Celebrating 25 years of international cinema, Richmond’s French Film Festival featured an array of dynamic films for the occasion. The only theme that tied these films together was how different they were from one another, which made for an exciting viewing experience that covered multiple aspects of French cinema while educating audiences with Q&A’s from the filmmakers.
Here are three of the films screened at the Byrd Theater during the festival.
Coraline (2009) Dir: Henry Selick
While this stop-motion animated film is only connected to France through its score from Bruno Coulais it was still a treat to see it on the big screen once again. This modern-day Grimm fairy tale is just as fantastic as it was eight years ago.
“Coraline” tells the story of the titular Coraline who is fed up with her parents and the house they’ve just moved into. One night, she goes through a door on the wall that transports her to a mirrored version of reality where everything is better. Also, everyone has button eyes. This makes the beginning of the odd and sinister plans hidden in plain sight.
Stop-motion animation is endlessly impressive, and the work from director Henry Selick and his team at Laika is nothing short of breathtaking. The animation is smooth and complex, and the environments are rich with detail and color, which make the world feel lived-in.
The score from Coulais is another highlight, using a children’s choir singing an original opera to enhance the creepy imagery and tone of this fairy tale. In fact, “Coraline” is genuinely creepy and at times a horrifying film, but it never goes far enough to be inappropriate for children.
“Coraline” takes its young target audience seriously, giving them a film that will scare them, but also treats them with intelligence.
“Kids like to be scared to a point, they need to be scarred to a point” Selick said in the Q&A session after the screening.
Médecin de Campagne (2016) Dir: Thomas Lilti
Telling the story of a country doctor coming to terms with his own selfish pride and terminal illness, “Médecin de Campagne” is a well-made, if uneventful drama.
The main performances from Francois Cluzet, as Dr. Werner, and Marianne Denicourt, as his up-and-coming assistant Nathalie, are satisfying. They balance dramatic and comedic scenes, making these characters feel more real than the script would on its own.
The countryside itself is exceptionally portrayed, capturing the tight-knit communities present in many small French towns. There’s a real sense of comradery not only between the leads, but within the town itself where everyone knows one another.
There’s also great attention to making the medical procedures as realistic as possible, which makes the respect the doctors garner from the town believable.
I was surprised by how invested I was in the main story and the relationship between only Werner and Nathalie, but that of the other octors and their individual patients. Yet, the film never quite goes beyond being “just good.” The cinematography, story, writing and pacing is all either basic or slightly above average.
Despite a rushed and confused ending,“Médecin de Campagne” is a fine film that you won’t regret watching – but you may not remember it soon after it’s done.
Magic Lantern Show Presented by the Cinematheque Francaise
This special event presented a time capsule of the origins of Cinema, showcasing the earliest form of motion pictures. The Magic Lantern is a device created in the late 1600’s which projects images onto walls, creating a new form of entertainment.
Seeing it in 2017 is a nostalgic novelty because the images are reminiscent of classic paintings or sketches found in vintage books. The motion is rough, but impressive when considered in the context of the time.
The show consisted of three sections. First, was the story of “Robinson Crusoe.” Next, was a trip to Hell, full of demonic imagery. Lastly, the show wrapped up with a series of comedic circus acts. What makes these scenarios come to life is a mixture of narration, beautiful images and realistic sound effects.
The narration was done by actor Nathan Willcocks, whose overly-dramatic performance came off as endearing and unabashedly dedicated to this show. Willcocks was having the time of his life, and his readings matched perfectly with the sound effects done by Zakaria Mahmoud. All these factors helped enhance the visuals by recreating the sounds of the moment.
On top of the immersive throwback to the 17th century, there was also Aliénor Mancip expertly playing the harp to set the tone of the whole event. At times the instrument was soothing and at other times harrowing, but it never intruded upon the other elements.
Each of these aspects merged to create an exciting experience that was endlessly entertaining. Thankfully, the crew from the Cinematheque Francais went all in when trying to recreate the feeling of seeing this kind of show in the era before the cinema.
Sam Goodrich, Staff Writer