More than 40 directors, actors and other film specialists traveled from France to speak at the screenings of 26 films shown at the 2018 French Film Festival hosted at the Byrd Theatre.
The festival is sponsored by VCU and the University of Richmond, organized and founded by professors at both universities. Some of the films, screened in French with English subtitles, educate on French history and culture.
“Un Français nommé Gabin”
The documentary — shown entirely in black and white, save for a few clips later in his career — centered around the life of 20th century French actor Jean Gabin, in addition to the developments in French history and cinema of the time.
Director and co-screenwriter Yves Jeuland said he went through more than 50 films to select about 200 excerpts for the documentary. He said he wanted to tell Gabin’s story combined with that of France.
“You can imagine, that is a long editing process that has to take place. It takes time,” Jeuland said. “Your goal is to tell a story and there are hundreds of stories.”
Born in 1904, Gabin started performing in music halls at age 19, motivated by his father who was also a performer. Gabin was one of the most popular actors in France for the majority of his career, which spanned decades.
Co-screenwriter François Aymé said the documentary’s creators were lucky to get the rights to all of the clips they wanted to use. In addition, Gabin’s children offered photos from their personal archives for use in the documentary. Most of the documentary consists of photos and clips from feature films, but several interviews with Gabin and other actors provide additional insight.
“We truly had a blast working on this film,” Aymé said. “He’s always a strong character, an independent character, dramatic in the way he interprets things.”
Gabin was involved as an actor, selecting which directors he wanted to work with. Toward the end of his career, he was known for using innovative, modern language.
“He would develop friendships with these unbelievable screenwriters,” Aymé said. “Friendships to such an extent that then turned into, when they were doing their work, they would actually be writing dialogues thinking about how Gabin expresses himself, the vocabulary he uses.”
Based on the true story of Jerôme Kerviel — a French trader who lost about 5 billion euros because of illegal trades in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis — “L’Outsider” was extremely popular when it released in France in 2016.
Arthur Dupont played Kerviel, a role Dupont said was unlike any other he had taken previously.
“I started to realize that this is a guy who just decided to go out on his own and do what he wants,” Dupont said. “For this role, I really put my body, my emotions and a total engagement of myself into it.”
Kerviel rose in the ranks of one of the largest banks in the world, Société Générale, without a educational background in trading. Dupont says this is part of where the film’s title comes from: Kerviel was an outsider in his field.
As Kerviel makes increasingly risky decisions, the stress begins to take a physical toll. In order to portray this kind of emotion, Dupont said he had to rest frequently and set aside time to unwind.
He said he took brief naps to unwind during filming, and members of the crew played guitar to relieve themselves from the stressful storyline.
“Of all the films I’ve made, I never had an experience like this that just pushed me to such a limit,” Dupont said. “It was a great experience that I never had before in my career and I hope I’ll have it again.”
“Du soleil dans mes yeux”
French actor Nicolas Giraud produced, co-wrote and starred in “Du soleil dans mes yeux,” a film following a mother trying to reunite with her estranged young son. The film hasn’t yet been released and will be shown in France in April.
The work focuses on the importance of intimacy, something Giraud said wasn’t a popular topic when he first wrote the film.
“I was really adamant on holding true to what I wanted to do with this because it’s my first film,” Giraud said. “It’s moments like this when I’m in a room with you and to see how you respond to it that I realize I did the right thing by holding onto that resolution.”
Giraud used time to develop the relationships between the characters, which he compared to cheese or a “good wine.”
“There’s this space where there’s a development and this coming out and flourishing due to time as well,” Giraud said. “Whether it’s a friendship, whether it’s a love that needs time to flourish and produce.”
Georgia Geen Spectrum Editor