Each year, the Alliance Française reels in a repertoire of contemporary French films to our shores, bringing us the best releases from French Cinema.
This year’s selections are not only just as promising, with films like the A24 selection Climax and critically-acclaimed comedies Sink or Swim and C’est la vie!, film lovers can also look forward to Hollywood stars Olga Kurylenko (of the James Bond and Johnny English franchises) and Romain Duris (All the Money in the World) gracing this year’s opening event. Both actors appear as the protagonists of Just a Breath Away.
The French Film Festival, along with the upcoming Singapore International Film Festival and German Film Festival, have been established for decades. The SGIFF and GFF will be having their 29th and 22nd installments this year, while FFF is on its 34th year. Their reach grows greater each year — some screenings were sold out even before the start of the festival.
How are foreign films essential for our culture and how important are international film festivals to Singapore?
We look to Anthony Chen, the Festival’s guest-of-honour, for answers. The Ilo Ilo director also tells us of his own experiences having his film screened in foreign nations, his favourite French directors, and gives advice to aspiring filmmakers and artists.
Popspoken: Why are international film festivals important to Singapore?
Anthony Chen: International film festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Locarno showcase some of the best of world cinema every year. They are, more often than not, highly discerning and selective.
Screening at a reputable international film festival is a recognition and validation of Singapore cinema’s burgeoning quality and maturity. They also help propel Singapore films onto the global stage, securing sales and distribution in overseas territories.
I’m of the view that cultural exports, whether by way of visual arts, literature or cinema, are going to be more and more necessary in the way countries and its citizens engage with each other. They also open up further possibilities of future engagements and collaborations, whether in art or commerce.
Within Singapore, the cinema chains and multiplexes have in recent years cut down massively on the foreign language, arthouse and indie titles they screen. So I see film festivals, such as the French Film Festival and SGIFF and several others (even venues like The Projector) taking on a new role of giving Singapore audiences more diverse choices, and in exposing local audiences to different voices and sensibilities.
I like to think world cinema helps nourish the soul, broaden our horizons and elevate cultural literacy generally.
Popspoken: If you had to pick a favourite film from the French Film Festival, which would you choose and why?
Anthony Chen: Raw by Julia Ducournau. I was thoroughly surprised when I saw this film, even more commendable that it’s the debut feature of a young filmmaker. Raw is one of the smartest, subversive genre pieces I have seen in recent years. And probably one of the most original film to come out of France of late. It’s kind of a “WTF” film in the best possible way.
Popspoken: When your films Ah Ma and Ilo Ilo were first introduced to the international spotlight, what were some memorable reactions from foreign audiences?
Anthony Chen: I was really surprised by how much people were moved and how many people cried. For Ilo Ilo, I had no idea that a local story could strike an emotional chord with audiences so far away.
What I was even more pleased to discover is the amount of laughter in the theatre during the film’s premiere in Cannes. I thought I had written a tragedy, but it turned out that the humour really landed and it was a much more lighter film to experience than I thought.
Popspoken: Were these reactions different from local ones?
Anthony Chen: They were surprisingly similar. But I have to say foreign audiences were quite shocked to see caning in schools.
Popspoken: What are some French films or filmmakers you’ve been inspired by?
Anthony Chen: Francois Truffaut remains of one my heroes. I have been particularly inspired by his debut film The 400 Blows, his heartbreaking portrait of childhood was very much influential in my casting of the boy in Ilo Ilo. I am also a huge fan of Jacques Audiard and, more recently, Mia Hansen-Love.
Popspoken: Do you have any advice for filmmakers who wish to reach out to foreign audiences?
Anthony Chen: I would caution against reaching out to foreign audiences as an objective or goal. That’s getting it all wrong. For me, the best films usually unearth and capture a sort of universal truth and emotion.
And it usually starts by making them from the heart. Every film, every story, whatever genre it is, has people and the human condition as its core, so when you get it right, everything falls into place, and it connects universally.
Anthony Chen is the guest-of-honour for the 2018 French Film Festival.
The Festival will take place across various locations.
Tickets are available at $15 for non-AF members, and $13 for AF members via the Festival website.