Films I’ve enjoyed at 2015 COLCOA French Film Festival

Movie reviewed by Oliver Carnay

The 19th anniversary presentation celebrating COLCOA French Film Festival in Los Angeles, yearly housed at the Directors Guild of America, ended last Tuesday (April 28), with a whole day of free screenings. For nine days, French film lovers were treated with some of the best French feature classics, new television movies, shorts and documentaries. These films were shown in the U.S. for the first time with the help of COLCOA partners such as TV France International and TitraTV5, and the support of the French Film and TV office of the Consulate in Los Angeles.

I have made a list of some of the ones I have enjoyed. Some of these films will have a regular theatrical run in the U.S. so if you missed it at the festival, watch out for them in regular theaters.

ATLIT (“Rendez-vous a Atlit”) directed by Shirel Amitay is a story of three French-Israel sisters in their 30's, reunited at their departed parents' old house somewhere in Israel’s Mediterranean coast before it is being sold. But the siblings are torn about their decision with their parents’ occasional apparition. Set in a political background when Prime Miinister Yitzhak Rabin closing in negotiating for peace with the Palestinians, the decision of three sisters are also uncertain. Each of the main actors -- Geraldine Nakache, Judith Chemla, and Yael Abecassis gave a relevant amount of depth and chemistry to their characters. This light-hearted dramedy is refreshingly fun.

OF MEN AND WAR, directed by Laurent Becue-Renard, is one documentary film that was hard for me to take! It was heavy at heart and heartbreaking to hear real stories from Iraq war veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Syndrome Disease (PTSD). Becue-Renard followed group therapy sessions for fourteen months inside The Pathway Home in Yountville, California, a treatment center for soldiers having difficulties in life after being sent home from war.

THE TOURNAMENT (“Le Tournoi”) is written and directed by first-time feature film director Elodie Namer whose works are best known for writing television episodic. This coming-of-age drama-thriller is the story of a chess champion, Cal Fournier (very well played by non-professional first-time actor Michelangelo Passaniti, an actual boxer and comedian in real life) competing at the 34th Budapest International Chess competition, who is threatened by the emergence of another competitor, a 9-year old Hungarian kid. From acting, cinematography, editing, storytelling, soundtrack, the film is a well-made entertaining film, not bad for a first-time feature director (Namer mentioned that it took her four years starting from writing the script, post-production, to finishing editing the film). This is not to be missed if it comes out in selected theaters.

SAMBA - Dir. Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache - I was lucky to have watched this dramatic comedy and hearing lead star Omar Sy (“The Intouchables”) is attending and co-starring Tahar Rahim (I’ve been a fan of him since his groundbreaking performance in “The Prophet”) I intend not to pass up on this one. Unfortunately, Omar Sy was not able to attend because he was shooting for a Ron Howard film, so as we’ve been told. Omar plays Samba, an illegal immigrant from Senegal who has a dream of becoming a chef but as he tries to live decently to avoid deportation with the help of his Brazilian buddy (Rahim) and his uncle helping him stay in his small flat, he is running out of time to make both ends meet. While seeking immigration services, he meets a volunteer assistant (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who thought of an idea to solve her problem, which is not what you may think! .. and you have to find that out later .. (I’m sure you’ll find this on Netflix or at an upcoming theatrical U.S. run) .. hopefully!

THE CONNECTION (“La French”), directed by Cedric Jimenez -- This is Jean Dujardin’s latest film having its West Coast U.S. Premiere at COLCOA, a thrilling true crime saga where William Friedkin’s movie “The French Connection” left off. It was 1975, Magistrate Pierre Michel’s (Jean Dujardin) six year battle of a drug kingpin known as “La French,” notorious of extortion, drug trafficking and numerous robbery, who also had bought corruptive government officials. The French Connection was a criminal ring operating in multiple continents but used Marseille as its main core of activities. This will have a U.S. theatrical run so don’t miss it!

IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER (“L’Homme qu’on aimait trop”) - This is a true-crime thriller set during the French Riviera casinos in the ’70’s. Grande Dame Renee Le Roux (played by one of France’s most celebrated actress Catherine Deneuve, also this director, Andre Techine’s favorite actress whom he has worked in eight films) is a widow who is trying to save her only prized Palais Casino from the mob who wants to get rid of it in order to create a Vegas make-over on the property. When her rebellious daughter Agnes (Adele Haenel) returns from another country and is asking her heir fair share, Renee is faced with more trouble. She finds out that Maurice (convincingly played by Gillaume Canet), her ambitious attorney whom she entrusted her company is a cold-blooded playboy and the culprit who has lured her daughter and sold her votes from the board, she was also later shocked she already lost her casino. Agnes, blinded by her love and destructive passion for Maurice lost everything and later disappeared in the ocean. The embattled mother will take all obstacles to get the justice her daughter deserve, even if it takes forty years. Techine adapted the script from the actual memoir of Renee Le Roux, along with the author’s son Jean-Charles Le Roux, and Cedric Anger, whose own true-crime film “Next Time I’ll Aim For the Heart,” also screened at COLCOA this year (I wanted to see this one but it was playing at the smaller Truffaut Theatre, formerly DGA 2, and it was sold out).

THE LAST HAMMER BLOW (“Le Dernier coup de marteau”) - Dir. Alix Delaporte - A gratifying coming-of-age drama, with an outstanding performance from newcomer Romain Paul, truly a revelation as Victor, a high-schooler living in a run-down seaside trailer home attracted to his teenage neighbor Luna, but also has to cope with the uncertainties of a severely ill mother and a home in bad need of expensive upkeep. When Victor learns that his estranged father, a celebrated orchestra conductor, is staying in a nearby town to conduct Mahler’s 6th symphony, he decides to take a chance and go see him. Expecting nothing, Victor is nonetheless surprised when his father gives him nothing. A heartfelt drama that will be remembered for a long time.

THE GATE (“Le Temps des aveux”) -Dir. Regis Wargnier - Raphael Personnaz gives a convincing performance, consistent in portraying Francois, a French ethnologist working in the Angkor temples, captured by the Khmer Rouge. Set against the backdrop of the Cambodian Civil War in 1971, François was suspected of working for the CIA, he is taken to a brutal prison camp hidden in the heart of the jungle. The young head of the camp, Comrade Duch, is intrigued by François’ candor and impetuousness – conspicuous behavior for a spy. As the two men discuss literature, politics and philosophy, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome in reverse occurs, and Duch begins to doubt that François is guilty of espionage. Though torture and execution are routine in the camp, François’ growing bond gives him hope that he might escape that fate. But he will come to understand that his friendly captor is capable of great evil. Phoeung Kompheak mesmerizes as the intellectually complex Duch.

WHITE SOLDIER (“Soldat blanc”) is another gritty war-drama which served as the Closing Night film, with the attendance of writer-director Eric Zonca for the Q&A at the end of the screening. The two leads Abraham Belaga (Robert) and Emile Berling (Andre) were brilliant actors playing two idealistic soldiers during the 1945 Vietnam war curtailing the colonial Japanese aggression. Robert, who is the captain of the group took the inexperienced Andre in his wings. When they arrived at Tonkin rice field, they realized they were fighting civilians who have taken up Ho Chi Minh’s call for political freedom. Andre refused to kill Vietnamese joining the resistance and become responsible for the political “re-education” of captured French soldiers, while Robert forms a commando unit to track Andre to pay for his treason.

(to be continued)
LOVE AT FIRST FIGHT (“Les Combattan”)- Dir. Thomas Cailley -

SK1 - Dir. writer/director Frederic Tellier

GET WELL SOON (“Bon retablissement!”

BLIND DATE - Dir. Clovis Cornillac