Film on unlikely palace-builder to open French fest | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022


Beleaguered fathers, eccentric midlifers, woke teenage girls from the projects—the French Film Festival returns for month-long screenings of, to borrow the words of Ambassador Nicolas Galey, alternative cinema that reflects on the human condition in society.

Opening in Metro Manila right after the Father’s Day weekend, the festival’s 24th edition premiers one of two dad-centric films by Nils Tavernier. The French actor turned director-screenwriter will be walking the red carpet at tomorrow’s (June 11) gala night at Greenbelt 3, featuring his 2017 biopic “The Ideal Palace” (“L’Incroyable Histoire du Facteur Cheval”).

The film recreates the life of Ferdinand Cheval (1839-1924), the postman who built with his own bare hands—minus any formal education in architecture, design or masonry—Le Palais Idéal. It’s a real castle that’s made of pebbles and other found objects in the Hauterives commune in France, a concrete symbol as well of the potency of artistic endeavor, determination and love.

It took Cheval 33 years—a good amount of it spent enduring ridicule by his neighbors—to complete the structure he had dedicated to his daughter. The end result has not only weathered the elements but also earned the distinction of being among France’s protected architectural landmarks.

Gallic humor

Gallic wit and humor shine in “Sink or Swim” (“Le Grand Bain”), Gilles Lellouche’s 2018 star-studded box-office hit about 40ish guys going through a midlife crisis—or that theme cinema often attributes to women.

“Sink or Swim”

The midlifers in “Sink” are much more pathetic, though, particularly Mathieu Amalric (of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and Bond villain fame). The brilliant actor (also as filmmaker) plays Bertrand, a pill-popping, unemployed, Candy Crush-hooked dad and husband who’s on the receiving end of his spouse’s family’s mockery.

Bertrand is recruited to a swim team at his local pool facility—except that the all-male members, who become each other’s default support system, are mostly out of shape and would appear to be duds at competitive synchronized swimming.

And yet there lies the heart of this film, which debunks the adage that no square peg would fit a round hole. Those holes and circles, by the way, are all explained in the film’s smart, brisk opening monologue, and you wouldn’t realize how much you’ve missed a good expositional intro until you’ve watched “Sink.”

Girl gang

A film that’s been well-received on the festival circuit despite its unknown cast is “Girlhood,” Celine Sciamma’s portrait of a demographic rarely seen in French cinema: young women of color.

The Philippine screening is cosponsored by Spark! Philippines, a nongovernment organization that aims to advance women and the youth as “full partners in national development.”

“The Ideal Palace” starring Jacques Gamblin (inset) as Ferdinand Cheval

“Girlhood” (“Bande de Filles”) may seem like the sister act to Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated “Boyhood,” but the 2014 French drama has nowhere been described as anything close to being an observation of a typical youngster.

Critics call Sciamma’s film a gritty and vibrant chronicle of growing up poor, female and not white in a predominantly white society—and so where else to watch this little-explored human condition but at the French Film Festival.

The 24th French Film Festival will screen 15 films on June 12-18 in Metro Manila (Bonifacio High Street and Greenbelt 3 cinemas); June 20-22 in Cebu (Ayala Center Cebu); June 28-30 in Davao (Abreeza Mall); and July 10-12 in Bacolod (Ayala Capitol Central Mall).

For schedules, visit; follow the Embassy of France to the Philippines on Facebook, @FrenchEmbassyPH on Twitter and Instagram.