Culver City Observer -

By Sandra Coopersmith
Features Writer 

Merci Beaucoup. COLCOA!

 


It was my great pleasure to attend this year’s COLCOA (“City of Light City of Angels”) French Film Festival at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood. It ran from April 23 through April 30, and I packed 13 feature films (several accompanied by shorts) into the six days I went. As cinematic experiences go, it was tres magnifique. That pretty much exhausts my mastery of French, so thank God for subtitles.

The first film I saw was Special Honors, the North American premiere of a TV movie about a young woman determined to get her high school diploma despite the challenges of Down syndrome, a condition shared by the incredible actress playing this role. Family conflict, humor, frustration, inspiration . . . all there.

Family is Family was the North American premiere of a zany comedy about dealing with roots that involve a “Hicksville” dialect that just won’t do in the big city, and what happens when the family that goes with that dialect makes a surprise visit.

The beautifully restored Get Out Your Handkerchiefs was a special treat, as this was the international premiere of a film that first appeared in 1978 and won the Academy Award as Best Foreign Film. This dark comedy takes some bizarre turns as it ponders the limits to which a loving husband, played by Gerard Depardieu at his matinee idol peak, will go to dissipate his wife’s depression.

The Lady in the Portrait is a lavish 18th century period drama that’s loosely based on a true story of an empress who is jealous of the emperor’s love for his late wife, upon whose portrait he constantly gazes with longing. The stunning Chinese actress, Fan Bingbing, is riveting as the neglected empress who persuades the emperor to have her portrait done as well, and a Jesuit priest who is an artist is commissioned. The exquisite artistry and photography in this international premiere are transfixing.

Jean Dujardin, familiar to many as Best Actor (The Artist) at the 2012 Academy Awards, is the hero in the North American premiere of Return of the Hero, a winning mélange of swashbuckling screwball comedy, 19th century drawing room farce, con artistry, and unexpected romance. The magnificent Melanie Laurent more than holds her own in this battle of the sexes.

The exceptional Le Brio is a gripping drama with topical political overtones. This North American premiere stars Camellia Jordana, who received the Most Promising Actress Cesar for this 2017 film, and Daniel Auteuil, one of my favorite French actors. She plays a young Arab woman from the projects, whose dream of becoming a lawyer is sarcastically disparaged by Auteuil, her non PC professor. The school administration forces him to mentor her in an upcoming courtroom eloquence competition, and the real test is whether these two will be able to overcome their prejudices.

Promise at Dawn was adapted from Romain Gary’s autobiographical novel of the same name, and this North American premiere depicts a mother with monumental dreams for her son, and what he endures to achieve those aspirations. The performances by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Pierre Niney were amazing, as was Gary’s life. This film was the opening night selection, and knowing that the opener would undoubtedly be an impeccable choice, I was determined to see it on the day it was rerun. I rate it as magnificent in every respect.

Montparnasse Bienvenue, a Los Angeles premiere, introduces us to a young woman who is dumped by her boyfriend shortly after arriving in Paris, a reality she refuses to accept. She snatches his cat, perhaps for revenge or companionship or both, and cat lovers will become enamored of this charming feline. This 2017 film, which has an all-female crew and has received multiple honors, presents a disquieting picture of abandonment and survival, albeit colored with moments of comedy.

C’est La Vie, a West Coast premiere, takes us to the craziest wedding we are ever likely to attend (although I’ve been to some doozies). If you’ve ever organized an important event where the disasters just keep piling up, you will find this film immensely relatable. The cranky wedding planner and his wild crew keep things hopping, and it’s not surprising that this 2017 film garnered 10 Cesar nominations.

Christmas & Co presents us with a Santa beset with woes – his 92,000 elves have been felled by some mysterious malady and Christmas is practically here. Will he find a cure in time? Will Christmas be saved, or will children worldwide be toyless? Santa has to hitch up the reindeer, head for Paris, find some allies and try to save the day. This charming North American premiere could become a holiday classic – and it even has Audrey Tautou as Wanda, Santa’s significant other (well, I never heard her referred to as Mrs. Claus, so . . .).

Naked Normandy, a North American premiere, stars Francois Cluzet of Intouchables, and that alone would have drawn me to this funny and thoughtful romp in the Normandy countryside. He plays the deeply committed mayor of a village in an agricultural community that has fallen on hard times. They’ve tried desperately to get attention, but no one seems to care about their plight. And then a famous American photographer comes to town, proposes that the entire village be photographed naked in the field, and the mayor has to work his persuasive powers to the max.

Let the Girls Play is based on a true story about the first women’s soccer team in France. The storyline in this North American premiere is a testament to tenacity. A sportswriter, who is quite a roué, is ordered to collaborate with his nemesis, an executive secretary, in planning the paper’s annual fair. They decide to organize a women’s soccer match, hijinks and romance ensue, and the sports world is taken by storm.

The final film I saw was The Other Woman, a North American premiere in which the outstanding Daniel Auteuil (see Le Brio) not only plays a character called Daniel but is also the director. The casting is perfect, with Gerard Depardieu as his friend, Patrick, who brings his stunning young girlfriend, Emma (Adriana Ugarte) to dinner at the home of Daniel and Isabelle (Sandrine Kiberlain). Daniel is instantly captivated by Emma and his fantasies take over. I was still laughing when I exited the theater.

If I’m tired after this Gallic film odyssey, I have good reason. But it’s a tiredness leavened with delight, and all I can say is, “Vive la France!”

For information about COLCOA, see COLCOA.org.

 

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