Life is a very strange thing (78 mins) follows Frédéric as he adjusts to a France reeling from terrorist attacks and a powerful resurgence of nationalist politics.
Frédéric has been many things: a young rebel in Paris, ethnomusicologist, executive of a multinational garbage business. After decades living abroad he returns to a France that is familiar but on edge.
Previously unseen archive from Papua New Guinea and Cambodia mix with contemporary observation to create a compelling and personal reflection on past events that shape the present.
We discover Frédéric's grandfather, a colonial governor in Cambodia; his composer father Charles Duvelle, whose recordings of traditional music helped found the World Music movement; and Frédéric's niece Elvire - an activist with FEMEN whose protests attract global headlines.
Frédéric is a wily raconteur and collector and as we follow his encounters with local characters in the streets of Paris and Bordeaux, a rich mosaic of life emerges.
The film is an intriguing, funny and cinematic portrait by an outsider with questions of what it is to be French in the 21st century.
“The film crackles with energy, fuelled by Duvelle’s irresistible charm and intelligence … A complex man encapsulated in a film that’s impressive in scope yet full of heart as an intimate study of a storied, colourful individual … Life Is a Very Strange Thing offers up a feast of a life that has spanned France, Africa and Papua New Guinea”.
Metro Magazine - Issue 197
“I haven't seen such a brilliantly crafted film for a long time. The encounter with the central character and the whole cast of people around him is delightful … it carries us into the life of metropolitan France today with an intimacy that is thoroughly enjoyable.”
Prof. David MacDougall – Filmmaker & Film Scholar, Australian National University
“An unusually nuanced, subtle, and insightful foray into the cultural politics of contemporary France, as experienced by a local cosmopolitan with a big story to tell. A road movie traversing colonial and post colonial stories from Cambodia to Papua New Guinea, Australia to France, not to mention realities mega-urban to mega-rural, full of revealing twists and turns.”
Steven Feld - Senior Scholar, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
"Accompanied by a wonderfully eclectic soundtrack ... the film's raw quality is relaxing and endearing; the impromptu style gives the film a tangible authenticity. Most enjoyable."
Andrew L Urban - Urban Cinephile
"The film is of great interest as a contemporary snapshot of France’s colonial legacy and its complicated present, particularly in the light of the social and political manifestations since the terrorist attacks of 2015 and 2016 ... a rich educational tool as well as a fine example of high-quality independent documentary filmmaking."
Dr. Andrew McGregor - French & Cinema Scholar, University of Melbourne
“Entertaining and moving. An unusual yet successful mix of bio-pic, social history and light comedy. Avoiding usual clichés, you travel through France to discover a wonderful portrait of the country today. Bravo et merci!”
Melanie Blanquine – Brisbane Director, Alliance Francaise French Film Festival
"Stunning! An essay film, an ethnography, a biography - it draws you in with humour and lyricism and great visual beauty; it is so well edited, with grace and a rhythm that takes you in for a gentle, yet witty and wide journey about life, family, memory, history and politics and film."
"Frédéric discovers a France prey to terrorist attacks and the rise of nationalism. Through his encounters and family history, a remarkable portrait is revealed."
Rencontres Cinématographiques de Cannes
"It’s totally engaging and quite unique – I haven’t seen another film that addresses the questions of a post-colonial society in quite such a smart & oblique manner."
Helen Panckhurst - Film Producer
“Films that aren't made for television or topic-oriented are so rare that this is like a drink of cool water on a scorching day”
Judith MacDougall - Filmmaker
“For anyone who wants to revisit the real France, as opposed to a Hollywood glamour vision of France, this film would tug at the heart. It made me feel as though I had stepped into the essence of French life. I remained gripped throughout … a beautiful piece of work.”
James Gavin – Music/Arts critic & Author
“A gem of a film. This meandering, almost flâneur-style walk through the life of Frédéric and his family allows the spectator to see up close, or glimpse in the background, so many key moments of France’s past … and the film also celebrates the diversity of contemporary France.”
Dr. Joe Hardwick - School of Languages & Cultures, University of Queensland
"A very engaging and sophisticated essay. Hard to make a visually sustained film like this ... Great not to be told what to think and to have such an allusive, rich, cinematically literate film that worked on a number of levels - I particularly liked the way every 'trivial' moment connoted the historical past (personal and/or political). Very French. I thought of Rouch and Morin, 'Chronique d'un ete', and of Chris Marker. No bullshit."
Prof. Philip Bell - Media scholar, University of New South Wales
Annie and Les have worked at various cultural institutions in Papua New Guinea and in Australian screen production across many genres.
Their five previous films made in Papua New Guinea observed cultural practice and cultural change and have featured in international festivals including in Paris, Amsterdam, Florence, New York and Rio de Janeiro: Pikizjaa, Kama Wosi, Namekas, Cowboy & Maria in Town (Winner Best Documentary, Sydney Film Festival), and Taking Pictures.
They produced the website Pacific Stories, Les wrote and directed the 3-part documentary series Viva Timor Leste! and Annie has recently completed a novel set in Oceania.
When we first met Frédéric, he was an ebullient teenager recording traditional music in remote villages of Papua New Guinea. Nearly 40 years later we met him again in France: returned home, retired, divorced and with an ancient hunch-backed dog as his constant companion.
He’d lost none of his keenness or wit, and as he recounted his unlikely story we started shooting. Over 2 years we followed his daily activities and encounters: in cafes, brocante shops and at lunch with neighbours, and we met three generations of the remarkable Duvelle family.
As filmmakers we are interested in how threads of history and culture, the personal and the political intersect. With Frédéric and his family we found a unique prism for viewing these threads at a time of profound change.