The breadth of this year’s Sacramento French Film Festival can be measured by inclusion of “Timbuktu,” which was made in West Africa.
“We’re trying to show films that are very successful in France either because they attracted a lot of people in theaters or they received a lot of awards,” executive and artistic director Cécile Downs said.
The French-language drama has become one of the most internationally critically acclaimed films of the past year, winning numerous awards including seven 2015 César Awards (the national film award in France).
The SFFF opens Friday night at the Crest Theatre and will present 19 films over the next two weekends.
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The goal of the 14-year-old festival is to present a representative slice of the best of French film with a dose of historical context, Downs said. This year for the first time that will include a film made for television: director Bruno Dumont’s “Li’l Quinquin,” which was named the No. 1 film of 2014 by the film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma.
The schedule also includes “Love at First Fight,” a romantic dramedy that won three Césars: Adèle Haenel for best actress, Kévin Azaïs for most promising actor and director and co-writer Thomas Cailley for best first film. The dark comedy “Hippocrate” features Reda Kateb, who won the best supporting actor award.
Heavyweights of French cinema will be represented: actress Catherine Deneuve appears in the contemporary film “In the Courtyard” and Jean-Paul Belmondo in the 1964 satire by Phillippe De Broca, “That Man From Rio,” which also stars Deneuve’s elder sister Françoise Dorléac, who died at 25 in 1967. The little-seen 1950 fantasy “Beauty and the Devil” by the legendary filmmaker René Clair is juxtaposed with the contemporary fantasy “Mood Indigo” by Michel Gondry and starring SFFF mascot Audrey Tautou. Gondry is an Academy Award-winning screenwriter for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Opening the festival is the comedy “Samba,” which features actor Omar Sy in the title role opposite the French chanteuse and actress Charlotte Gainsborough. Sy, who appears in the recently opened “Jurassic World,” plays a Senegalese migrant dishwasher trying to not get deported. It’s a mainstream big-budget film from the team who made “The Intouchables,” which also starred Sy.
Downs thinks it’s the film to open the festival.
“It’s a comedy, it’s fun, but it also deals with the important subject of illegal immigration, so it has serious undertones,” Downs said. “People come to the reception, they eat, they drink, they don’t want to have something too difficult.”
They also come for the content, and some attend programming from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Downs said.
“They want films,” she said. “We have people who come ready for the whole day. It’s an experience, definitely.”
Part of the experience includes post-film discussions led by Kevin Elstob, president of the SFFF Board of Directors and a French professor at California State University, Sacramento.
“People love that, too,” Downs said. “They are very knowledgeable not only about cinema, but French culture, French society, how things really work in France.”
Downs and Berner have balanced the accessibility of “Samba” and “The Chef’s Wife” with more edgy independent features such as “Party Girl,” “Girlhood” and “The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq.”
Downs particularly looks forward to “L’il Quinquin,” which has been compared to the groundbreaking “Twin Peaks” for its unusual poetic, murder mystery plot. The show was presented on French television in two parts and will be shown here the same way.
The festival closes with “Timbuktu” (Oualata, Mauritania, masquerades as the Malian city), which shows effects of life under the rule of jihadists in Africa.
“It was really the film of the year in France and to make it our closing film felt like a great way to present it,” Downs said.
14th Sacramento French Film Festival
- When: Friday-Sunday and June 26-28, opening reception 6-8 p.m. Friday; champagne and dessert closing party after 8:25 p.m. screening on June 28
- Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento
- Cost: $11-$17 single-showing tickets; passes $42.50-$98.50
- Information: (916) 476-3356; sacramentofrenchfilmfestival.org
Film Festival Screenings
- 8:30 p.m. “Samba” (118 min), comedy/drama by Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano
- 11 a.m. “The Chef’s Wife” (“On A Failli Etre Amies”)
- 1:15 p.m. “Madame Bovary”
- 4:20 p.m. “Gemma Bovery”
- 6:40 p.m. “The New Girlfriend” (“Une Nouvelle Ami”)
- 9:10 p.m. “Love At First Fight” (“Les Combattants”)
- 11:30 p.m. “Jacky In The Kingdom of Women” (“Jacku Au Royaume Des Filles”)
- 11 a.m. “That Man From Rio” ( L’Homme De Rio)
- 1:35 p.m. “Love At First Fight”
- 3:55 p.m. “The Chef’s Wife”
- 6:05 p.m. “Party Girl”
- 8:20 p.m. “The New Girlfriend”
- 6:15 p.m. “In The Courtyard” (“Dans La Cour”)
- 8:30 p.m. “Hippocrates” (“Hippocrate”)
- 11 a.m. “L’il Quinquin” (“P’tit Quinquin”) episodes 1 & 2
- 3:40 p.m. “Girlhood” (“Bande de Filles”)
- 6:15 p.m. “Number One Fan” (“Elle l’Adore”)
- 8:40 p.m. “The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq” ( “L'Enlevement de Michel Houellebecq”)
- 11 p.m. “Mood Indigo” – extended cut ( “L’Écume des Jours”)
- 11 a.m. “L’il Quinquin” (“P’tit Quinquin”) episodes 3 & 4
- 1:20 p.m. “The Beauty and the Devil (“La Beauté du Diable”)
- 3:35 p.m. “Number One Fan”
- 6 p.m. “Hippocrates”
- 8:25 p.m. Timbuktu