Mother's Instinct (Duelles) | Credit: Courtesy

If a trip to Cannes proved out of reach this summer, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has you covered. SBIFF’s steadily expanding program and largest mini-festival, the Wave Film Festival, allows Francophiles and cinema lovers alike to take a trip to France through the silver screen. 

Considered the birthplace of cinema in the Western world, France has long produced pioneering films in cinematography and romantic surrealism, and the 2010s have given rise to a new wave of French cinema. Due to the expansion and globalization of filmmaking, this surge is perhaps less avant-garde, but just as acutely nostalgic as the post-revolutionary French New Wave of the mid-20th century, which saw directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut alter the landscape of filmmaking by establishing a renewed emphasis on innovation over craft. With French cinema again in the spotlight, the Wave Film Festival shines a light on 11 of the past year’s best-critiqued Gallic movies. 

The films chosen range from psychological thriller Mother’s Instinct (Duelles) to Escape from Raqqa (Exfiltrés), a true story of a woman and child escaping from an ISIS-run Syrian town, and are all exemplary stories that successfully embody modern French culture. Several of these films have been heralded as award-worthy during the past festival circuit, such as Treat Me Like Fire (Joueurs), The Trouble With You (En liberté), and A Faithful Man (L’homme fidèle). Proving to be a diverse selection of classic coming-of-age tales and intimate dramas, the Wave offers insight into both emerging and recognizable French themes and talent. 

One of the more familiar names is the director and star of L’homme fidèle, Louis Garrel, son of celebrated cinematographer Philippe Garrel and famed French actress Brigitte Sy. Courtesy of his parentage, Garrel has been involved in moviemaking since 1989 at the age of 6; L’homme fidèle marks his second film as a principal actor/director and stars other familiar-sounding names, such as Lily-Rose Depp and Laetitia Casta. The film has been noted for being quintessentially Parisian, touching on long-standing tenets of French cinema of forbidden love, May-December romances, soft color arrangements, and quippy one-liners. 

Escape from Raqqa (Exfiltrés)

The Wave will also supply festivalgoers with a peek into new, fresh European actors and directors, such as Anthony Bajon, who won Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival for his portrayal of a drug addict making his way back into sobriety via a mountain-man lifestyle in The Prayer (La prière). The introspective, heavy drama directed by Cédric Kahn mimics that of classic dark Gallic cinema with a modern lens. 

Many of the films included are tales of love and passion and its different forms. Several of them focus on the ins and outs of motherhood, such as the highs of adoption (In Safe Hands [Pupille]) and the lows of bringing up a child alone (An Impossible Love [Un amour impossible]). Claire Burger’s Real Love (C’est ça l’amour) is a touching portrait of a father singlehandedly raising his two adolescent daughters. En liberté explores, through a layer of laughter and action, the difficulties that come with unsavory discoveries of loved ones and letting them go. 

The landscape of love has its valleys and peaks, but the Wave’s cinematic offerings manage to navigate them all through both comedy and tragedy. Regardless of taste for screwball humor, clumsy romance, or gritty bildungsroman, a cinematic trip to France this summer will certainly satisfy your palate.

4•1•1 | The festival runs Friday-Thursday, July 12-18, at the Riviera Theatre (2044 Alameda Padre Serra). For a full schedule of films, viewing times, tickets, and passes, see


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