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Critic’s top tips for the French Film Week

The French Film Week takes over screens across Berlin from Nov 27 through Dec 4 showcasing an eclectic selection of French and Francophone cinema. Our critic highlights this year's must-sees.

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Photo courtesy of MK2 Films, Varda Par Agnès (Varda By Agnès). Catch the French Film Week at Cinema Paris, FSK, Arsenal and Rollberg from Nov 27 through Dec 4.

Now in its 19th year, the French Film Week is showcasing an eclectic selection of French and Francophone cinema, which reflects a dynamic scene of established filmmakers and emerging talents. 

The main line-up of Gallic goodness this year includes Betrand Bonello’s bold and vivid horror tale Zombi Child, which cleverly deals with the legacy of French colonialism; feel-good comedy Les Crevettes Pailletées (The Shiny Shrimps), treading similar ground to Gilles Lellouche’s Le Grand Bain; Intouchables’ Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s powerful and touching Hors Normes (The Specials), starring Vincent Cassel and Reda Kateb as two social workers looking after children and adolescents with severe autism who have been cast aside by the French system; and Cédric Klapish’s Deux Moi (Someone, Somewhere), about two Parisian lonelyhearts who happen to be neighbours. It’s a sly subversion of the typical meet-cute, and it’s at its best when it addresses how urban alienation and romantic loneliness are worsened by our tendency to stare at screens instead of creating meaningful connections in a supposedly “connected” era. 

Among the FFW’s hottest tickets is France’s submission for the Foreign-language Oscar race, Les Misérables. French documentary filmmaker Ladj Ly’s fiction debut is an urgent and bracing police drama set in Paris’ Montfermeil district. Reminiscent of Training Day in its narrative structure and La Haine for its authenticity and depiction of the violent banlieues, it never settles for easy answers or binary stances. Its urgent, raw anger will make your bones shake.

Another big title this year is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s La Vérité (The Truth), which opened the Venice Film Festival this year. It’s the first film the Japanese filmmaker has directed abroad, and stars Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche respectively playing a fading actress and her long-suffering daughter. The encounter between one of Japan’s most vital filmmakers – who gave us last year’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters – and these two French thespian heavyweights promised much but it’s a clichéd drama that ends up more bof than brilliant. Our tip is to avoid it and instead get tickets for a must-see: Varda Par Agnès (Varda By Agnès). The legendary French auteur premiered the film in person earlier this year at the Berlinale, and passed away several weeks later. Varda leaves us a moving self-portrait, as she revisits her work and inspirations, providing through this doc a personal and heartfelt insight into her filmography. Not one to miss.

Running concurrent to the main selection is a wealth of under-the-radar gems in the Francophonie selection, which screens films from Belgium (Duelles, by Olivier Masset-Depasse), Quebec (Entre Mer et Mur, by Catherine Veaux-Logeat) and Senegalese standout by Mamadou Dia, Le Père de Nafi (Nafi’s Father). Elsewhere, check out the Gaumont selection at Arsenal Kino, which runs alongside the “Gaumont: depuis que le cinema existe” exhibition at the French Institute (running from Nov 28 – Jan 31): this selection of films cherry-picks from the Gaumont catalogue, one of the most important and extensive French film collections, and features classics such as Loulou, Zazie Dans Le Métro and Bande A Part. You’d be complètement fou not to catch these titles on a big screen once more. 

French Film Week | Cinema Paris, FSK, Arsenal, Rollberg. Nov 27 through Dec 4.