama in favour of understated naturalism, with Diallo’s portrayal of young confusion and defiance in particular being completely mesmerising. A clever and understated film, Maman(s) is not only supremely well done but also an excellent use of the short form.
The world of childhood also looms large in The Geneva Convention (La Convention de Genève), a playful short from Benoît Martin. Waiting for the bus, Akim (Azzedine Bouabba) notices a group of his friends across the road. They’re waiting to extract some revenge on a mutual friend due to the fact that he owes money. As Akim becomes uncomfortable with the idea of violence, the situation begins to spiral out of control. But is there hope for a strangely amicable solution?
This cocks a snook at the notion that all films about teenagers means that the featured youngsters are feral / disturbed / violent or a combination of the three. The film is a gently humorous affair that plays around with ideas of teenage tribalism as it reaches it a conclusion that is not only faintly absurd but rather uplifting. Another film with some great performances – with an ensemble cast all allowed to do some subtle bits of comedy – there is an overall sense of fun and exuberance with the film.
Traditional narrative gives way to cool French chic in the 1964 documentary 4XD – Françoise Dorléac. Director Philippe Labro was originally tasked with filming four French actresses – Mireille Darc, Marie Dubois, Catherine Deneuve, and her elder sister Françoise Dorléac. This previously unseen section of the film positively drips with New Wave cool, as Labro provides scenes with Dorléac sitting in a Parisian café or indulging her love of dancing.
Given the march of time, it would be easy to find the film slightly humorous with its New Wave aesthetic – all jump cuts and shots of Paris – the stuff that would find itself at home in modern parody. Yet there’s an earnestness and vitality to the film which transcends modern clichés. With the film also commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Dorléac – who died on the brink of international stardom in a car accident – there is also a tinge of melancholy.
There’s a diverse range of other French and French speaking shorts to check out – including crazy Belgian animation in A Town Called Panic: Back To School. France has always had a very good reputation for the shorts it has produced and this year’s My French Film Festival provides a snapshot of why this reputation is well deserved.
All shorts at My French Film Festival are available to watch for free online at the official festival website: www.myfrenchfilmfestival.com