French film promotional organization Unifrance put talent in the spotlight at this year’s Rendez-Vous in Paris, where the 10 actors and filmmakers selected as 2024’s Talents to Watch were fêted with flutes of champagne at France’s Ministry of Culture before being introduced to the international press at a dedicated event.
For more than a decade, the 10 to Watch program has pinpointed the creative talents breathing modernity and vitality into contemporary French cinema. Think of a Gallic artist that’s made international waves over the past decade, and chances are they made this list. Here are the voices taking the industry forward in the years to come.
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Franco-Moroccan filmmaker Sofia Alaoui will build on the rugged eeriness of her 2023 Sundance jury prize winner “Animalia” with “Tarfaya” – a slow-burn thriller that mines Morocco’s sweeping landscapes for ambient unease.
The upcoming film will follow Meryam, a 40-something nurse working at a secluded hospital beset by a mysterious new plague linked to a destabilizing environment.
“This world is full of poetry and melancholy,” says Alaoui. “It’s an intimate look at one person struggling while part of a much bigger tale – a tale where the future of the world is at stake.”
“I’m not interested in straight realism,” the filmmaker continues. “[Instead,] I want to observe the world in which we live from a different angle – to go on a journey, and have my sense of reality questioned instead repeated back to me.”
Over the past year, actor Suzy Bemba brought films to Sundance (“Drift”) and Cannes (“Homecoming”), hoisted the Golden Lion in Venice with “Poor Things,” and will next head to Berlin to represent France in the European Shooting Stars program.
In between auteur duties, the actor recently shot the crowd-pleasing comedy “Game Changers” and the Andre Agassi docudrama “Perfect Match,” all while finishing a degree in biology.
Whatever the task ahead of her, Bemba always goes all-in. “To give all of yourself is really the goal of the game,” she says. “I love those absolutes. I want to feel nothing and think of nothing between the action and the cut – I want to be absolutely gone.”
“I’m prepared to do anything [a role requires],” she continues. “So long as I respect my physical and moral integrity and that of others. I need to know that the vision I serve will not be harmful, that it won’t perpetuate stereotypes.”
After her leading roles in San Sebastian winner “Spare Keys” and the Cannes Critics Week-heralded “No Love Lost,” Céleste Brunnquell will next appear in the upcoming Maria Schneider biopic “Being Maria.” Well before playing Schneider’s later-in-life romantic partner for director Jessica Palud, rising star Brunnquell already sparked with the 1970s icon.
“I discovered Schneider as an interviewee in Delphine Seyrig’s [1981 documentary] ‘Sois belle et tais-toi,'” says Brunnquell. “Her testimony disturbed me, and it touched my heart.”
Alongside future parts in prestige features like Pierre Schoeller nuclear engineer drama “Rembrandt” – where Brunnquell will play the daughter of Camille Cottin and Romain Duris – the actor juggles a busy stage career with a keen interest in shorts and graduate films from an emerging generation of French filmmakers; she also has wider vision inspired by the protean careers of Seyrig and Chantal Akerman. “I’m always looking for a new way of working,” says Brunnquell. “I most admire those who weren’t just confined to one role – those who could break away and defy expectations.”
An acclaimed actor and playwright turned filmmaker, Stéphan Castang burnished his silver screen credentials with a handful of muscular shorts before breaking out of last year’s Cannes Critics’ Week with “Vincent Must Die” – a hard-hitting horror gem that literalized a very Kafkaesque conceit: What if, all of a sudden, everyone in the world really was out to get you?
“You have to embrace the good and not get carried away,” the filmmaker says of his own moment in the spotlight. “[My previous stage experience] has given me the advantage of keeping a cool head, because soon enough you have to buckle down and get back to work again.”
While keeping details of his follow-up feature close to the vest, Castang will remain true to one major source of inspiration. “I can only say that we’re going to try to make the next one even more Kafkaesque,” he promises.
A TV standout with roles on Canal Plus’ “The Bureau” and Netflix’s “Lupin,” and a César nominee for his silent turn in Francois Ozon’s 2022 Berlin opener “Peter von Kant,” actor Stefan Crepon recently popped in Cedric Kahn’s film-biz dramedy “Making Of” before joining his first-ever U.S. production.
While that (still under-wraps) American series should only bolster Crepon’s international credentials, the actor sees a lot of ground to explore closer to home.
“I really love the French industry,” he explains. “I like the way we work. Of course, I enjoyed my experience on a much bigger, international shoot, but I’m still very touched by France’s more artisanal side – we operate on a more human scale.”
The actor has already wrapped Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s “À la hauteur” – which co-stars Vincent Lindon and Benjamin Voisin and follows a working-class family torn up by far-right politics – and will next shoot Lucas Gloppe’s “Faire Feu,” which tracks the opposite direction to explore the lure of extreme-left anarchism.
“I like working on films that question society,” says Crepon. “And I like how they force me to question myself, to question my own positions and beliefs.”
A self-taught cineaste with a background in fine arts, Jean-Baptiste Durand honed his artistic voice a step removed from the established, institutional corridors that run between Paris and Cannes. Given that background and a self-described “uncompromising” style, Durand was happy enough that his debut feature “Junkyard Dogs” saw a wide release last April. He did not expect what then followed.
“Within two or three weeks, I saw that something beautiful was building around the film,” says Durand. “The word-of-mouth, the posts on social media and the messages I received all helped me understand that it was more than just a normal release.”
Passionate support from the public and the press kept Durand’s off-kilter comedy in the cultural conversation for the rest of the year, making a star of lead actor Raphaël Quenard.
For his part, Durand will also step in front of the camera to play the lead in Alain Guiraudie next film, “Miséricorde” – a project Durand likens to “Teorema” meets “Colombo.” “I’m a director first and foremost,” he says. “But in order to work with filmmakers of Alain’s quality, I’ll gladly act again.”
Durand is now preparing his sophomore feature “The Man Who Was Afraid of Women,” which he describes as a darker-shaded “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” set in the world of small villages, amateur soccer and wine.
In December 2023, Iris Kaltenbäck claimed the Louis-Delluc Prize – French cinema’s most prestigious filmmaking accolade – for her feature debut “The Rapture,” which premiered at Cannes Critics’ Week last May. The prize capped a whirlwind year for the Franco-Austrian auteur, who put the finishing touches on her debut just hours before its world premiere and arrived in Cannes not knowing what to expect.
“We shot quickly, we didn’t have a big budget, and the whole process was quite challenging,” she recalls. “And then, all of a sudden, the film was propelled to a place of extraordinary attention. It was really an incredible gateway.”
While continuing to accompany her breakout, Kaltenbäck will spend much of this year back at her desk, at work anew. “I’m a big believer in developing several projects at the same time, because you never know what’s going to work,” she says. “Plus, I love writing, so I think my year will be spent working on screenplays, with the idea of getting a second one financed, and then a third. I want to work as quickly as possible, because I’m really looking forward to shooting again.”
Raphaël Quenard had one hell of a year.
If the performer entered 2023 a working journeyman with bit parts here and there, he ended the year a bonafide lead, pushed to stardom by critically acclaimed turns in Quentin Dupieux’s “Yannick,” Jean-Baptiste Durand’s “Junkyard Dogs” and Jeanne Herry’s box-office champ “All Your Faces.”
Looking forward to 2024, Quenard seems primed for multiple César nominations – both for his turns in front of the camera and for co-directing the short-form mockumentary “L’acteur” with collaborator Hugo David.
While Quenard and David spin their ongoing, mock-fiction project into wider forms throughout the next year, the actor will next appear in Gilles Lellouche’s sprawling romantic musical “Beating Hearts,” and alongside Léa Seydoux, Vincent Lindon and Louis Garrel in Quentin Dupieux’s next idiosyncratic opus “A notre beau métier” – which follows the tragicomic odyssey of a film extra.
“I don’t really have a plan,” he laughs. “I just do.”
After emerging on the scene with turns in Gaspar Noé’s “Climax” and Philippe Garrel’s “The Salt of Tears,” actor Souheila Yacoub will cement her star status with lead roles in this year’s Noemie Merlant-directed horror-comedy “The Balconettes” and alongside Adèle Exarchopoulos in the sci-fi thriller “Planet B.”
But before those French-language fantasies, the multilingual actor will next be in seen as a Fremen warrior in “Dune: Part Two.” Much to Yacoub’s surprise, director Denis Villeneuve came to her with the role.
“I was so nervous that he’d made a mistake – that he was actually thinking of someone else – that I never dared to ask [why he thought of me],” she says. “I just signed the contract and showed up on set.”
“I learned so much just by watching Javier Bardem,” she continues. “Bardem would burst out with this freedom, this tremendous sense of play. And I said to myself, ‘OK, he’s got my back, and he’s offering me the right to play around and make mistakes as well.’ After all, we’re not in the theater, we’re not live in front of an audience, so let’s try, let’s suggest and let’s allow ourselves to surprise.”
Though Sofiane Zermani couldn’t make it to Canada for the 2023 Toronto premieres of his films “After the Fire,” from director Mehdi Fikri, and “Spirit of Ecstasy,” from Héléna Klotz, the leading man knew the setting well – having previously toured the country in his parallel career as a platinum-certified, stadium-filling rapper.
Of course, parallel remains the operative word, as Zermani has no interest in leveraging one kind of fame into another once he considered acting. “I had to work twice as hard, and had twice as much to prove,” he says. “I started by doing theater, by taking bit parts whenever I could get them, approaching acting as a young student with a lot to learn.”
Last year proved particularly busy, as Zermani shot Manele Labidi’s “Queen Mom,” Hassan Guerrar’s “Barbès d’Or,” Julien Leclercq’s “The Wages of Fear” and Jeremie Guez’s “Tigers and Hyenas,” in quick succession, while this year brings “The Sun King” with co-stars Pio Marmaï and Lucie Zhang. Directed by Vincent Maël Cardona, the now-shooting film begins with the discovery — and then the loss — of a winning lottery ticket before fracturing off into concurrent timelines.
In a way, Zermani imagines the same for himself. “It is out of the question that audiences say, ‘Wow, that singer can really act,’” he says. “Thankfully, I’m getting to a place where many people don’t even know.”
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