To round off our coverage of the 55th BFI London Film Festival were taking a look back at one of the most prominent strands of the festival – the French Revolutions programme.

One of the festival’s chief pledges is to bring the best of the world’s cinema to London and Jack Jones leads us through the varied line-up and recommends which films we need to look out for when a theatrical release rolls around.

For all our other coverage of the London Film Festival click here, and read on for Jack’s take on the festival,

The Best Yet? French Cinema Just Keeps on Going

For those who are deeply engrained in cinema, it is often hard to admit that sometimes there are years when we have few films which impress us. For film festivals there is much the same sentiment. It seems as though every year critics hail the incumbent festival – whether it be Cannes, Venice or Toronto – as the best yet, and whenever a journalist ennobles said festival as the “greatest ever” there will inevitably be a great deal of trepidation surrounding such a claim. In the case of the 55th BFI London Film Festival, the overall programme exhibited a wide range of impressive films from debutant filmmakers such as Tinge Krishnan’s Junkhearts to the more accomplished skills of experienced filmmakers such as Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea – Of course there is always occasional stinker thrown in for good measure, Miranda July’s The Future being one of the main culprits. But was the 55th instalment the best ever?

This is almost an impossible question to answer. No one person has the capability to make it round the entire programme of films screening within the two weeks, and only a few of the most well established and long running critics have been to enough festivals over the years to judge. One thing that can be said of this year’s London Film Festival however is the strong presence of new French cinema, in particular the selection of films in the ‘French Revolutions’ programme. French cinema has long had a prominent role in the London Film Festival and is as strong an influence on UK cinema audiences as ever. A view that outgoing Festival Director Sandra Hebron shares; “French Cinema is important to us and it is important to recognise that there is a good audience for French Cinema in the UK”. With a rich blend of comedy, horror, historical and personal dramas, as well as audacious action thrillers, French cinema was on top form in 2011.

Among the main highlights were two refreshing comedies that really put to shame the current dearth of good comic cinema that sails over from across the Atlantic. In some respects both Nobody Else But You and The Fairy were startlingly reminiscent of some of the great comedy that Hollywood and American independent cinema has produced in the past. The Fairy in many ways harked back to the classical silent period of comic performers such as Keaton and Chaplin, whereas Nobody Else But You felt like a direct homage to the Coen Brothers at their quirky and idiosyncratic best. If the French are taking the baton for modern cinematic comedy then Nobody Else But You and The Fairy could be the start of a bright new future.

Some of the more serious and audacious projects screening this year also didn’t disappoint. Vincent Garenq’s Guilty – more accurately represented by its French title Presume Coupable – was one of the most heart wrenching and difficult films to watch across the entire programme at the LFF this year. In the spirit of Christian Bale’s physically transformative role for The Machinist, Philippe Torreton was one of the most overlooked performances this year in the true-life tale of about a shocking and consequently tragic miscarriage of Justice. National film sweetheart Mathieu Kassovitz also returned to the form of his confrontational picture La Haine with Rebellion, a fictionalised account of the clash between Kanak separatists and the French Army during a hostage situation in 1988. At the time the clash threatened to disturb the upcoming presidential election and with extreme pressure from the then government to solve the matter expediently, tragedy was inevitable. Interestingly Rebellion follows in the recent line of French films that are willing to uncover the darker parts of their nation’s history. One could say France is in a current era of politically and socially expressive filmmaking with recent films such as Of Gods and Men, Outside The Law, The Roundup and including both Guilty and Rebellion showing that filmmakers are more than free to question and criticise France’s establishments.

Other highlights included Early One Morning, a more personal and moving take on the style of ‘breaking point’ films such as Falling Down or Straw Dogs, and The Bird, a sad psychological uncovering of a woman who is distanced in her relationship with the rest of the world. Though not utterly spectacular, these films where hardly flops either. Perhaps the most standout film of the ‘French Revolutions’ programme was Mathieu Demy’s Americano, a love letter to his childhood with legendary parents Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda. For a first time director, Americano exhibits all the skill of someone well into his or her directorial career. No doubt Demy has inherited a thing or two from Mum and Dad.

Overall, within the French programming at this year’s Festival was an atmosphere of consummate and self-assured filmmaking, and with hardly any missteps across the board, France was more than just “well represented” at this year’s LFF.