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By Carole Bell
Observer Columnist 

Delicious Movies at COLCOA French Film Festival

Smart And Spicy


April 26, 2018

The charm that suffuses great films pervades COLCOA, the French film festival currently at the Directors Guild of America Theater,

Even the name itself beguiles: City Of Light, City of Angels. This year's festival poster shows the road to LA with the city and dusky hills in the background. Where's the charm, one might ask? It's just, you see, the road to LA and the mountains happens to be passing directly under, and through, the Eiffel Tower. It's the blending of both cultures, tout à fait.

This cultural intermingling could be heard in force at the Opening Night Reception, where the humming of acutely French accents mixed with the good kind of buzz you get when people feel excitement. Was it the allure of walking in and being offered vanilla-colored plumeria flowers by Tahitian-dressed beauties from AirTahitiNui? Perhaps the crowd's elation was from salivating at the array of just gorgeous-looking food offered at tables circumnavigating the vast DGA lobby? Or was it the pure cinephile joy of knowing you were about to get a chance to see something special?

First, a rather brief welcome from François Truffart, Executive Producer and Artistic Director, who dedicated COLCOA's entire program to women, and the role they've played in the creation process of cinema and television: 41% of the projects screened by COLCOA were directed by women. A new film series, "Women Make History," was introduced this year.

COLCOA isn't just movies: it's about new talent, innovation, digital series, virtual-reality experiences, TV series, and yet, of course, feature films.

Love was the issue in the opener, "Promise At Dawn." Can there be doubt about the searing love a mother feels? Yet this film's subject was the all-pervasive

sort of mother-love that smothers. Inescapable, chocking love, from a mother for her son, was indelibly a member of the cast.

I was reminded of Woody Allen's unforgettable image of his mother in "Oedipus Wrecks," part of Allen's anthology film "New York Stories." When his overly critical mother literally disappears, Allen feels he's safe and can finally attain calm. Then his mother appears, literally, in the sky over Manhattan, and the harping continues with no escape.

That's the image I kept seeing while I watched "Promise At Dawn." If possible (and who am I to say it might even be possible?) this mother conjured up by French writer Romain Gary in the film based on his autobiographical novel is, over the top of over the top.

It's a lifelong dance of manipulation sparked by love that determines, in effect, Gary's whole life. A passionate, beautiful story, what we might now regard as a co-dependent relationship colors the lifetimes of both mother and son. Still, where is there more truth than a mother fighting for her pup?

"Promise At Dawn," in its North American premiere, impresses. With Charlotte Gainsbourg as the mother and Pierre Niney as Gary, acting was superbly touching. From Poland to the South of France to Africa, the travelogue seemed a byproduct, yet glorious to watch. It's original, captivating, and timeless as it brandishes the power of a woman with incontrovertible beliefs.

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"Family is Family" is so funny, and so true, and so chic, delightful, and did I say funny? - that you must see it if you'd like a getaway from whatever's in your world. Dany Boon's world is the sphere he was born in, which both he, and the character he plays in the film, have transcended. Yet, it's always there, isn't it, where we come from, and the role that plays in our minds?

Dany's character Valentin is part of an uber-chic, wildly successful, supremely trendy couple who live together and work in their design business. At a major retrospective on their work, at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Valentin's life collides with the personal reality he's covered up for years. Spurred by his 80-year-old mother's determination to celebrate her birthday with her long-not-seen son, his mother, and the whole hick family he's tried to hide, catapult themselves into the exhibit. Watching his mother embracing the French Minister of Culture is hilarious, but not for poor Valentin. Running away too fast, he's hit by a car and injured enough to wind up with amnesia that returns him to the age of 17.

That might be enough of a pretext for a plot, mais non. Where he's from, in Picardy, they speak a variant of French called chti or chtimi. It's rough, it's crude, and it's incomprehensible.

So begins the fun! Reverting to 17, it's all Valentin speaks; while his partner and her father attempt to hide him from the press, Valentin heads back to the family home to again become the loving son he was at that age.

The cast is terrific. The mother, the father, the brother, the brother's wife (an old lover when Valentin was 17), are all terrific. Jokes fly, yet it's the situation, both the burlesque one, and the sophisticate life, that yield sweet comedy.

By the way, Dany Boon himself designed the furniture in the film, another impossibly humorous aspect of the story. Boon even jokes that he's tried to sell the furniture on Craigslist.

If you can see this at COLCOA, you'll feel empathy, and pure delight.

* * *

I've been asked not to reveal too much about "Makala," an exquisitely lovely film being shown at COLCOA. The sound is pure, and flawless; the photography, the light, enchanting. It's a surprisingly entertaining story about what's in fact the miserable existence of a man willing to do backbreaking work to achieve his dreams.

* * *

COLCOA's a jewel, literally. The festival includes many chances to see free films, including a "Blind Date" where you get to see official festival films. Through Monday, April 30, COLCOA reruns films shown earlier in the week, with free admission. Definitely worth considering.


©Carole Bell 2018 Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

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