One of Memphis’ more unsung yet successful movie events, the Tournées French Film Festival returns next week for its seventh year here and its second at Rhodes College.
The lineup of five feature films — mostly in French, with English subtitles — begins Wednesday and continues for two weeks. None of the films previously has screened publicly in Memphis.
This year’s festival was curated by Dr. Laura Loth, an assistant professor of French at Rhodes College who chose from 24 possibilities offered by the cultural exchange agency of the French Embassy and the French Ministry of Culture. Through the Tournées program, the agency provides grants to colleges to fund the event to promote what it calls “the best of contemporary French cinema.”
Loth said she chose movies — three live-action dramas, a documentary and an animated film — that represent the French-speaking world rather than just France itself. The films showcase the cultures and geography of Quebec, Senegal and Algeria, in addition to historical Paris in the era of the French Revolution.
By dealing with such issues as immigration, school violence and religious identity, “these movies respond in some ways to what’s happening in Memphis today,” she said. “They are part of the long and proud history of French film but also tell stories that are more like our own than we might think.”
“These movies are extremely relevant,” said Rhodes history professor Jonathan Judaken, who will introduce the final movie in the series. “They talk about the same subjects that people are talking about in their churches, their communities and on the blogosphere.”
The French Ministry of Culture allows a school to host the festival for only five years in a row. The University of Memphis sponsored the event for its first five years here; then last year it moved to Rhodes.
Admission is free, and all movies screen at 7 p.m. in Buckman Hall in Rhodes’ Blount Auditorium.
The schedule includes:
“Farewell, My Queen” (2012): Director Benoît Jacquot’s lavish costume drama chronicles the final days in the reign of Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), as seen through the eyes of a servant, played by Léa Seydoux, whose presence should increase interest in this film: Seydoux is the star of the acclaimed and controversial French film “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” The movie will be introduced by Rhodes history professor Jeffrey Jackson.
TUESDAY, JAN. 28
“Monsieur Lazhar” (2011): Nominated for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, director Philippe Falardeau’s drama stars Mohamed Fellag as an Algerian immigrant hired to replace a popular Montreal public schoolteacher who committed suicide in her classroom. Mark Behr, associate professor of English at Rhodes, will introduce the film.
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 29
“La Pirogue” (2012): Director Moussa Touré’s adventure drama follows a group of African men who leave Senegal in a dugout boat in hopes of crossing the Atlantic to find a better life in Spain. Cam Blackmon, director of the Memphis Refugee Empowerment Program, will introduce the film.
TUESDAY, FEB. 4
“Berlin 1885: La Ruée Sur L’Afrique (The Division of Africa)” (2010): Director Joël Calmettes’s documentary examines an ignominious if all but forgotten chapter of world history, the Berlin Conference on Africa, during which European and U.S. leaders essentially divided up the continent for economic gain, launching a colonial era that would dominate Africa for decades. (Of course, no Africans were invited to participate.) The movie will be introduced by Andrew Daily, University of Memphis assistant professor of French and global history.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 5
“The Rabbi’s Cat” (2011): Set in Algiers in the 1920s, this meticulously drawn and fairy tale-like animated film by Antoine Delesvaux and Joann Sfar concerns a devoutly religious cat who gains the power of speech after swallowing a talking parrot. Judaken will introduce the movie.
Judaken said the festival now often attracts more than 100 people per screening, thanks to Memphis’ increasingly active film and Francophile communities.
“We really have seen audiences grow over the years,” he said. “We’ve got film buffs, we’ve got French buffs, we’ve got students — there are many different audiences drawn to it.”
Tournees French Film Festival
Wednesday through Feb. 5.
All films at 7 p.m., Blount Auditorium in Buckman Hall, Rhodes College.