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Did Locarno's French Films Use Scenery as a Crutch?

At this year's Locarno Film Festival, French stories became more about showcasing backdrops than certain directors' vision.
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Gare du Nord photo

After seeing "Holy Motors" make its way through last year's festival circuit I'd come to expect a little more shock and awe from the French films released this year. While Cannes this year found a true gem in "La Vie d'Adele (Blue Is the Warmest Colour)" I am a little disappointed to find that the French films making their world premiere in Locarno are not on par with the outré french films of the past we know and love. 

The French offered up "Gare du Nord," "Une Autre Vie," and "Le Sens de l'humour" at this year's Swiss festival. These films were beautiful and fairly easy to figure out, but therein lies the problem; as a group, they serve more as an advertisement for French tourism than French auteurism. 

"Gare du Nord" seems the most justified in pigeonholing the story to just one location. At a festival press conference director Claire Simon said that she wanted to showcase the "Gare du Nord" above all other train stations because of the immense variety of people that cross paths there. I would have liked to see the narrative be more self sufficient in the sense that this story could happen anywhere even though it was shot in the "Gare du Nord." The film at times appeared more like a tour than a story.

"Une Autre Vie."
"Une Autre Vie."

Likewise, "Une Autre Vie" was a beautiful tour of Southern France. If I had to guess I'd say it was shot on Ile Sainte-Marguerite. Although visually stunning, this film relied too much on its setting. The protagonists interestingly oppose a mastermind scorned lover, but that fact appears much less ominous as the couple is still able to retreat to the beautiful island. It would have been interesting to slowly decrease the island's aesthetic appeal as a metaphor for the couple's love, but I am bittersweet to report that the island remains magnificent throughout the film. 

Finally, "Le Sens de l'humour" gives an audience hope that French films, while being nationalistic in showcasing their icons, can still tell an interesting story. The film is advertised in the festival program as being about an abortion, but honestly that seems to factor very little into the overall narrative. A first feature from director and lead actress, Marilyne Canto, the film is sad, funny, and touching. Central to the narrative is the relationship between a mother and son as they accept a new man in their lives. There is no debate that this film takes place in Paris (the Louvre and the Orangie serve as the French eye-candy in the film as our main character, Elise, is a museum tour guide), but the heart of the film does not rely on the physical place as a crutch to sell the film. 

All three of these films are shot in beautiful places and are therefore likely to find an audience who pine for a French vacation. I always relied on French films to push my definition of cinema and my comfort zone. I guess I will have to be satisfied with the fact that these films were pleasant and easy to digest.

Click here for more on Katelyn Trott and this year's Critics Academy.

This article is related to: Locarno International Film Festival, Critics Academy


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