As the 2017 awards season marches towards its conclusion, there are 10 French directors whose work over the past year has distinguished them from the pack. With critical acclaim and a handful of accolades to boot, the ingenuous filmmakers below, many of whom are in the early days of their careers behind the camera, will now see their movies scheduled for international release. Don’t miss your chance to see them!
Étienne Comar’s directorial debut, Django (2017), was chosen to open the 67thBerlin International Film Festival. The successful producer and sometime screenwriter, whose movies Of Gods and Men (2010) and Timbuktu (2014) both won the César Award for Best Film, chose the life of one of the 20th century’s most brilliant musicians, the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, as the subject of his first feature. The film is set against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied Paris and tells of how Reinhardt’s music became his own personal language of protest against the Third Reich and growing anti-Romani prejudice.
The Odyssey (2016) is Jérôme Salle’s 10th screenplay in as many years and his sixth offering as a director. His last film, Zulu (2013) closed the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. In this masterly biopic about sea explorer and documentarist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Salle spans five decades and four oceans to tell a story of professional success, personal failure, and an unquenchable thirst for discovery. Lambert Wilson’s portrayal of Cousteau shimmers like the sea’s sun-kissed surface and Audrey Tautou gives the film heart as his long-suffering wife Simone. The epic underwater scenes do justice to the marvels their work brought the world.
Emmanuelle Bercot’s career as both an actress and a filmmaker is in the ascendency. Her last picture Standing Tall (2015) opened Cannes in 2015 and that year she won the Best Actress Award for her role in Mon roi (2015). With 150 Milligrams (La fille de Brest, 2016), which she wrote and directed, she has delivered a powerful thriller inspired by a real-life medical scandal. Sidse Babett Knudsen plays Irène Frachon, a pulmonologist at a hospital in Brest who investigates a possible link between a popular diabetes medication and a fatal valve disorder, incurring the ire of the pharmaceutical industry.
Three of the past five of actress-turned-director Nicole Garcia’s films have been nominated for the Palme d’Or, including From the Land of the Moon (Mal de pierres, 2016). The film, which is a French, Belgian, and Canadian production, stars Marion Cotillard as Gabrielle, a woman from a small village in the south of France in the 1950s who is married off by her parents and who falls in love with another man while being treated for kidney stones at a clinic in the Alps. Based on Milena Agus’ novel of the same name, Garcia’s film is a gripping story of repression and liberation.
Justine Triet’s second feature film, In Bed with Victoria (Victoria, 2016), is a rom-com with a difference, which also opened the 2016 Critics’ Week at Cannes. Virginie Efira stars as Victoria Spick, a high-flying criminal lawyer with a disastrous love life who finally gets a chance at true love (she just hasn’t necessarily figured that out yet). This modern, quirky and at times hilarious film is more real and complex than any similarly billed picture you’re likely to see coming out of Hollywood, which is in large part thanks to Triet’s cool, confident directing.
Bertrand Bonello, the director, screenwriter, producer, and composer associated with the New French Extremity and the man behind Saint Laurent (2014), delivers arguably his most audacious film yet with Nocturama (2016). The story is told in two parts. In the first, a diverse group of teenagers commits a major terrorist attack in Paris. In the second, they hide out in one of the city’s luxury department stores. Bonello’s provocative yet stylish filmmaking forces his audience to confront the issues of consumerism and millennial disaffection.
Planetarium (2016) is the third feature-length film that Rebecca Zlotowski has both written and directed, following the critically acclaimed Belle Épine (2010) and Grand Central (2013). Zlotowski is gaining a reputation for her visually arresting and sophisticated films and for her latest she has drafted in the star power of Natalie Portman and It Girl of the moment Lily-Rose Depp. They play sisters and mediums who come to the attention of a movie producer in 1930s Paris. The Art Deco settings and period haute couture outfits are as elegant as the directing in this tale of magic and ambition.
Drawing on Léa Fehner’s own experience growing up in a traveling theater family is her second feature film, Ogres (Les Ogres, 2015), which follows the ups and downs of a troupe of circus performers living a life outside the bounds of conventionality. Several of Fehner’s own family star in this warm, invigorating movie. At the 2017 Lumières Awards, Ogres was nominated in the Best Film, Director, and Screenplay categories and it won the Lacoste Audience Award at the MyFrenchFilmFestival.
For his fourth film, actor-turned-director Rudi Rosenberg tells the familiar ‘new boy in school’ story in a refreshingly honest and upbeat way. The New Kid (Le Nouveau, 2015) follows Benoit as he attempts to integrate at a Parisian junior high, finding himself put upon by the cool kids, taken in by ‘the losers’, and hopelessly in love with another new arrival and potential outsider, Johanna. As part of the 2017 MyFrenchFilmFestival, The New Kid was awarded the Filmmakers’ Jury Award by Pablo Trapero, Rebecca Zlotowski, Shlomi Elkabetz, Fabrice du Welz, and Bertrand Bonello as well as the International Press Award.
Delphine & Muriel Coulin
Five years after the success of their feature-length debut 17 Girls (2011), sisters and directing duo Delphine and Muriel Coulin are back with The Stopover (Voir du pays, 2016), a story about two female Afghanistan war veterans. The friends, played by singer Soko and Ariane Labed, must complete a three-day ‘decompression’ camp at a resort in Cyprus before returning to civilian life in France. Their screenplay won in the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes and the film is a much-needed exploration of the psychological impact of war from a female perspective.