How quickly time flies. This weekend marks the ninth year in a row that Armstrong State University’s French Club has presented one of the more uncommon and notable cinematic events in the greater Savannah area: the Francophone Film Festival.
Over the course of three days, the Ogeechee Theatre on an upper floor of the school’s Student Union will be the setting for five well-respected, feature-length narrative motion pictures, screened the way they were intended: in spoken French.
Now, if you do not speak French yourself, have no fear. English subtitles will appear onscreen for all these selections. Best yet, every one of these screenings is open to the general public absolutely free of charge.
Running the gamut from vintage examples of traditional French comedies (i.e., 1953’s “Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot” aka “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday”) to more recently released serious dramas (i.e., 2011’s “Le Bonheur D’Elza” aka “Elza’s Happiness”), the roster of films is chosen from a list of titles made available to American college and university campuses through the Tournées Film Festival, an outreach program of the French Embassy’s Cultural Services division. The idea is to bring outstanding examples of French and French-language cinema directly to U.S. viewers who might otherwise never know of these films, or never have an opportunity to see them in a theatrical (or semi-theatrical) setting.
“This is the last time we will have an ‘Armstrong’ Francophone Film Festival,” says the university’s director of international education Dorothee Mertz-Weigel, who oversees the school’s French Club and assists with planning the event. “By this time next year, we will be known as the new Georgia Southern University, so in a way, this year’s event is the end of an era.”
Mertz-Weigel notes that in years past, the festival’s programming concentrated on very recent releases, rarely including even one older title. “However,” she notes, “the first three films this year are comedies, and two of them are major classics of French moviemaking. We are also showing a film from the Republic of Chad for the first time (2007’s ‘Daratt’ aka ‘Dry Season’), and one from the Caribbean for the first time as well (‘Le Bonheur D’Elza,’ which was shot in Guadeloupe).
“I am especially glad we’ll be showing ‘La Grande Vadrouille’ (aka 1966’s ‘The Great Stroll’), as it is one of my favorite French films ever. Though it is set during WWII in Nazi-occupied France, it is a comedy. I think the director, Gérard Oury, was able to integrate those two notions (tragedy and comedy) in such a way that one may actually forget what was taking place in France at that time.”
Mertz-Weigel says she’s also looking forward to the 2006 Canadian dark action-comedy “Bon Cop, Bad Cop” (aka “Good Cop, Bad Cop”) about an unorthodox pairing of two police officers — one from Ontario and one from Québec.
As has been the tradition in past years of this event, there will be a catered reception following the opening night film that features traditional French finger foods such as almond swirls, raspberry swirls, macarons, baguette sandwiches and mini vegetable quiches provided by Bay Street restaurant Café M. Along with water and soft drinks, this will be the first Francophone Film Fest to offer complimentary wine at the opening night reception, due, Mertz-Weigel says, to “the festive note of this particular opening ceremony.”
She’s demurely referring to the fact that she herself will be receiving a coveted award from the French government (Les Palmes Académiques), which will be presented to the professor by the Honorable Louis de Corail, consul general of France, who is traveling to Savannah from Atlanta specifically to take part in this event.
In addition to his appearance, two Armstrong faculty members (Dr. Amanda Konkle, assistant professor of literature and film and Dr. Daniel Skidmore-Hess, chair for the criminal justice and political science department) will introduce and discuss specific selections during this year’s festival, which Mertz-Weigel says has been in the works since “a couple of days after last year’s festival was over.”
She credits the two handfuls of dedicated French Club students, led by club president Emily Randall, for planning the event, finding sponsors and generating interest.
“Attendance at the Francophone Festival has fluctuated over the years,” says Mertz-Weigel. “In general, though, it has steadily grown, with last year being our most successful so far. We hope to break that record this year.”
She allows that the majority of audience members are Armstrong students, faculty and staff, but that about 25 percent of attendees are not connected to the school.
“More and more people from the community are coming out each year,” she says. “Including tourists who saw an article in the newspaper or noticed a poster downtown.”
To those who may not think they are interested in French-language films, Mertz-Weigel says, “We have popcorn, and our movies are free!”
When pressed though, she adds, “I think people are scared of what they don’t know. So, I would just say, give one of these films a chance. For a first-timer with foreign films, I would probably recommend ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ (which is partially in spoken English).
“Also, forget about reading the subtitles all the time. It’s OK to miss one word or one sentence here or there. That actually allows your imagination to function and grow. Plus, we can always have a discussion after the film …”
IF YOU GO
What: Ninth annual Francophone Film Festival
When: Feb. 16-18
Where: Ogeechee Theatre, Armstrong Student Union, 11935 Abercorn St.
8 p.m. Feb. 16
“La Grande Vadrouille” (“The Great Stroll”)
Film director Gérard Oury is the uncontested king of French popular comedy and, with 17 million tickets sold in its opening weekend in 1996 (a record that was only broken by ‘Titanic’ in 1998), “La Grande Vadrouille” is considered one of his greatest and most enduring works. In this World War II farce, amiable Frenchman and unwitting Germans aid a British bomber crew that bailed out over Nazi-occupied Paris.
6 p.m. Feb. 17
“Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot” (“Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday”)
The 1953 classic follows the misadventures of a lovable, gauche Frenchman, who travels to a beachside hotel where he accidentally causes havoc. The late film critic Roger Ebert gave it a four-starred thumbs-up, noting that “there are some real laughs in it, but ‘Mr. Hulot’s Holiday’ gives us something rarer, an amused affection for human nature — so odd, so valuable, so particular.”
8:30 p.m. Feb. 17
“Bon Cop, Bad Cop”
Noted for its clever blend of English and French dialogue, the 2006 Canadian dark comedy-thriller “Bon Cop, Bad Cop,” is about an Ontarian and a Québecois police officer who reluctantly join forces.
6 p.m. Feb. 18
“Daratt” (“Dry Season”)
Set in the wake of the long Chadian civil war, a teenage boy becomes emotionally conflicted when he is taken under the wing of the man who killed his father, and who he was sent to kill. The New York Times calls the 2007 film “bedeviling, surprising.”
8:30 p.m. Feb. 18
“Le Bonheur D’Elza” (“Elza’s Happiness”)
This critically acclaimed 2011 drama is based on the director’s true story of searching for her biological father. Despite her mother’s objections, Elza leaves Paris for the Guadeloupe, to come to terms with her own identity.