Cinéfranco March 27- April 5, 2009
Inside the Royal Cinema, 608 College Street, attendees float into their seats for the 12th annual Cinéfranco Film Festival guided by the ethereal sounds of deceased French singer-songwriter, actor and director Serge Gainsbourg.
His alter-ego Gainsbarre once burned a 500 Franc note on national TV to protest taxation. At a time of economic recession, when Torontonians can ill afford to burn through their money, such joie de vivre can be sampled for $8.50 a film.
Films from Québec, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Morocco, Lebanon and Iran ensure an international Francophone presence.
“We are varied,” says Moroccan-born festival director Marcelle Lean in both English and French. “We come from various backgrounds. What binds us is the French language.”
On opening night, the theatre fills to capacity, an assuring sign that Francophone culture has a beating heart in Toronto. Cinéfranco receives support from Toronto’s principal Francophone newspaper- L’Express and the Consulat General de France à Toronto and major sponsors Air Canada, Telefilm Canada and Bureau du Québec à Toronto.
En Plein Coeur (Straight to the Heart), Quebec
Director: Stéphane Géhami, Drama, 106 min.
In the first film, En Plein Cour (Straight to the Heart), the ex-girlfriend, the new girlfriend, the wheel-chaired roommate and the teenage protégé with his mentally ill Mother, shove in and scream out of the life of moody car thief Benoît (Pierre Rivard) in this gritty Quebecois independent.
Rounds of sexual power struggle, gender inequality, familial alienation, and a marked contrast between blissful love and the hate-tinged variety, knock the viewer into submission.
A dreamy bicycle ride through intoxicating Montreal streets seduces the senses. “You’re capable of love, that’s rare,” says Benoît to his new girlfriend the night before he cheats on her with an ex-girlfriend.
Director: Fabrice Maruca, Comedy Short, 18 min.
Passe-Passe (Off and Running), France, Switzerland
Director: Tonie Marshall, Comedy, 93 min.
From the brut-street realism of En Plein Cour and its reserved Q and A with director Stéphane Géhami, momentum builds with the almost implausible story of laugh riot short Surprise, followed by the hair-brain-schemed French comedy Passe-Passe (Off and Running), directed by Tonie Marshall.
Underdog business and magic man Darry Marzouki (Edouard Baer), links up inextricably with wily woman-on-the-run Irène Montier-Duval (Nathalie Baye) and her bag of money. A foreboding black crow squaks.
A turret syndrome beauty, a Korean male lover and a French cabinet minister also weave their way into the getaway plot as they turn figure eights trying to catch up with love and money. The magic man finds a new lease on life through highway chase and cellular phone mastery in this political and romantic melee. If you’re sick from formulaic Hollywood rom-coms, this French comedy may hold the antidote.
The clarity of speech found in Passe-Passe is significantly more accessible (for non-native speakers) than the thick and sometimes garbled street dialect of Québec film En Plein Couer.
As the curtain closes, conversation buzzes about the theatre in Canada’s other official language like a secret Toronto French meeting. StatsCanada reports 30,000 Francophones live in the city. Estimates that include second language French speakers (with native-speaking family members) suggest as many as 200,000 Francophones call Toronto home.
Other signs of Franco-culture in Toronto include the Québec artist gallery of Thompson Landry in the Distillery District and the Surrealist exhibit at the AGO (May 9 – August 30, 2009), although Champlain (468 Queen Street East), the only French bookstore in the city, went out of business on April 30.
With 33 feature films, 26 short films and talks given by actors and directors, Cinéfranco avails an opportunity to gain exposure to the varied palette of French language and culture. “I want to go beyond Francophones and reach out to the Francophiles and cinephiles,” envisions Lean, who reports 9,500 in attendance at this year’s festival.