Karine Mauris is the new Cultural and Audio-visual Attachée as well as the new Artistic Director of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 (AFFFF 2021). We had a chat to her about her roles, COVID-19, cinema and the films showing at the AFFFF 2021 of course!
You are the Cultural and Audio-visual Attachée as well as the new Artistic Director of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021. Tell us a little about your roles.
I arrived not that long ago. I arrived in mid-October. It’s a 4 year post. I am the Cultural Attachée for the whole of the Australian territory, including Tasmania. I work with all of the cities. The role is to create bridges between French culture and Australian culture, and to favorise understanding and to create synergies.
It’s for all of the arts – it goes from cinema to literature, to dance, to art, to music and also digital art. The territory is huge! All of the team is based in Canberra and I am based in Sydney.
I also have a second hat – I am the Artistic Director of the Alliance Française French Film Festival. In that role, it’s about film culture. It’s to choose films for Australian audiences which brings them closer to France and the current situation in France and to allow them to travel to Paris, with the sort of original characters that you find in French cinema. It’s very interesting to work on this project.
The festival has already started in all of the cities.
Exactly. We have a quite iconic movie for the opening – it’s a film about love, not a love film, it’s a bit outdated. It’s a period film with all of the beauty of Paris at the time and it’s about the creation of the Eiffel Tower. It’s the story of Gustav Eiffel and the young woman who inspires the Eiffel Tower. It’s a film which is loosely based on the true story – but it’s a nice novel. It allows the voyage to commence. To start the voyage with Paris, everything that we like about Paris, the beautiful quartiers, French ambiance. It’s a very interesting period film – a beautiful story.
Given that you had already been to Australia 2 years ago, it wouldn’t have been completely new to you when you arrived in Australia last October?
No, it wasn’t completely new. I already had my work here. It was a very fast integration because I already have a lot of friends and acquaintances here.
Moving during COVID times must have been difficult?
I was delayed a bit – I was meant to arrive at the end of August – but we weren’t able to organise it with the Embassy – flights and visas took a long time – I left at the last minute – from France just before lockdown – a few days later and I wouldn’t have been able to leave – it really was the last opportunity to leave.
And when I arrived here, I had a fortnight of quarantine – when you arrive you need a fortnight to recover from jetlag! It allowed me to watch a lot of films and to continue to prepare the festival. I really took advantage of this time where I had nothing else to do but be at home in front of the TV to sort through films – I don’t know how many films I watched in these 15 days but it was a least 5 films a day. I was able to rest, prepare the festival, watch films and reflect.
I saw a lot of films in France at the Francophone Festival of Angouleme – during the 5 days of the festival, I saw 5 days per day so I saw about 25 films in 5 days. It helped me greatly to make my selections.
It’s true that when I got here and came out of quarantine – which we strictly respected – I had the impression that it was the world after [COVID]. I had my mask – I had a dozen masks in my bag – and I saw people walking in the streets without masks. I felt guilty not wearing a mask. We have lived a quite strong, quite violent COVID period in France. It’s disturbing but at the same time it was sucking up my freedom and my oxygen.
I admire the way Australians are managing the crisis and the way in which they are very careful, the real solidarity… I am happy to be here, to be able to go to the cinema, to be able to eat at a restaurant, to manage projects – It’s very difficult to not be able to plan anything in France.
It’s true that we are lucky to be so far from everything here.
Australians are quite isolated – it’s difficult to come to Australia – it’s very expensive. This year we are sad that we are not able to bring out directors and actors – we couldn’t bring them here this year – a fortnight of quarantine was impossible with our budget.
But we were also not certain we would have the festival – it could have changed from one day to the next. So we didn’t bring anyone out.
It’s true that it’s the world after [COVID] here. It’s crazy – when I ddi the opening night in Melbourne, in a beautiful theatre from the 1930s and a nice ambiance – the room was at capacity with COVID restrictions, when I stepped on stage to welcome everyone and to say a few words about the film Eiffel, it was a huge wave of emotions to see people reunited, at the cinema, to participate in this shared moment – it really touched me.
It’s really incredibly lucky. As for French cinema, we are so lucky to have so many people at the cinema. The curiosity of Australians surprises me – and there is an incredible welcome from Australians.
You’ve chosen 37 films for the Alliance Françaises French Film Festival. Were there less films that came out in France last year than in a normal year because of COVID-19?
Yes. There are currently 300 films blocked in France. That’s not to say that I didn’t have films to choose from – there are films which were filmed in 2018 and 2019. Eiffel was finished literally at the beginning of 2021 because the filming was in 2020 and it took some time to finish it up.
There were a lot of actors in Eiffel. It was complicated – in Summer in France, they were able to finish the more intimate scenes with 2 or 3 people.
But we are lucky that a lot of films are ready, but not as many [as usual]. There are a lot of films which have not been released in cinemas and that are having their first screenings in Australia!
How many films did you watch to make your selection?
I’d say 100 or so as I started quite early. I started in June watching most nights and also when the cinemas were open – I needed to be in cinemas to see the impact of the films on the audience. But in France, the cinemas were empty because the weather was good and people didn’t want to be inside.
But when I was at the festival du film francophone à Angoulême, at the end of August, the screenings were full, there was a real return to the cinemas. I think that it’s important when making your selection – it’s difficult to make your selection in front of a screen – it’s often like that but I was lucky that my partner is Australian so I showed him films to find out his reaction and that of Australian audiences – and his children. Voila! All of that helped me to make my choices.
I wanted to take people on a voyage. When you cannot travel, when you are locked inside, [through these films] you can travel to France, Europe or even Africa.
When I made my choices, I also wanted moments of lightness. We need lightness. Last year was so tense, made us feel guilty about everything – of not being able to see your parents, of not hugging people.
I needed a breath of oxygen with this festival with light films – funny and very affirmed – very free-minded with The Godmother with Isabelle Huppert and also Bye Bye Morons which is very close to French mentality.
I wanted to offer a vision of diversity through the films like The Man who sold his skin, like Small Country : An African childhood, like the marvellous film Arab Blues – I’ve got a lot of very strong female characters this year like Aline – Valérie Lemercier who plays Céline Dion in a biopic which is surprising and extremely tender. We often tend to caricaturise Celine Dion and here, it’s very very funny, we understand the whole woman – we discover her Quebecoise family – her Mum, her personal ambitions as a woman.
There really are films for diverse audiences – there are films on adolescence: Ibrahim, Moving On films about adolescence Summer 85 from Ozon is a very good film – very delicate, very fragile.
There are comedies – Perfumes and I’ll go where you go are very good comedies.
There are light things, simple things, travel, romance, great love stories like Love Affair(s), like Eiffel. Each time there is a French touch like in Delicious about the French Revolution and food and the love of [sitting around] the table – we find a lot of French values.
De Gaulle is of course known – the man behind the figure – the great moment of the French Resistance – we find moments where we celebrate – it’s a little bit like the festival of the renaissance because we missed a lot last year.
It’s a festival for everyone.
Are there films in the program that you haven’t particularly liked yourself but that you thought the Australian public would like?
That’s right. I am not going to tell you which titles I am referring to – there are some films which touch me less. I know that they are going to please – it’s pretty, there’s romance, it’s funny – and we need that but they aren’t necessarily what I look for in a film.
I really liked The Man who sold his skin -it’s the Alliance Française French Film Festival – so we want people to hear French – there’s less French [in it] because it’s an Algerian story – which is a francophone country – when you don’t know how to speak Arabic, you speak English – so there is less French in this film and a lot of the film takes place in Belgium. But it’s a real case of love at first sight for me. The director is extraordinary. It’s a film which really affected me.
I’m not of the age – Poly – for children’s films – but I would have loved it if I was 10. I loved the animation and I find that it was done very well – the main character is a girl – whereas often in animated films it’s moreso boys. So to have a film about a young girl and to show her talents – she is quite young. It’s something very powerful.
A documentary that really touched me is Little Girl about a young boy aged 8 who wants to be a girl and goes against adults, school, the prejudices to be able to live his right. This documentary was shown on ARTE and was viewed by 4 million in France. The more I reflected on it, the more it touched me. It’s marvellous how his parents surround and support him – they fight for him. They are saddened that he isn’t supported, to see the agressiveness of adults towards their child – there’s such a lot of love in this family – the mother who feels guilty – not at the choice of her child, but guilty for not being able to help him. The documentary is extremely touching.
The subject matter made me think a little of the Belgian film “La vie en rose”.
Yes, It’s a very beautiful film. There are difficulties showing documentaries at the cinema.. But I wanted to give it a chance – I don’t know if I will put a documentary in the festival next year – but I think it’s important to wonder about society, about our vision. What is happening is important. It’s important to give a voice to people. And in this documentary, the voice is given, for the first time, to an 8 year old child. It’s crazy listening to him. And it’s extremely touching – it’s a little marvel.
If we want to see a film that will make us laugh, what would you suggest?
I think that The Wedding Speech is really funny – there are extraordinary moments, the narration is fantastic too – it’s really a comedy – we would almost say an American comedy – about the feelings of love – but it’s a comedy in the French style. We find a little of Amelie Poulain with her postcards and her feelings a little offset – and like in Amelie, the main character addresses the audience. I like when they speak to us. I like this narration style.
And I love Bye Bye Morons which is the concept of love French style. I love Dupontel.
The film Mandibles is completely absurd. Two characters find a giant fly and decide to train it to make them some money. It’s completely absurd, completely offbeat – it’s going to please a younger audience, more crazy. It’s the same director Quentin Duplueix who did Deerskin last year with Jean Dujardin. So it’s very absurd. It’s good having some strange films like that at the festival.
I really liked The Godmother.
That one is great! It’s a real film about women – she has a freedom. What I love about this film is the way that the director introduces the character. He really takes his time – until about the middle of the film to present her character to us to understand who she is becoming – that is when she turns into the Godmother. We aren’t surprised, we believe it, we say yes, of course. The fact that we have understood her childhood, where she comes from, her freedom.
The three characters, Colette who is the person from the Asian community is quite caricatural but at the same time her Moroccan mother is a character too.
None of the women in this film are politically correct. It’s great. I like being free.
In Australia at the moment, it’s quite the moment for women to stand up and speak out against things
I understand why Australians come to the French film festival. It’s because they don’t know what they are going to see. There’s not a lot written – the women are often surprising. It’s not like in American films, we don’t know how it is going to end. We don’t know if the couple is going to stay together like in Appearances -with Karin Viard and Benjamin Biolay – what’s going to happen?
Even more in Delete History. I like these women – because it’s a film with people from the North – people who lead a simple life – we wouldn’t normally put them up front as the central characters of a film. We feel for them, in their battle against google. It’s great – I found it very funny.
If we want a film that will take us on a voyage, which will show us beautiful countryside?
Voyages and countryside…
- Eiffel is in Paris but it is very Parisian.
- Antoinette in the Cevennes is very beautiful.
- Delicious, it’s in the countryside.
- Love Affair(s) is Paris and the French countryside.
- #Iamhere – it’s about the Netherlands – he spends most of his time in the airport waiting for his love. The cinema in #Iamhere is that we travel with this man who finds himself in an airport. It’s about meeting other cultures.
- De Gaulle, is historical. La Daronne we see a lot of Paris really, the popular quartiers of Paris.
- Summer of 85, is in Normandy– it’s beautiful, the ocean, the background. It’s really great.
A film that will make us think ?
Fahim, is the one about the refugee boy who plays chess?
Fahim is the young boy who plays chess. It’s about the conditions of refugees. It’s very strong. It’s a very, very beautiful film. I really liked it. Gerard Depardieu is in it and plays a fragile role. It’s based on a true story – a story which happened in 2002. It’s a very strong film.
The Skies of Lebanon – is a magnificent film which is very poetic with its animation – all of the backgrounds come from outside the film.
Little Country is a film which takes us to the Rwandan war – the African civil war – French-Rwanda. It’s a very powerful film.
The Rose Maker is also magnificent. There are fields of roses. We have the impression that we can smell roses. The countryside is beautiful.
What is your favourite French film of all time?
A French film that really touched me is Les choses de la vie. Absolutely. It’s my favourite film.
But I also like films that take me with them [on a journey] like Delicatessen. But my favourite film would have to be Les choses de la vie.
We thank Karine Mauris for this interview.
Watch the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 trailer here:
Alliance Française French Film Festival dates
The Alliance Française French Film Festival is still on in a few cities around Australia.
23 March to 20 April
Encore: 21 & 22 Avril
17 March to 13 April
Encore: 14 & 15 April
24 March to 14 April 2021
Encore: 15 & 16 Avril
4 March to 31 March
Encore: 1 to 5 April
3 March to 31 March
Encore: 1 to 5 April
8 April to 11 April 2021
10 March to 7 April
Encore: 8 to 11 April
2 March to 31 March
Encore: 1 to 5 April
You can find the entire program for the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 on the official festival website: www.affrenchfilmfestival.org
You may also like to read our Alliance Française French Film Festival 2021 film reviews