French films with Jewish flavour

GENERATIONS of film-goers have enjoyed French films with a distinctly artistic bent to telling stories. But in recent years the divide with Hollywood has blurred, and many of the films at this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival seem almost American in theme and approach.

The festival features 43 films and opened this week in Sydney and Melbourne, followed by Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

In Camille Rewinds, leading French-Jewish director/writer/actor Noemie Lvovsky stars as Camille, an unhappy woman on the brink of a divorce.

At a New Year’s Eve party, she faints and travels back in time to when she first met her husband. With the benefit of hindsight, she tries hard to avoid making the same mistakes.

Camille Rewinds is a light, romantic fantasy, marred only by Lvovsky’s casting of herself as Camille – the somewhat rotund Lvovksy does not look anything close to 16.

And the actors who have been cast as her parents look nothing like her distinctly Ashkenazic Jewish features.

Noted Jewish writer/director Mathieu Kassovitz stars in Another Woman’s Life. Marie (played by a delightful Juliette Binoche) is in her 20s and falls in love with Paul (Kassovitz), but wakes up to discover that she and Paul have been married for 10 years. Worse yet, they are on the verge of divorce, both being in relationships with other people. Like Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni in The Family Man, can Marie save her marriage?

In Happiness Never Comes Alone, popular Moroccan-Jewish actor and comedian Gad Elmaleh plays French-Jewish musician Sacha, who falls in love with Charlotte (played by a radiant Sophie Marceau). Charlotte has two former husbands, three children and a busy professional life. Will these two lovers overcome their challenges and achieve a happy life together?

It’s another American-style story of people triumphing over adversity, enlivened by the bursting energy that the two leads bring to the screen. Sacha’s grandmother has the best funny Jewish lines, with her first “Is she Jewish?” question, and her telling Sacha to check Charlotte’s sons at night to see if they are circumcised.

In The Invisibles, gay French-Jewish documentarian Sebastien Lifshitz looks at homosexual men and women born during the period 1919 to 1939, a time when they were forced to become “invisible”.

The festival’s closing-night film, Les Enfants du Paradis, is an epic made in Paris during the final years of the Nazi occupation. Many critics regard this classic as the best French film ever made.

The Alliance Française French Film Festival is currently screening in Melbourne and Sydney until March 24. For more information and dates in other cities visit www.affrenchfilmfestival.org.

REPORT by Don Perlgut

PHOTO of Sophie Marceau and Gad Elmaleh in love in Happiness Never Comes Alone.