Becker opens French film jamboree

Gala screening of First World War drama

by Richard Mowe

The film team from The Red Collar line up for the premiere screening at the Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Paris
The film team from The Red Collar line up for the premiere screening at the Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Paris Photo: Richard Mowe

If it’s Paris in January it must be the Rendez-vous with French Cinema, now in its 20th edition which unites buyers, sales agents, and journalists in a jamboree to set out some of le cinéma français’s wares for the year ahead, including 80 new titles slated for premiere screenings among the 169 features on show.

The event, organised by the film promotion body Unifrance and focussed around the Intercontinental Grand Hotel and the Gaumont Opera cinema, opened last night with a gala screening of veteran Jean Becker’s latest opus The Red Collar (Le Collier Rouge).

On stage at the opening of the Unifrance Rendez-vous with French Cinema: director Jean Becker, writer Jean-Loup Dabadie and actor Nicolas Duvauchelle
On stage at the opening of the Unifrance Rendez-vous with French Cinema: director Jean Becker, writer Jean-Loup Dabadie and actor Nicolas Duvauchelle Photo: Richard Mowe

As an example of well-made, craftsman-like film-making from a director whose 15th feature’s theme coincides with this year’s centenary of the end of the First World War, The Red Collar ticks most of the boxes and should find favour overseas. Previous Becker landmarks include Conversations With My Gardener (Dialogue Avec Mon Jardinier), Children Of The Marshland (Les Enfants Du Marais) and My Afternoons With Margueritte (La Tête En Fiche).

Based on a novel by Jean-Christopher Rufin, with a script by Becker and Jean-Loup Dabadie, the film encapsulates many of the themes of Becker’s filmography, suffused with an appealing nostalgia as well as a belief in man’s ultimate humanity.

Nicolas Duvauchelle in an intense and considered performance plays an army officer who is decorated with a Legion d’honneur for his exploits on the battlefield. He desecrates the honour by publicly denouncing the officer class and presenting to his faithful canine battle companion instead. François Cluzet takes the role of the military judge who is charged with investigating the case while Belgian actress Sophie Verbeeck incarnates the young officer’s spouse. An impressive and expressive canine Jaeger appears as the catalyst.

Becker (84) who appeared in person to present the film with Duvauchelle, Dabadie, Verbeeck and Jaeger, mused that at his age this might well prove to be a swan song. He noted too that at a special screening he observed author Rufin with moist eyes which, he thought, augured well for the film’s impact on audiences when it is released in France on 21 March.

François Cluzet and his canine co-star Jaeger in The Red Collar
François Cluzet and his canine co-star Jaeger in The Red Collar Photo: UniFrance

The Rendezvous, hosted by Isabelle Giordano (Unifrance director general) and the organisation’s new president Serge Toubiana, is touted as the largest market place for French cinema outside of Cannes and it preludes the start of the year’s Festival season with Rotterdam, Sundance, and Berlin all looming on the near horizon.

Tonight at the Ministry of Culture Juliette Binoche will receive a special French Cinema Award (in the wake of Isabelle Huppert last year and previously producer/director Luc Besson), as a proponent of French cinema across the globe. Binoche appears in Claire Denis’s Let The Sunshine In and will appear shortly in Japanese director Naomi Kawase’s Vision before re-teaming with Denis on a sci-fi extravaganza High Life.

Yesterday’s opening salvo ended with a soirée in Club Society which formerly was a celebrated poker club. Just how many of those international buyers partying in to the night will continue to take a gamble on French films remains to be seen.

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