May 28, 2024

“Vive la paix, vive le cinéma!” 

Irène Jacob, the president of Lyon’s Lumière Institute which runs the Lumière Film Festival, chose to mark the opening of the event on Saturday night with a solemn message of peace, a week to the day after the outbreak of renewed conflict in the Middle East. 

“Tonight, we are really looking forward to this festival as a gesture of peace, because we do not forget what is going on in the world, the tragedies that move us, the wars all around us, the children and civilians in danger, the madness and the sadness of our divided world. Vive la paix, vive le cinéma!”

The message was in line with the spirit of Europe’s leading classic film festival, which has always made a point of being a window to the world past and present ever since its first edition back in 2009. 

A host of celebrities took to the stage for the opening of this 15th edition, which will honor Wim Wenders with a lifetime achievement award, including guests of honor Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Terry Gilliam and J.A. Bayona.  

The one-and-a-half-hour event saw festival director Thierry Frémaux, who also heads the Cannes Film Festival, expertly run the show – a warm, friendly and humorous affair miles away from the usual polished opening ceremonies at other film festivals, despite taking place in Lyon’s packed 5,000-seat Tony Garnier concert hall. 

After opening with a fanfare in Lyon’s packed 5,000-seat Tony Garnier concert hall thanks to a seven-man brass band, the crowd was asked to sing along in a massive karaoke session to the tune of French singer-songwriter Christophe’s 1965 cult song “Aline,” the theme song of Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch.”   

Always game, the Lyon audience was happy to oblige, to the delight of Anderson, who described the performance as “magnifique.” 

Anderson, Payne and Gilliam are among a host of A-list celebrities who will be giving masterclasses in Lyon over the coming week, in addition to the more than 400 screenings scheduled to hit the city’s dozens of cinema theatres. 

The birthplace of cinema, Lyon sees its theaters fill up with the film-loving crowd throughout the week, some of whom travel from afar, especially for the event. And it’s not hard to understand why when you see the remarkable selection of films old and new available at the fest. These range from world-famous classics to rare, recently restored gems that the Lumière Institute curates throughout the year, in partnership with cinematheques and film archives from around the world.

Frémaux, who runs the Institute, gave the crowd a taste of what fresh restorations can do for cinema by showing a selection of the very first films shot by the Lumière Brothers, the inventors of the cinematograph, who give their name to the Institute and the festival. 

These include several shot in the Lyon region but also in Tunisia and Egypt just before the turn of the 20th century. One hilarious film features a family of acrobats, the Kremos, who, literally, had one minute to show the whole gamut of their tricks as that was the maximum length of these original films. 

“Imagine the shock for people back then when they saw these moving images for the first time,” Frémaux told the crowd. 

They were then treated to a lively exchange between Frémaux and Fabrice Luchini, one of France’s best-known and most popular stage actors, before a screening of Billy Wilder’s 1950 legendary classic noir “Sunset Boulevard.”

The Lumière Film Festival runs in Lyon over Oct.14-Oct. 22.

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