Saturday, April 08, 2006

Flying Low with the Film Editor of a local paper

As I was sipping my espresso this morning, I stumbled on a piece in the LA Weekly called "Air France", where its Film Editor encourages readers to go see cinematic slush such as Sky Fighters despite admitting they’re bad. His take is that they’re commercial, accessible and might be turned into Hollywood remakes while he slams other films for being too pretentious. His article ends on a word of praise for his own Black Box — probably the most Americanized film of the festival — that he interprets as a cynical portrait of a corrupt society — I didn’t see that but maybe the subtitles came from a different film.

I don’t know how much of an authority he is on French films — even though he seems to have great credentials — but not only does he not seem to understand the identity of French cinema but he wrongly assumes LA Weekly readers will go to a French festival to see American-style pop-corn flicks rather than — possibly pretentious — psychological works. No, in a city like LA, American film-goers will want to see genres where the French excel: comedies, psychological bores and edgy sex-fueled fares. As for products like Sky Fighters, it’s actually the French who will go see them. So please, stop sending your readers to the wrong films.

Film Noir Night: Don’t put your Hands in The Black Box

Last night was Film Noir night, which has been one of my favorite parts of the festival since I’ve been attending it – I just realized it’s already my 5th year at COLCOA. As usual I missed the 1st screening, as I was stuck in traffic — yeah, I know, I live behind the Orange Curtain.

While the crowds were gathering for Sky Fighters, another “marvel” from the Michael Bay à la française, Gérard Pirès, the smaller theater was showing The Black Box, a dark thriller by actor/director Richard Berry (also starring in The Valet featured at the festival). Even though I’ve never been a fan of Berry as an actor, I was looking forward to this film but ended up fairly disappointed with this David Fincher-style take on loss of memory. Narratively far-fetched and visually impersonal, The Black Box was mostly worth it for another great dark and intense against-type performance from José Garcia, probably the best comedic talent coming from France. Mr. Berry was there to introduce the screening but nowhere to be found for a Q&A. Before the screening he stated that “he makes films because he doesn’t like to make speeches”, which I understand — others use words in songs, websites and blogs to say what they have in mind! — but when a festival flies you from The Land of the Never-ending Strikes to introduce your film, the least you could do would be to answer questions from the audience afterwards, rather than sipping champagne in the VIP area.

After sacrificing myself and hitting a couple of glasses of champagne, tartare toasts and a cigarette during the break, I was going back for a Noir encore with Anne Fontaine’s In His Hands starring the great Benoît Poelvoorde and the always cute Isabelle Carré. This thriller centered around the unexpected affair between a young married woman and a middle-aged weirdo, with a serial-killer sub-theme in the background was the highlight of the night, focusing on this woman’s dark attraction to danger, rather than on exploitation-type scenes. Some people, who were probably expecting a slasher-type thriller full of Paris Hilton-like bimbos in short shorts getting slaughtered, were complaining that the film dragged. But since it was aiming at offering a different angle from the victim’s perspective without any judgmental consideration, the film was exactly in the right format and delivered what it was supposed to.

As I always look for recurrent themes in films and programs — not that I’m one these 60 year-old pseudo-intellectual bores, it’s just that here at Plume Noire we read films rather than review them — the new thread that came to mind is to wonder what makes French-speaking best comedic talents such as José Garcia, Benoît Poelvoorde and Albert Dupontel so good for these dark and intense roles? (If Berry had done a Q&A, as an actor/director he could have answered that question.)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How Much Do You Love Monica Bellucci?

Wednesday night offered the opportunity to experience two styles of French comedy, the light tones of the Parisian show-biz world with Orchestra Seats and notorious director Bertrand Blier’s poetically wacky take on the inner nature of women as prostiutes in How Much Do You Love Me?

After watching The Valet a couple of days earlier, it was refreshing to see a mainstream Parisian comedy which succeeded at alternating between cuteness and humor, mostly thanks to its writing, fueled with gentle irony and its enticing gallery of characters embodied by great actors such as Valerie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Cécile De France and—director—Sidney Pollack among others. A Q&A with Writer/Director Danièle Thompson followed the screening.

While I didn’t know what to expect from Bertrand Blier’s new film, especially after his indigestible Côtelettes, I was highly disappointed to learn he wasn’t going to attend the screening as planned, since I was looking forward to the Q&A with my bag of tricks. However, his new film was far from being disenchanting. On the contrary, it showcased a softer side of the controversial filmmaker who offered a beautiful but rough hymn to the beauty of women. There certainly isn't a better choice to incarnate women than Monica Bellucci—probably the most beautiful woman in the world—but his ode certainly had a sharp edge: “les femmes sont toutes des putes” (all women are whores) while real prostitutes at least assume their true nature.

While I won’t comment on this, especially after having experienced dating in Orange County, I was kinda amused to notice a similarity in themes between The Valet, How Much Do You Love Me? and Orchestra Seats, these 3 films emphase that women can be bought; I remember asking the program director if there would be a theme to the festival this year but I’ll guess I’ll have to ask again, just to make sure!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

COLCOA 2006 Opening Night Gala

City of Lights, City of Angels: French Film in Los Angeles
COLCOA's opening gala on Monday night featured Francis Veber’s The Valet. While I won’t be able to comment on the food, wine or some cool encounters I could have had, as I got there an hour too late because of some excess baggage — by that I mean "guests" of mine who kinda invited themselves to come along and will now be added to my notorious do-not-invite-black-list — , the festival was introduced by a few significant personalities, from great director Michael Mann to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Followed by several tedious speeches, which left yours truly with enough time to go out for cigarettes and chit-chas and come back just in time for The Valet, an amusing, cute but fairly weak and lazy entry in Veber’s filmography— compared to his major works, this one definitely had a TV-movie feel. Veber and his star were there for a Q&A, and their French wit certainly provided more entertainment than the dull self-important questions from the audience.