City of Lights, City of Angels -- Los Angeles' premier French film festival, and surely one of the biggest Francophile fests this side of Cannes -- sure knows how to throw a party.
The line was out the door Monday evening at the DGA Theater on Sunset Boulevard as ticket-holders eagerly awaited COLCOA's opening night gala, a lavish fete followed by a screening of Claude Lelouch's "We Love You, You Bastard," a quaint French family drama that juggles romance, melodrama and mystery with the help of an eclectic acting ensemble.
Lelouch, 76, is the tireless French director of 44 films including, most notably, "A Man and a Woman," the 1966 heart-clutching romance starring New Wave titans Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, which won the Cannes Palme d'Or and took two Oscars including Best Foreign Language Film. With "We Love You, You Bastard," Lelouch proudly wears his particular brand of earnest, middle-of-the-road dramedies. They'll never land on any Cahiers du Cinema countdown or make their way into a high-profile Cannes slot, but Lelouch's films cater to audiences seeking a sincere panorama of complicated and, indeed, very French, characters.
In recognition of his prolific career, COLCOA feted Lelouch with an opulent party in the DGA lobby, replete with a towering assembly of hors d'oeuvres, bottomless Brut and a closing Q&A with "Mad Men" show runner Matthew Weiner. Many local must-eateries were featured last night, from Hollywood's elite Lexington Social House to downtown LA's irresistible Church and State. I noshed on delicately arranged sushi, impeccably dressed frisee and deliciously oozy bruschetta.
Food and drink aside, COLCOA is about the films, and with a whopping 61 entries screening throughout this year's 18th edition, it's clearly a cinephile's destination. Milling among the myriad Francophones last night were prominent LA critics and programmers, and while snaking my way to DGA entrance, I overheard attendees buzzing about what films they planned to see at the fest -- from a newly burnished digital print of Rene Clement's "Purple Noon" (1960), starring art house heartthrob Alain Delon, to Roman Polanski's latest passion project, "Venus in Fur."
Prior to the screening, Claude Lelouch noted, "For 50 years I have been making films to make your heart beat, so tonight I hope you go for it." Also in attendance was "We Love You, You Bastard" star and 70-year-old immortal French crooner Johnny Hallyday, who now lives in Los Angeles.
Monday eve, COLCOA also announced its closing night films, which are two North American premieres: "In the Yard," directed by Pierre Salvadori and starring the untouchable Catherine Deneuve, and the thriller "Mea Culpa," directed by Fred Cavaye, a considerably western French filmmaker (2010's "Point Blank").