Many flavours of France

This year’s French Film Festival, running at the Village Walk in Johannesburg, offers a tantalising selection of films which are “French” in the most international of senses.

Spanish master Luis Bunuel is represented by two films; Polish émigré Roman Polanski, now resident in Paris, by one. Jan Bucqouy of Belgium and Sarajevo’s Goran Paskaljevic are also present, as is French director Louis Malle, with an American production titled Vanya on 42nd Street.

Fittingly, international co-production (between France and South Africa specifically) is the subject of a symposium to be hosted by the French Institute, at the Market Theatre on September 30, as part of the festival. Providing insights into the subject will be Didier Decaudaveine, director of France’s Centre National de la Cinematographie; and producers Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre and Jacques Bidou.

Highlights of the film programme include the first South African screenings of Polanski’s latest movie, Death and the Maiden. In an adaptation of Ariel Dorfman’s stage play, a couple living in a remote cliffside house in an unspecified South American country turn the tables on their guest, who they suspect of having been a torturer under the old regime. Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver are

Claude Chabrol’s L’Enfer (Hell), an aptly titled thriller about marital abuse, initially resembles a light advertisement for happy holidays — before descending into the depths of darkness and obsession. Emmanuelle Beart and Francois Cluzet are superb as a married couple trapped in the grip of love turned to possession.

Two classics by Luis Bunuel, Belle de Jour (1967) and The Phantom of Liberty (1974) will also be screened. Belle de Jour encapsulates Bunuel’s fascination with masochism, fetishism and sadism. He rips into middle-class discretion in the story of a frigid housewife (Catherine Deneuve), who moonlights as a prostitute in an exclusive brothel. Equally subversive is The Phantom of Liberty, which strings a series of stories into a surrealistic, scurrilous and scatological narrative.

Other films of interest are Xavier Beauvois’ Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die, winner of the 1995 Jury Prize at Cannes, about the moral decline of an HIV-positive libertine; Didier Haudepin’s Those Were the Days, about murder in an exclusive school, selected for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 1995; and Jacques Rivette’s epic combination of musical, love story and mystery, Up Down Fragile.

The French Film Festival runs at the Village Walk in Johannesburg until October 5. Phone the cinema for details: (011) 883-9558

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