TWENTY years ago now, director Christophe Barratier and his colleagues at Cinemania organized a modest Festival of French Film in Havana. They arrived with Microcosmos: People of the grass, 1996, produced by Barratier, a documentary that amazed Cuban moviegoers, who, for their part, won over organizers with their good taste and interest in French film.
Since then, the festival has been enthusiastically received and become a much awaited event, given both the films and the participation of directors and actors who attend screenings.
During a press conference at the Alliance Francaise headquarters, Barratier commented, "At that time, it seemed audacious, and now, 20 years later, I am pleased to see its formidable success."
It is worth recalling that the magnificent building where the Alliance Francaise headquarters is housed was inaugurated in May of 2015 by French President Francois Hollande, the first head of state from the country to visit Cuba in more than 100 years, although the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1902.
The carefully restored mansion is a designated National Monument, and was the residence of General José Miguel Gómez (1858-1921), the second President of the Republic, 1909 through 1913. It is located on Havana's Paseo del Prado, a parkway built in 1772, and redesigned in 1928 by French architect and landscaper Jean-Claude Forestier.
The French delegation meeting with the press presented a brief summary of the Festival's two-decade history, recalling that more than 300 films have been screened, "of great diversity, cult classics, new talents, diverse points of view on the world's realities," and this 20th event, running April through May, has brought "fifty titles for an ambitious program that includes 20 premieres, both fictional and documentary, four full-length animations, three cult comedies, and tributes to Jean Pierre Melville and Agnes Varda."
Filmmaker Rachid Djaïdani, is presenting his second film in Havana, Tour de France - his fictional debut was Rengaine, very well-received in Cannes in 2012. He described Tour as "a road movie about the unexpected relationship that develops between a racist, elderly man and a famous young rapper, who are obliged to undertake a highway trip across France together."
After the press conference, Rachid Djaïdani told Granma International that he had the idea many years ago of making a film focused on antagonism between characters, but that writing the script required two years of work.
He, of course mentioned French actor Gerard Depardieu, one of the actors in the leading roles, who he described as a magician, adding, "He is not someone you direct; rather he carries you along."
Another of the films included is L'Outsider (2016), also by Christophe Barratier, who has seen all his feature length films screened in Havana: The Chorus, 2004; Paris 36, 2008; and War of the Buttons, 2011.
L'Outsider, according in the catalogue, "recounts the precipitous rise and fall of
Jérôme Kerviel, an outsider at the center of the biggest world financial scandal," using the aesthetic codes of a thriller or psychological drama, without disturbing the viewer with incomprehensible technical explanations.
French animation is receiving special attention in order to attract children and adolescents, according to Frederique Bredin, president of the National Center for French Film (CNC). Being shown is none less than The Little Prince, directed by Mark Osborne, based on the universal story by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
MELVILLE & VARDA HONORED
Jean Pierre Grumbach (1917-1973) - known as Jean-Pierre Melville - is being honored on his centenary. A precursor of new wave and considered a master of film noir, he took the pseudonym Melville, recalling the author of Moby Dick.
His favorite actors include Jean Paul Belmondo, Lino Ventura, and Alain Delon, and among his most recognized films are Le doulos, 1962; Le deuxième soufflé, 1965; Le samouraï, 1967; L’armeé des ombres,1969; and Le cercle rouge, 1970.
In Havana, his nephew Remy Grumbach, director of the Melville Foundation, reported that all the filmmaker's works have just been restored and digitalized, to be screened on the occasion of his centenary, adding, "Cuba is the first country on this odyssey."
Speaking of restoration, Frederique Bredin recalled the agreements reached between her organization and the Cuban Institute of Cinematic Art and Industry (ICAIC) two years ago, noting that these are being implemented with, for example, the digitalization of La Rampa Theater.
Bredin highlighted the significance of the Festival taking place during the second edition of French Culture Month in Cuba, "an event established during Hollande's visit in 2015, and reaffirmed by President Raúl Castro in Paris, in 2016."
The second tribute, entitled Varda/Demy, is dedicated to two greats of French film, and features the screening of works by Varda (1928), among them her biography recorded in The Beaches of Agnès and the 1962 classic, Cleo from 5 to 7.
Varda was married to director Jacques Demy from 1962 until his death in 1990 and her film, Jacquot de Nantes (1991) recounts a story from Demy's childhood. Likewise, Les Demoiselles ont eu 25 ans (1993) naturally refers to his Demoiselles de Rochefort.
Three decades after Agnes Varda's first visit to the island, the 20th Festival made possible her return via a photographic exposition entitled Varda/Cuba/Cinéma, showing at the National Fine Arts Museum and including some 120 photos of the thousands taken for her short Salut les cubains in 1962.
Celebrating the Festival of French Film's two decades in Cuba, Christophe Barratier insisted, "I never had the idea of creating a market, but rather to share our images," by "bringing our most recent film, to the island, in all its diversity."