Daniele Thompson on the set of "It Happened in Saint-Tropez." (Emilie de la Hosseraye )
Springtime may bring thoughts of visiting Paris, but for Southern Californians without the time or means for a transatlantic getaway, there's the City of Lights, City of Angels film festival. Starting Monday, the 17th annual event at the Directors Guild of America will bring 38 French features to L.A., including the North American premiere of Danièle Thompson's new romantic comedy, "It Happened in Saint-Tropez."
Starring Monica Bellucci and Kad Merad in a romp about two cousins who fall in love with the same man, "It Happened in Saint-Tropez" will open in Paris just five days before kicking off the L.A. festival. The weeklong gathering also includes Q&As with directors and stars, seminars and tributes to such legendary directors as the late Louis Malle and Jacques Demy as well as Alain Resnais.
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"It's such a thrill to show our films in America," said Thompson, who was nominated for an Oscar 36 years ago for co-writing the classic French romantic comedy "Cousin, Cousine" and attended City of Lights, City of Angels five years ago with comedy-drama "Avenue Montaigne." "The idea of being in Hollywood showing your movie ... this is a legendary place."
The filmmaker, who lives half the year in St.-Tropez, co-wrote her new film with her son, Christopher. "It's a very little quiet village with a normal simple life ... and suddenly, for a couple of months it becomes crazy," she said of the resort town. "It's two different ways of life."
Thompson drew on her experiences there to illustrate the differences between the cousins — one comes from a rich, carefree family that parties on a yacht in the harbor, while the less affluent one is in St.-Tropez performing a classical musical concert with her serious-minded father.
She described their new comedy as "not very moral, it's not very politically correct," saying it "shows how love is much stronger than principals and moral conviction."
Francois Truffart, executive producer and artistic director of the festival, said programming the festival is a long and challenging process. "French film is a very diversified cinema," he noted, "and we want people in America to discover this diversity."
Truffart said the audience for the festival has grown and changed over the years. Recently social media promotions have been bringing in a new generation of filmgoers, he said. "More and more people are coming between the ages of 25-35."
Several films showcased in the festival already have U.S. distributors including Francois Ozon's teacher-student drama, "In the House," which will arrive in cinemas on Friday, as well as "The Attack," about an Israeli-Palestinian surgeon whose wife carries out a suicide bombing, which Cohen Media Group will release in theaters in May. The comedies "Populaire" (set in the world of 1950s typing competitions) and "Haute Cuisine" (about a woman who becomes chef to the president of France) will be released by the Weinstein Co. after they play at the festival.
On Tuesday evening, the festival will offer a "free blind date" screening, the world premiere of a movie whose title will not be revealed in advance. Free morning screenings are also available starting Wednesday; titles will be announced at 10 p.m. the night before on the festival's website as well as on a telephone hot line.
Writer-director Philippe Le Guay's latest, "Cycling With Moliere," will have its North American premiere at the festival. The engaging comedy-drama stars Fabrice Luchini as a retired actor living on the isolated Île de Ré who is obsessed with Moliere's "The Misanthrope."
Lambert Wilson plays a TV star who comes to Luchini's house to persuade him to do a stage production with him of the Moliere classic. The two end up doing scenes from the play as they bicycle around the island.
Le Guay, who was at City of Lights, City of Angels with "The Women on the 6th Floor" two years ago and in 2005 with "The Cost of Living," said the festival is a "wonderful way of getting in touch with our colleagues across the Atlantic."
"Cycling," he said, came out of his experience attempting to get Luchini to star in "The Women on the 6th Floor." "He kept losing the script," said Le Guay. "He has this little house on the Île de Ré and ultimately I decided to go there on the island and give him the script in hand. He welcomed me and we began cycling in the swamps just as the two characters in the film and he began to say the first scene, first act of 'The Misanthrope."'