Ah, the good life was certainly in evidence in Melbourne when the champagne flowed, the canapes came out and the waiters were in period dress as the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival presented their opening night film C’est La Vie (Le sens de la fête) at the Astor Theatre.
This is the most successful French festival anywhere in the world outside France, as a number of guests pointed out in their speeches beforehand. The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival in Australia is in its twenty ninth year and it delivered a fabulous French film, one that truly deserves to be a monster hit in Australia.
I don’t want to offer too many spoilers, but I just have to share a brief outline of one of the best nights out at the movies enjoyed in recent times. David Stratton, patron of the festival was right, ‘you’re going to love it’ he said just before it started.
Max (the indomitable Jean-Pierre Bacri), plays a beleaguered French caterer who with his madcap assistant Adele (Eye Haidara) leading his mottled team of helpers, has been tasked with producing a fantastical fairytale wedding for the man who turns out to be an unbelievable groom Pierre (Benjamin Lavernhe), and his sweet bride Helena (Judith Chemla).
They include his head chef and his cooks and kitchen staff, a group of off the books casual labourers, who we find have hidden talents, a truly hopeless canape eating photographer Guy (Jean-Paul Rouve) and his youthful helper (Gabriel Naccache) who teaches him on the night the pluses of geolocalization, plus a zany ego driven wedding singer and his band, who turns out to be a saviour in more ways than one.
Etienne (Gilles Lellouche) plays the egotistical lead singer DJ James only hired to fill in at the last minute, who is when we meet them, in a running battle with Adele until Max arrives and takes over to get the ball rolling.
The action all takes place on one glorious summer day and night at the absolutely fabulous Chateau de Balleroy in Bayeux, Normandy, which was designed by French architect Francois Mansart for Jean de Choisy., chancellor to Gaston, Duc d’Orleans, brother of Louis XIII.
The building owes its dynamism to the mixture of shale and stones from Caen that underline the structure of the chateau. Its all new configuration at the time, lent it eloquence, grandeur and grace in its fabulous setting, the qualities the groom is expecting for the ceremony he’s been planning it seems for much of his life.
Max fights hard to bring the whole chaotic ensemble cast into line to produce the sort of stylish event his clients are expecting while some of the staff are collapsing around him with food poisoning.
This has been caused by a newcomer with zero experience Samy (Alban Ivanov) hired by Adele, who unplugs the refrigerated van to have a shave, causing the biggest menu glitch of all time.
What is it about weddings that more than often brings out the best and worst in people. As a former event producer, I couldn’t help but seamlessly slot into Max’s continual brilliant ability to ‘adapt’ as things went haywire, or just plain wrong
So many things go awry in his planned schedule of preparations, but still he manages to keep his head above water and bring about what turns out to be the most hilarious and unexpectedly, touching evening celebration with a great and happy ending for the bride and groom.
The whole affair is like a wonderful chaotic circus, lovingly crafted by the writer-Directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, whose impeccable timing of one hilarious event after another, is a joy to behold.
My companion and I came away aching all over from laughing so hard, the movie being such a panacea for all ills and a marvellous reminder of the truly ‘good life’ we lead in both France and Australia in the early 21st century.
The actors have been chosen for their skill at conveying the characters they are playing; a mottley band of misfits, who when the chips are down finally zanily mesh together to brilliantly bring off this very enjoyable and highly successful romp and literally save Max’s bacon.
Max himself while the story is going down, is lamenting the loss of his own happy marriage to his wife Josiane (Suzanne Clement) who is a member of his staff openly teasing her husband, by having a flirtation at the wedding with a young policeman (Kevin Azais).
He is moonlighting as one of the waiters who are all planning to revolt as they have been dressed in eighteenth century ancien regime costumes for the night and forced to wear ‘smelly wigs’.
The giant plot with all its pile upon pile of brilliant sub plots showcases just how inventive and creative the French imagination is, especially in bringing great French characters to fruition with the joys of love and slapstick working side by side.
In the ever-evolving story of hilarious holy matrimonies, this must be the best night out ever for the observer. Apart from Max’s madcap bunch there is the groom and his mother (Helen Vincent) who borders on inappropriate behaviour as she and the photographer enjoy a roll in the hay. Well it is the countryside after all!
Do yourself a favour. Storm the citadels of the 2018 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival to see C’est le Vie, you will not be disappointed.
You will have to admit our French friends ‘… really are something else!!!!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018
Images courtesy AF French Film Festival and Palace Cinemas