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Godard, zombies and the economy: ColCoa French film festival starts tonight

This post is by Doug Cummings, author of the world cinema blog FilmJourney.org.

Godard, zombies and the economy: ColCoa French film festival starts tonight

Since 1996, the annual City of Lights, City of Angeles film festival has offered a week of North American and world premieres of new French films along with an array of public discussions and events. It's known for eclectic programming, and while it's tempting to critique the absence of highly anticipated titles currently touring the festival circuit by auteurs such as Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette, Claire Denis, Bruno Dumont, or Jessica Hausner, many such films have already been picked up for US distribution.

Generally speaking, COLCOA is about US debuts, attested to by films such as Heartbreaker, Tete de Turc, Round da Way, Silent Voices and My Father's Guests--and virtually all of the festival's other features are West Coast premieres. This year's program includes a mix of popular genre films, prestige dramas, some art films, an afternoon of shorts, and revival films. There's definitely something for everyone, and the many free screenings (a surprise premiere on Tuesday, morning reruns, even gratis tickets for zombie lookalikes at Saturday's screening of the horror film The Horde, pictured above) make it an especially attractive event.

Godard, zombies and the economy: ColCoa French film festival starts tonight

Foremost among the glamor is undoubtedly Friday's post-Cannes international premiere of the digitally restored Pierrot le fou (1965), Jean-Luc Godard's vibrantly colorful and freewheeling genre-bending road movie starring New Wave icons Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina (the latter will be in attendance; see David Ehrenstein's interview with Karina here). As self-conscious, unpredictable in form and tone, and aesthetically ravishing as Godard's best films, the movie showcases cinematographer Raoul Coutard's brilliant facility with the widescreen frame.

Godard himself is the subject of Wednesday's Two in the Wave, a nostalgic but lightweight account of the public friendship and eventual acrimonious rift that developed between Godard and filmmaker François Truffaut. Both cineastes were critical and directorial upstarts, peaking with their leadership of the February '68 protests against the French government for its sacking of Henri Langlois, and their following role in the May cancellation of the Cannes film festival in solidarity with student protests. Godard became further radicalized but Truffaut did not, and their resulting tensions were intensified by their shared gift for polemic. Director Emmanuel Laurent is content to summarize their relationship with well known clips and sound bites that may be entertaining, but blunt the nuances of the filmmakers' convictions and minimize the underlying questions about the social role of cinema they sparked.

Another New Wave filmmaker, Alain Cavalier, has become more formally adventurous as he has grown older. His latest film, Irene (screening Thursday), is a first-person video diary in which he explores the memory of his late wife, an actress killed in an automobile accident in 1972. Her memory haunts him, and he meditates on their relationship by reading his diaries written at the time and by revisiting the locations of their shared past, filming rooms, beaches, and streets while narrating his feelings. It's highly unconventional but deeply moving, and Cavalier's ability to conjure emotions from such everyday objects as a rumpled duvet or a dimly lit, empty room is powerful and lingering.

COLCOA features a number of films that explore the private recesses of emotion. The standout could be Mia Hansen-Love's The Father of My Children (pictured below), a closely observed and highly compelling drama about an international art film producer and family man (Louis-do De Lencquesaing) whose financial pressures lead him to despair and personal tragedy. Inspired by the real life of producer Humbert Balsan, who died in 2005, the film effectively communicates the courageous vision and emotional costs of artistically ambitious production while successfully expanding its relevance to universal themes of psychological bearing and personal attachment. A highly sensitive film that never stoops to melodrama, it's a sober and compassionate rendering of lives facing the severe economic pressures of today's cutthroat economy.

Godard, zombies and the economy: ColCoa French film festival starts tonight

All ColCoa screenings take place at the Directors Guild Theater Complex at 7920 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. A full list of the festival's offerings and ticketing info can be found at www.colcoa.org.


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