You know you're arrived at a party full of French people when you spot the cluster of smokers outside. But then, if the party were actually in France, people would also be freely sipping Champagne on the sidewalk.
At the uniFrance cocktail party Saturday night, the gregarious spirit of TIFF took on an extra soupçon of flair. Both lobby and restaurant in the Hotel Le Germain buzzed with bilingual chatter. The Anglo-Franco alliance is particularly strong at this festival according to Isabelle Giordano, director general of uniFrance. This year, 33 titles – nearly one-10th the total features – have French billing.
"There is real attraction and curiosity to French movies because they are so different," she said between requisite cheek kisses. "Hollywood doesn't make movies like we do. It's like French wine."
Festival co-director Piers Handling confirmed that the boasting is warranted. "It's a wonderful cinema – one of the most important cinemas in the world as far as I'm concerned," he said. Citing Marion Vernoux and Nicole Garcia, he added: "It's a cinema that supports its female filmmakers as much as its male filmmakers, which I have always admired."
Martin Provost, who showed his film Séraphine at TIFF in 2008, feels that the Toronto audience is especially kind. "It's a great pleasure to show here," said the director of Violette, which has its world premiere here. "There's less protocol and everything is very accessible."
Handling pointed out that the French have long understood that Toronto is a strong festival for international sales. "We broke that ice 25 years ago," he said. "They realize that Toronto is the gateway to the English language marketplace."
Incidentally, the party was as notable for the guests who went MIA. Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, co-stars of the Palme d'Or winning Blue is the Warmest Colour, were expected to attend; perhaps they decided otherwise in the wake of publicly expressing their displeasure with director Abdellatif Kechiche over his handling of their sex scene. People were also hoping that Marion Cotillard – rumoured to have touched down in Toronto in support of her husband Guillaume Canet's film, Blood Ties – would also stop by. Tant pis.