COLCOA 2019 – OUI!
October 10, 2019
Flashing lights . . . blaring alarms . . . confusion . . . an unexpected ending to an intriguing week, but allow me to backtrack . . .
"Raison" (reason) is an appropriate French word with which to start this story, because what reason can I give to justify writing in a local publication about COLCOA (City of Light, City of Angels), a week of French film and series premieres that took place Sept. 23 - 28 at the Directors Guild of America on Sunset Blvd.? Well, since Culver City's seal proudly proclaims us The Heart of Screenland, it doesn't seem much of a stretch to want to learn what our neighbors in the global film community are producing, especially since some of those films may later open in nearby theaters. Please refer to colcoa.org for more information as I attended only a few of the many films shown, due to timing conflicts.
Founded in 1997 by the Franco-American Cultural Fund, a unique collaboration between the Directors Guild of America, the Motion Picture Association, the Writers Guild of America West, and France's Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music (SACEM), COLCOA is also supported by France's Society of Authors, Directors and Producers (L'ARP), the Film and TV Office of the French Embassy in Los Angeles, TV France International, and Unifrance.
COLCOA has become the most auspicious French film festival outside France. In fact, Ladj Ly's LES MISERABLES, the opening night film, has been selected by France's Oscar committee as the official submission to the 92nd Academy Awards in the Best International Feature film category!
This politically charged drama which Ly directed and co-wrote was also honored with the Jury Prize at Cannes this year and is, impressively, his first narrative feature. And I just learned it received the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) Jury Award as Best First Film.
Inspired by the 2005 French riots, a three-week period of civil unrest, LES MISERABLES confronts difficult modern realities as it follows an upright cop who has recently joined the anti-crime brigade in Montfermeil, a collection of housing projects where everyone is jockeying for turf. He and his two partners find themselves overrun during the course of an arrest.
TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI ("don't touch the loot") is a black-and-white 1954 drama/thriller, exquisitely restored and starring Jean Gabin, a great favorite of mine, as an elegant gangster with a stash of gold ingots. He just wants to retire and lead a comfortable life. As I watched this film, I kept thinking of an old Jewish saying: "Man plans and God laughs."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, a comedy/drama centered on the birthday celebration of the matriarch of an indisputably dysfunctional family, gets pretty wild when the volatile oldest daughter unexpectedly returns after three years away and shakes everyone up. A line grabbed me, which I scribbled down in the dark: "In life you need some delusions; otherwise, what's the point?"
The short that played with it, DO NOT ASK FOR YOUR WAY, is a comedy about a young woman who's seeing a second analyst to help her leave the first one. This also had a line I loved: "Do not ask the way; you might lose the chance to get lost." I was impressed by how cleverly the feature and accompanying short were aligned.
SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE, a romantic comedy/drama, makes it clear that self-love is a prerequisite to finding that special someone. An unusual love story with nuanced performances, it also includes a delightful white kitten in what I felt was a pivotal role.
The accompanying short, MY LADY OF THE CAMELLIA, presented an enthralling picture of a black actor attending an audition for a film adaptation of The Lady of the Camellias. Superbly portrayed, he's made up and dressed as a 19th century courtesan and wants to try out for the lead role, but first he has to convince the caustic casting director. I was delighted to learn that it won the Best Short Film Award in the COLCOA Shorts Competition, which will be available on the cinema-on-demand program of TV5 Monde, an Official Partner of COLCOA.
APNEA was an eerie and enthralling change of pace, presenting the first two episodes of a TV series. Inspired by mermaid folklore, this fantasy-filled murder mystery set in a small fishing village ended its second episode with a captivating image that made me want to see more.
HOLY TOUR, a lighthearted documentary, shows what it's like to be a lifelong diehard fan of a sport, in this case one that has been described as "the world's most prestigious and most difficult bicycle race,the Tour de France. With their campers parked along a steep mountain pass, these seniors ardently await the moment the cyclists will zip by. Ravel's Bolero threads through this film, perfectly capturing the excitement.
Courtroom drama fascinates me and CONVICTION, which melds fact with a little fiction, gripped me as it recounted the second real-life murder trial of a law professor accused of murdering his wife, who had simple vanished 10 years prior. Interestingly, in France the prosecution can appeal a murder case if they don't like the "not guilty" verdict, thus leading to the second trial depicted in this legal thriller.
MINISCULE: MANDIBLES FROM FAR AWAY is one of the most unusual animated features I've ever seen, seamlessly blending live action photography and animation, and minus dialogue. Who knew a coming-of-age story about insects could be so emotional and enchanting? This film, a gorgeous and moving tale of friendship and cooperation, will appeal to all ages. (I LOST MY BODY, an animated feature that I'll try to see when it's released, made history as the first time winner of both the COLCOA Audience Award and the LAFCA Jury Award.)
CYRANO MY LOVE received the American Students Award, which was voted on exclusively by a jury of seven students from local area high schools and colleges. I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Deception is the key to the plot of France's most famous play, Cyrano de Bergerac, and farcical and wholly delightful liberties are taken with that theme in this film's story of how that play came to be written and produced. This film, my favorite of those I saw, will be released in the U.S. on October 18, 2019 and is an absolute must-see, especially for writers who find themselves confronted by blank pages as deadlines approach.
FIRE ME IF YOU CAN, the accompanying short, dealt with the restructuring of a company and the interplay between an HR person known as "the butcher" and Pierrot, the company's sweet, cheerful handyman who, unknowingly, is on the chopping block. The conclusion left me smiling.
Saturday night I was well into LA BELLE EPOQUE, the closing film in competition, when those lights started flashing, the alarms went off, and we were directed out onto the sidewalk. It was quite a scene but everyone seemed laid back and patient. The fire truck came and eventually we all returned to the theater, but after a repeat of the flashing lights and alarms the towel was officially thrown in. I had to laugh when the man seated next to me commented that he'd "always heard French films were hot." We were invited to return Sunday for a repeat, but I had other plans. If it shows locally I will definitely try to go as what I saw of this witty and highly imaginative love story captivated me.
And there you have it, my impressions, albeit limited, of COLCOA 2019. Since I started this story with a French word I'll end with one as well by thanking COLCOA for an entertaining, enlightening, and thoroughly enjoyable experience – merci!