By Juan A. Ramirez, Arts & Entertainment editor
The French have long been at the forefront of artistic output. From Van Gogh’s masterworks to Debussy’s compositions, the world has looked to France as a beacon of creative expression. It must have come as a shock to few to learn that the Francophone nation had developed the art of film in the late 19th century. Over a century later, France is still a master of cinema — a legacy that is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts’ (MFA) 21st Annual Boston French Film Festival, its most popular and widely attended film festival.
Presented in collaboration with the French Consulate in Boston, the festival, which runs from July 7 through to July 24, showcases 19 feature films from the past two years in French cinema.
“There’s something about French culture that resonates with people in Boston,” said Carter Long, the MFA’s Katharine Stone White Curator of Film and Video, “I think it’s due, in part, to the fact that we are a very worldly and culturally oriented city that’s aware of what’s happening politically and artistically around the world.”
As mentioned on the museum’s website, this year’s lineup includes several stories about women and immigrants adjusting to life in France. The festival curators don’t actively seek out themes to cover; according to Long, the themes are made evident in the body of work.
“We didn’t approach this year’s programming with those themes in mind, but every year there seem to be two or three themes that pop up in a lot of the films that we end up programming,” Long says. “In a lot of ways, it’s because that’s what’s in the air in France right now; they’re thinking of immigration and women in a way that’s similar to the way we are here in the United States.”
The festival’s opening night film – a 2015 French-Arabic drama titled “Fatima” – deals with a Moroccan immigrant struggling to make a better life for her two daughters.
“It’s an amazing film that I think is really important to show because it gives a lot of hope to people,” Emmanuelle Marchand, cultural attaché at the French Consulate in Boston, said. “Of course her life is difficult…since they have to work hard to succeed, but it really gives a message of hope. I think it also shows a different side of France audiences don’t usually see.”
Though some of the films certainly exhibit their dramatic and socially conscious merit, this year’s lineup ensures there is something for every taste.
“We look for a wide range of programming that represents the best of French cinema,” Long said. “We’re looking for great comedies, great dramas, action films, art films, films with actors or directors whom audiences would recognize. Most importantly, though, we look for emerging filmmakers and artists as well.”
Since their own Lumière brothers invented the film medium, France has never been a dry source of cinematic output and is host to the famed Cannes Film Festival and the César Award – which allows the festival curators to select from an array of internationally revered, culturally-rich works.
“We come up with a combined list of about 40 or 50 films that have been on our radar over the course of the year and try to decide which ones would be the best fit for the festival,” Long said. “We watch as many films as we can, look at box office numbers in France and what’s happening at the festivals and awards.”
Festival organizers say that July, though not influenced by July 14th’s Bastille Day celebrations, proves an excellent time for audiences who might want to take a cinematic vacation to France.
“July is in the middle of summer when you have big blockbusters in movie theatres,” Marchand said. “I think it’s a way to offer something different to the Boston audience than what you can find in most cinemas.”
The 21st Annual Boston French Film Festival runs from July 7 through July 24 at the MFA.
“Fatima” photo courtesy Slant Magazine.