Opening night at the City of Lights City of Angels French film week at the Directors Guild always features sweet champagne and pastries, a mediocre French movie that the French consider to be the kind of commercial film American distributors should embrace but never do, and a raft of dull celebratory speeches about how much the French and the Americans adore each other.
For the 16th year of COLCOA, “the second-largest French film festival in the world,” reminded DGA rep Michael Mann, everyone was still basking in “The Artist” Oscar glow. The fest will screen 34 features and 21 shorts to some 19,000 attendees, ten of them North American premieres; one-third already have U.S. distributors, including must-sees “Polisse” and “Farewell My Queen.” In this case, WGA rep and Francophile Howard Rodman gave a delightful and heartfelt speech about his amour fou, French Cinema (pasted below).
The movie, Florent Emilio-Siri’s “My Way,” a dull two-and-a-half hour biopic about French pop star and songwriter Claude “Cloclo” Francois (Jeremie Renier), is exactly the sort of biopic that plays best to the local fans who adored the star in the first place (he sold 65 million records); Francois is a stranger stateside. I was fascinated by how much each country routinely remakes each other’s best pop songs; Frank Sinatra took “Comme D’habitude” from Francois and turned it into “My Way,” one of the best-known songs in the world and the most often played at funerals. The song was also covered by the likes of Paul Anka, Elvis Presley, Nina Simone and Sid Vicious.
Here’s the THR review, and Rodman:
This year the COLCOA classics series will celebrate several extraordinary films that belong not just to French film history but to the world: the restored colored version of Georges Méliès’ still-astounding “A Trip to the Moon,” which those of you who saw “Hugo” may fondly recall; 1975’s “Le Sauvage,” which we in the States of course retitled “Call Me Savage,” written and directed Jean-Paul Rappeneau with Yves Montand and Catherine Deneuve (followed by an discussion about the enduring legacy of Yves Montand); and, finally, a selection of writer/director Alexander Payne: “Hôtel du Nord,” from 1938, written by Jean Aurenche and Henri Jeanson and directed by Marcel Carné.
And to continue to see to it that the French cinema lives on in America, not merely in our lives, but in the lives of our children, COLCOA will present, for the fifth year in a row, its educational program in association with ELMA. Some 3,500 students from 70 high schools and film schools will discover French films and meet French filmmakers during the coming week. It’s my fond hope that among those students, there will be a few who will find their lives as significantly and wonderfully warped by French cinema as mine has.
A few weeks ago I saw a new, ravishing print of “Breathless” at the Motion Picture Academy. Jean Seberg’s gloriously bad French. Belmondo’s boxer’s shuffle. Guns. Cars. Paris. And that fine cameo by the great Jean-Pierre Melville, playing a philosopher named Parvulesco, stepping off a plane to state his deepest wish: “I want to become immortal, and then die.”
I used to think of Breathless as the birth of contemporary cinema. But to be honest about it, if cinema began in 1895 with the brothers Lumière in the basement of the Grand Café, “Breathless” is closer to cinema’s midpoint. There’s almost as much after it, as before. “Breathless,” a film that I’ve revisited all my life, again and again, is now 53—older than most of you in this room, older than the president of the United States.
As Jennifer Egan says, “time’s a goon.” And that goon squad has been very busy of late, turning what had been modern into what is now– Classic. Turning life-and-death arguments into dimly remembered conversations. Did it really matter which we loved more: “Cahiers” or “Positif”; the new wave or the tradition of quality; Lumière or Méliès; Godard or Truffaut? What mattered was the caring. What mattered was the connection between our deepest emotions and the currents of French cinema.
And now, as the nouvelle vague settles into its comfortable middle age; as the Feuillade’s “Fantômas” is about to turn a hundred; as Georges Méliès himself becomes a character in a feature film shot and exhibited in digital 3D– As we contemplate the reach of French cinema, from the first Lumière projections to the wondrous films we’ll see here this week– As our personal goon squads close in, with the result that the French films that we’ve seen and the memories of our own lives become impossible to disentangle–
One thing remains clear. The French cinema has, in the wish of Parvulesco, become immortal. But with a difference: because in defiance of the second half of that wish, the French cinema gloriously, stunningly, gorgeously, completely, deliriously, resourcefully, resolutely and absolutely refuses to die. And for that we are wildly grateful. Merci infiniment.
Posted with the permission of Howard Rodman.