Cannes? Who needs Cannes?
Last night in Hollywood, COLCOA, the “biggest” French film festival got underway with the North American premiere of legendary director Claude LeLouch‘s 44th film, We Love You, You Bastard to an overflow audience at the Directors Guild Theatre. Actually it should be noted organizers call this the “biggest” French film fest held outside of France. No, it’s not bigger than that one that happens in May that we keep talking about but with a record 61 French films of all shapes and sizes it’s a nice alternative until we can get to the South of France in 3 weeks.
This is the 18th year for Colcoa, which stands for City Of Lights, City Of Angels and is produced by the Franco-American Cultural Fund which is a partnership of the DGA, WGAW, MPA and French Society for Authors, Composers and Music Publishers. 20,000 French film fans are expected to hit the DGA all week through closing night next Monday with the North American Premieres of a new Catherine Deneuve film In The Yard, which doesn’t even open in France until this week, and a thriller, Mea Culpa. That announcement was held until last night’s opening. According to Francois Truffart (not to be confused with Truffaut, the great French director who died 30 years ago and has a theatre named in his honor during the fest) there are 37 U.S., North American and International Premieres this week, many of them without U.S. distribution so this could be a rare chance to see what he calls a real “cocktail” of French cinema. That list includes two films that were competing for the Palme d’Or at last May’s Cannes: Francois Ozon’s Young And Beautiful starring a stunning Marine Vacth (one of the true bright lights of the 2013 Cannes) and Roman Polanski’s sly and intriguing adaptation of Venus In Fur with a terrific performance from his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner. Other notable films getting the spotlight over the next few days include Cedric Klapisch’s Chinese Puzzle, the great Diane Kury’s For A Woman, actor /director Daniel Auteuil’s Marius/ Fanny with a score from six-time Oscar nominated composer Alexandre Desplat, and last year’s Cannes Directors Fortnight winner Me, Myself And Mom. Truffart introduced several French film notables in the audience last night including Kurys, making her first trip to Colcoa and Dany Boon, the man he called the “French Jerry Lewis”. All this time I thought the “French Jerry Lewis” was Jerry Lewis. Among those making opening remarks in addition to Truffart was former DGA President Taylor Hackford and the WGA’s Howard Rodman.
But the night belonged to Lelouch who has amassed a remarkable filmography of 44 feature films since coming to international prominence in 1966 when he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and then two Oscars for one of the most famous of all French films, A Man And A Woman. The film won the Best Foreign Language Academy Award but also Best Original Screenplay that year, a rare feat for a foreign lingo movie. No other foreign picture did it until 2002’s Talk To Her which brought Pedro Almodovar a writing Oscar (but not the double whammy for LeLouch). The movie ran for two years in some theatres. It was an auspicious beginning for the filmmaker who is now 76 years old and still going strong. “Fifty years ago I was coming to Los Angeles for A Man And A Woman and my heart was beating very fast. And tonight it’s beating even faster. For fifty years I have been making film to make your heart beat so tonight I hope you’re going to go for it,” Lelouch told the crowd before his latest film rolled. We Love You, You Bastard (Salaud on t’aime) also just recently premiered in France and stars Sandrine Bonnaire and French singing legend, Johnny Hallyday. The 70-year old Hallyday was also at the DGA last night but he said he didn’t have to come far because he now lives in Los Angeles. The movie itself is about a man looking back at his life as he is reunited with five daughters, all from five different conquests. This is something LeLouch could relate to himself. As he told moderator and Mad Men creator Matt Weiner (through an interpreter) afterwards at the Q&A, “Indeed I was lucky enough to have seven children with five different wives. And so I thought that would be a good idea for a film. In my films I only talk about what I think I understand and I know. I was always more a reporter of life than a filmmaker. And I did 44 films and every time I tried to film the biggest screen writer of all which is life, itself, ” he said. Lelouch co-wrote the film with his current wife, Valerie Perrin who also attended the premiere. About those failed marriages he had a simple explanation to tell Weiner. “I cheated on all my wives with movies. They suffered more of my passion for movies than if I had spent a little time with another woman. We aren’t always aware of how our profession takes over our lives, ” he said.
Weiner’s interview focused on the process of writing and directing as well as LeLouch’s philosophy of filmmaking. Weiner pointed out his own personal favorite Lelouch film was 1974’s epic love-at-first-sight story, And Now My Love (mine too) which he said he saw several times. Hackford wisely cited another less known gem as his favorite, 1969’s U.S. set Love Is A Funny Thing starring Jean Paul Belmondo and Annie Girardot as a French couple travelling through America’s southwest. I caught up with Field Of Dreams writer/director and Academy Governor Phil Alden Robinson who told me he was there simply because “I am a big fan”. With 44 films everyone has their own favorite even though as the Colcoa bio on Lelouch states his “earnest, sentimental films left the serious critics of Cahiers du cinema scratching their collective heads”. C’est la vie.