French Film Festival: Renowned leaders of French film discuss careers, experience

French cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn spoke on March 28 to start the annual French Film Festival. Photo by Gessler Santos-Lopez

Aaron Royce, Contributing Writer

Richmond’s annual French Film Festival ends tomorrow following a long weekend of events. As part of the programming, guests and French film fanatics attended masterclasses at the Institute for Contemporary Art, where some of the field’s biggest names reflected on cinematic culture, techniques and legendary on-screen moments.

One of these individuals was cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn, whose photographic direction has broken new ground from his work in films like “A Dry White Season” and “La Mort en direct” (Death Watch). In a discussion on Thursday, he mentioned the importance of logic behind photographic directing — when analyzing a scene from “Death Watch,” he described the complexities of filming a continuous full shot.

“Cinema is a religion, and the movie theater is our church,” Glenn said, describing his passion for cinematography and his directing experiences.

Glenn also noted the importance of teamwork between everyone on-set.

“Cinema is a collective endeavor — you give a gift of yourself,” he said. “Foreign media is very important, and directors can’t make movies without a whole team around them.”

French heartthrob comic Thierry Lhermitte, who first appeared at the Film Festival in 1996, returned this year to reflect on his 44-year-long career. Lhermitte said his various roles, though authentically portrayed, are purely interpretive and don’t define him as an individual.

“I’m not a comic — I act what is written, do my best, and try to be as true as possible,” Lhermitte said. “Situations could be drawn tragically or comically — I like both. Humor doesn’t hide what is behind, but you can see that life can be ridiculous.”

Thierry Lhermitte — who first spoke at the French Film Festival in 1996 — reflected on 44 years of acting. Photo by Gessler Santos-Lopez

Lhermitte’s expansive career in comedy and dramatic films — such as 1984’s “My New Partner,” 1992’s “Le zèbre” or 2016’s “The New Life of Paul Sneijder” — have influenced his understanding of other actors’ mindsets. In his early roles, he said he thought he was “right about everything as a creator.” The same goes for his relationship with the late actor Philippe Noiret in “My New Partner.”

“I’ve been in the same situation, as an older actor starring alongside a new actor, and being older gets me back on track,” Lhermitte said. “When you’re young, all you have is your inner truth, but older actors can play their inner truths again when they see that.”

Lhermitte also dispelled the ideal that working with a more amiable crew will result in a great film.

“That’s not how it works,” he said. “You can be with people that are talented but the outcome is unsuccessful, and you can be with people you dislike but the film can be great. There is no magic recipe for success.”

For more information on the French Film Festival, including tomorrow’s film schedule, visit

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