Already in its fourth year, the increasingly popular annual French Film Festival begins in Athens this Thursday. At its most ambitious to date, the festival is organized by the French Institute in Athens, in collaboration with Unifrance (the French association promoting French films abroad), the Greek Film Center and film distributors Rosebud and Playtime, and features 45 films – compared to last year’s 30 features, which attracted 15,000 viewers. With screenings scheduled at the Apollon Renault Filmcenter (Thursday to April 10), the French Institute in Athens (April 11 to 18) and the Olympion Renault in Thessaloniki (April 11-18), this year’s festival is divided into two major parts: new French films that have not been released in Greece on the one hand, and a retrospective of celebrated French filmmaker Alain Resnais, on the other. French films are doing well in France, with a crop of 200 productions in 2002 (only four down from the previous year), seen by 100 million viewers, while increasing DVD sales assure a longer viewing period. In Greece, 25 French films were shown in 2002, while this year, the figure is expected to rise to 30 – last year’s box-office successes included Alain Chabat’s «Asterix et Obelix: Mission Cleopatre,» Gaspar Noe’s «Irreversible,» Costa-Gavras’s «Amen» and Roman Polanski’s «Pianist,» among others. The French Film Festival opens on Thursday (entrance is by invitation only) with a screening of Claude Chabrol’s «La Fleur du Mal,» in which the secrets of an upper-middle-class family come to the surface and continues with films including Nicole Garcia’s «L’Adversaire,» starring the masterful Daniel Auteuil and which tells the true story of a man whose spate of lies leads to tragedy; Cedric Klapisch’s «L’Auberge Espagnole,» in which a group of European students share a flat in Barcelona; Benoit Jacquot’s «Adolphe,» starring Isabelle Adjani and Stanislas Merhar (based on Benjamin Constant’s 19th century novel in which a young man seduces a married woman); Tonie Marshall’s «Au Plus Pres du Paradis,» with Catherine Deneuve looking for perfect love in Paris and New York; Nicolas Philibert’s award-winning and surprise box-office success documentary on a one-pupil school in the Auvergne countryside; Claude Berri’s «Une Femme de Menage,» a bittersweet tale of rediscovering love; Robert Guediguian’s «Marie-Joe et ses Deux Amours,» in which a woman is passionately in love with two men; Michel Deville’s «Un Monde Presque Paisible,» tenderly narrating the story of a Jewish women’s apparel unit in Paris in 1946; Lucas Belvaux’s multifaceted trilogy, «Un Couple Epatant,» «Cavale» and «Apres La Vie,» where the leading characters of one film become supporting actors in the next; and, finally, Jean-Pierre Limosin’s «Novo,» a modern tale of love up against memory loss. All films will be screened with Greek subtitles. Once again, those who have made the movies will be on hand to present them to their Athenian audience. Following exciting visits in previous years by actresses Nathalie Baye and Emmanuelle Beart, among others, this year’s guests include Jean-Pierre Limosin, Anna Mouglalis, a rising star with a Greek family heritage and Karl Lagerfeld’s new muse for Chanel, and Eduardo Noriega, the director and lead actors of «Novo,» respectively; Thomas Chabrol, son of Claude, who appears in his father’s «La Fleur du Mal;» director Michel Deville and scriptwriter and producer Rosalinde Deville of «Un Monde Presque Paisible;» Emmanuelle Devos, who appears in «L’Adversaire;» and Francois Morel, one of the stars in Lucas Belvaux’s trilogy. Also on the program are special screenings for schools of Jean-Luc Fromental’s «Loulou et Autres Loups,» featuring five animated short films, for an audience of 4- to 10-year-olds. Currently in the middle of shooting a film with a few of his favorite actors – Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditti and Andre Dussolier – 80-year-old Alain Resnais has never ceased to influence his peers. With five shorts (including «Gauguin,» «Van Gogh» and «Nuit et Brouillard») and 15 long features, the festival will pay tribute to one of French cinema’s greatest directors: From «Hiroshima Mon Amour,» «L’Annee derniere a Marienbad,» «Mon Oncle d’Amerique,» and «Stavisky,» to more recent releases such as the highly popular «On Connait la Chanson,» Resnais’s affirmation of human identity is more valid than ever. The world of French cinema is still mourning the loss of Daniel Toscan du Plantier, a tireless advocate of French and European cinema, who up to his untimely death one-and-a-half months ago was president of Unifrance and head of the French Academy Awards, the much-coveted Cesars. In Athens, the French Film Festival pays homage to an exceptional man of cinema, with a screening of Joseph Losey’s «Don Giovanni,» produced by du Plantier – who is largely credited with developing the opera film genre. Running parallel to this year’s French Film Festival is a convention of FERA, the Federation of European Film Directors, and its Greek counterpart, which will be discussing the European cultural and audiovisual industry in view of the European Union’s upcoming enlargement. The event will take place at the Divani Acropolis Hotel this Saturday and Sunday, with the participation of Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Belgian Culture Minister Richard Miller, Greek Film Center President Diagoras Chronopoulos, and Unifrance President David Kessler, among others. For more information on the 4th French Film Festival, apply to IFA, 31 Sina, tel 210.339.8600, or the Apollon Renault Filmcenter, 19 Stadiou, tel 210.323.6811.