(06/03/08)French films are on in the up in Britain, with recent titles that have successfully jumped the Channel including the brainy thrillers Caché (Hidden) and Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One), the Edith Piaf biopic La môme (La Vie en Rose) and the crowd-pleasing historical tales Les choristes (The Chorus) and Un long dimanche de fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement). Audiences around the UK might catch the future French hits at the upcoming French Film Festival UK, which celebrates its 16th edition between 07 and 20 March in ten cities around the country. The editor of european-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij, discusses three films playing at the festival, one from each of the festival’s different sections. All three focus on friends, family and foes, and how difficult it can be at times to see the difference.

Preview pick: Changement d’adresse (Change of Address)

In real life, there is nothing quite like making love. In movies (other than the X-rated variety) there is nothing quite like talking about it. Eric Rohmer and Woody Allen have built careers spanning decades out of films in which people do just that. And just when it seemed that they belonged to a dying breed, along comes French actor-director Emmanuel Mouret, whose 3rd feature Changement d’adresse (Change of Address) was a first noticed at Cannes in 2006 and then became a "joli petit succès" at home.

The self-described fantaisie amoureuse involves a maladroit French horn player (Mouret) who arrives in the big city and, almost by chance, comes to share his digs with a ditzy blonde (Frédérique Bell). Of course they are attracted to one another. Of course they cannot sleep with their flatmate. Of course one night they eventually do. Of course there is enough embarrassment in the morning to last them a lifetime.

It is not the originality of the story that counts here but the way the characters talk their way through the story, which in the case of Changement d’adresse is delightfully witty and at times just as maladroit as the character he plays. Ariane Ascaride and Fanny Valente co-star also get their share of meaty dialogues as a mother and daughter who get mixed up in the proceedings when Valente, as the daughter, takes up music lessons with Mouret’s character.

After the French success of Changement d’adresse, Mouret was able to make his follow-up, Un baiser, s’il vous plaît (Shall We Kiss?), very quickly. It is again a talky romance in which the characters make love to each other orally… by speaking all night long. The matryoshka-like narrative is shaped by the possible consequences of a kiss. Mouret again plays the protagonist, this time opposite Virginie Ledoyen, while the cast also includes Stefano Accorsi and Julie Gayet. Un baiser s’il vous plaît (Shall We Kiss?) will have a special event screening in London as part of the festival.

Also screening in the preview section are the directorial debut of actress Sandrine Bonnaire, Elle s’appelle Sabine(Her Name is Sabine), an impressive documentary about how autism has changed Sandrine’s sister Sabine over the years, and the historical family drama Un secret (A Secret) from veteran director Claude Miller, about the survival of a Jewish family in France during and after WWII. The latter, an adaptation of an autobiographical novel by Philippe Grimbert, has a mouth-watering line-up of French stars that includes Cécile de France, Mathieu Amalric, Patrick Bruel, Julie Depardieu and Ludivine Sagnier.

Panorama pick: Je vais bien ne t’en fais pas (Don’t Worry I’m Fine)

Speaking of local successes: Philippe Lioret’s ironically titled Je vais bien ne t’en fais pas (Don’t Worry I’m Fine) was a surprise hit in France upon its release, and made a star of its young lead Mélanie Laurent. The dark family drama starts with the return of Laurent’s character from abroad, when she discovers that her twin brother has gone missing. She suspects that he has had another run-in with their overbearing father (Kad Merad) but he says very little about the exact circumstances that led to her brother’s departure, leading her to start an investigation on her own.

From this simple premise Lioret builds a captivating narrative in which the twists and turns can be improbable but never impossible. The whole film is carried by Laurent, who is in practically every scene and who succeeds in remaining a luminous presence even when her character goes through dark, dark days. Merad as her father is equally strong (he won a Best Supporting Actor César for his role), making Je vais bien ne t’en fais pas (Don’t Worry I’m Fine) a first-rate thriller that could perform as well as Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One) if it were released commercially (Guillaume Canet’s thriller made over £1 million in the UK).

Also playing in the Panorama section: Serge Bozon’s bizarrely beautiful La France, a gritty WWI love story with anachronistic musical interludes; Jean Becker’s utterly pleasant Dialogues avec mon jardinier(Conversations with my Gardener), in which stars Daniel Auteuil and Jean-Pierre Darroussin spar verbally as a bourgeois painter (Auteuil) and his lefty gardener (Darroussin) who went to the same primary school; Jacques Nolot’s Avant que j’oublie (Before I Forget), an almost painfully honest look at aging and gay sex; and the festival’s opening film Ensemble, c’est tout (Hunting and Gathering) from veteran director Claude Berri that stars Guillaume Canet and Audrey Tautou as a grumpy cook and a starving artiste who might just become unlikely lovers.

Discovery pick: Les amitiés maléfiques (Poison Friends)

Emanuel Bourdieu, a film critic with the French cinema bible Cahiers du cinéma, debuts as a director with Les amitiés maléfiques (Poison Friends), a university-set tale of student rivalry and deception that is a showcase for its young actors and Bourdieu’s talented pen. While the story of the friendships and liaison of the much admired (and secretly loved or hated) André unfolds, Bourdieu paints a fascinating picture of the Parisian student world and the fickleness of human nature, especially during people’s formative years.

Malik Zidi, Thibault Vinçon and Alexandre Steiger are utterly believable as the trio at the centre of the maelstrom of events, while Bourdieu expertly paces his story and does not forget to properly introduce his characters before throwing them off the proverbial cliff. The film won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006.

Also playing in the Discovery section: Lola Doillon’s feature debut Et toi, t’es sur qui? (All About Love), an incisive, secondary school-set tale of youngsters trying to loose their virginity French style, and Jean-Pierre Darroussin’s debut as a director, Le presentiment(The Premonition), in which he directs himself as a man who has decided to shun his ordinary daily life in the hope of finding some inner peace.

The French Film Festival UK 2008 starts today and runs until 20 March. Please see link on the left for more details, dates and venues.