The city warmed up just in time for the opening night of the SF International Film Festival at Castro Theatre, ushering in another great season of film, events and an all around good time. The festival’s 55th year, dedicated to the late Executive Director Graham Leggat, opened with a screening of the exquisite French period drama Farewell, My Queen followed by a discussion with director Benoît Jacquot.

Organizers for the SF International Film Festival know exactly what the next two weeks are about and they waste no time in getting to the point. After a short opening speech by Interim Executive Director Melanie Blum in which she remembered and dedicated the night to, late Executive Director Graham Leggat, who passed away last year, and his successor Bingham Ray, who died at Sundance in January.

After her speach to the packed Castro Theatre, Programming Director Rachel Rosen spoke a few words before inviting Benoît Jacquot to the stage to introduce his film Farewell, My Queen. Speaking through a translator he said “Since this is a French film, I will speak in French” before telling the audience he is obviously very fond of the film with a wry smile as he left the stage.

Farewell, My Queen takes place over the preceding days leading up to the fall of Versailles and the French Revolution. Most of the film is seen through the eyes of Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), Marie-Antoinette’s (Diane Kruger) reader. After the storming of the Bastille, many residents and at Versailles begin to flee but Sidonie believes she is perfectly safe under the protection of her Queen. What at first seems like a servent’s duty to her Queen is soon revealed to be an almost obsession.

As those around her gossip about the rumors of the Queen’s affairs and other rumors, Sidonie immediately squashes them as lies and refuses to hear any ill word about her beloved Marie Antoinette. At it’s core it’s a coming of age film as Sidonie is forced to grow up as her world around her starts to crumble with the impending implosion of her Royal Court. Just as every child comes to the realization that their parents cannot protect them forever, Sidonie begins to see that her Queen is not the perfect woman she idolizes nor is her unwavering admiration ever returned.

Soon Sidonie is caught in a struggle between serving her Queen and fighting for survival. Seydoux and Kruger give excellent performances and while it may not have been an uplifting start to the festival, it was a declaration that this is a festival of great and innovative film.

Following the film, Jacquot once again took the stage with Rachel Rosen and his translator to speak about the film and take questions from the audience. At one point declaring he’s never made such intimate statements about his film, he discussed the gestation and making of the film. He talked about how he made sure his crew made the film look as historically accurate as possible, but he told his cast to forget the past and to live in the now creating a film that, while taking place in the past, is brought into the now through its performances.

Jacquot was very open, honest and seemed to be having a great time discussing his film and even noted that he has been told San Francisco audiences are amongst the most intelligent in the world and he was excited to be able to show his film to them. It was a fun, exciting and, of course, entertaining way to kick off what’s shaping up to be amongst the best years the festival has ever had. And this was only the beginning.

Visit the official festival website for more information on upcoming screenings and events.