Innovation and renewal: French filmmakers show what it takes to stay on top

The French must be doing something right. A best picture win at the Oscars with The Artist last year. An international hit, The Intouchables, that has taken more than $400 million. And Amour, a French-Austrian-German collaboration that won the Oscar for best foreign-language film last week and was also nominated for best picture, director, actress and original screenplay.

The director of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival in Australia, Emmanuelle Denavit-Feller, believes the strength of the country's film industry is its diversity and innovation. ''The industry stays really innovative and is always renewing itself,'' she says. ''We are producing many first movies.''

This year's festival, which runs over the next three weeks, features many of those debut movies as actors and documentary makers join a new generation of directors in an industry that released close to 300 films last year, including co-productions with other countries.

Direct government support as well as revenue from cinema ticket sales and television advertising support Gallic filmmaking, with TV stations required to invest heavily in film production.

And while The Artist and The Intouchables show the country is making successful feel-good films, and Taken and Taken 2 demonstrate it can produce Hollywood-style blockbusters, the festival shows it is also turning out broad comedies (such as Pascal Chaumeil's Fly Me To The Moon and Bruno Podalydes' Granny's Funeral), farces (Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere's What's In A Name) and romantic comedies (Noemie Lvovsky's Camille Rewinds, Dorothee Sebbagh's Meet Me In Real Life and James Huth's Happiness Never Comes Alone).

The festival also includes lavish period dramas (Benoit Jacquot's Farewell, My Queen and Alice Winocour's Augustine), real life crime stories (Olivier Marchal's A Gang Story), children's movies (the animated Ernest & Celestine by Benjamin Renner, Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar), serious dramas (Ursula Meier's Sister) and the kind of absorbing tales of complicated love the French seem to specialise in (actor-turned-director Louis-Do De Lencquesaing's In A Rush).

Among the bigger-name directors, Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Carlos) has a portrait of restless youth in 1971 in the drama After May and Francois Ozon (8 Women, Swimming Pool, Potiche) shines with the smart dramatic thriller In The House.

One of those ''first movies'' has documentary maker Cyril Mennegun tackling the issue of Europe's working poor.

The drama Louise Wimmer follows a middle-aged woman, played with wrenching realism by Corinne Masiero, who is reduced to homelessness by marriage breakdown and debts. Even with a job as a hotel maid, she is forced to live in her car and a storage shed.

''I come from the social class that is now suffering more and more these kinds of problems,'' says Mennegun. ''A recent survey on the working poor said women are suffering more than men and we don't know the reality because women tend to hide themselves - to not show they're living in their cars or cheap hotels.''

The French Film Festival runs at the Palace Verona, Chauvel, Palace Norton Street and Cremorne Orpheum until March 24.

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