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"Chinese Puzzle," "Venus in Fur," and "Me, Myself and Mom" at the COLCOA Film Festival

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For those who do not already know about it, the City of Lights, City of Angels (COLCOA) Film Festival is one of the great treasures of Los Angeles. Including seventeen U.S. premieres this year, COLCOA is an eclectic array of French movies highlighting the finest talents in French cinema. With screenings taking place at the Directors Guild of America, programmer François Truffart consistently brings the most interesting and exciting films from France to America.

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© Cohen Media Group

Cédric Klapisch's "Chinese Puzzle" (Casse-tête chinois) is the funniest movie that I've seen in years. A contemporary comedy of manners with fantastic physical schticks, it recalls Woody Allen and Robert Altman's finest works. This is the third film of Cédric Klapisch's trilogy starring Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France. Klapisch has a great eye for cultural nuances and knows how to create a perfectly paced, light-hearted romp.

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Courtesy of Guy Ferrandis

So many plays do not translate well as films, but it is easy to see why Roman Polanski won Best Director at the César Awards this year for "Venus in Fur." The writing, acting and directing are so smart and the twists so intriguing that it is difficult to imagine there are only two actors and one set in this film. However, the range that each actor incarnates and the shifting power dynamics between them are so intriguing that this film can be viewed several times. Emmanuelle Seigner is magical at luring in Mathieu Amalric and subtly teaching him a torturous lesson.

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© Thierry Valletoux/Gaumont

It is easy to understand why "Me, Myself and Mom" was nominated for ten César Awards and walked away with five of them including Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor. Writer, director, actor Guillaume Gallienne is mind-bogglingly empathetic and funny as the young man whose mother treats him like that daughter she never had. Guillaume could pitch this film to Hollywood studios for the next fifty years and they would never understand the concept; yet his performances as both his younger self as well as his mother are apocalyptic regarding gender roles and the nature/nurture debate. This film with definitely be nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards next year so do not miss the opportunity to see it in the theaters when it comes out.

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Photo by Roger Do Minh

"Quantum Love" completely surprised me in so many ways. At first it seems like a typical light drama but it actually plays completely against the typical Hollywood narrative structure. And it works! Works marvelously! If I tell you that this is a story of unconsummated attraction immediately you might think, "Well, that sounds as boring as real life..." but writer-directer Lisa Azuelos has made it intriguing and even tantalizing. The story is about a man and a woman who get on famously and obviously greatly desire each other and yet have such tremendous personal integrity that they do not give in to their lust. Go figure. And the movie is not moralistic at all. The on-screen chemistry between Sophie Marceau and Francois Cluzet is palpable but she adheres to her rule against fooling around with married men and he does not want to cheat on his wife. Describing it makes it sound almost like an anti-movie and yet it is so pleasurable to watch them do what few other screen couples ever manage to do. This is a very brave film and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how non-conventional it is.

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© ECCE FILMS

I also really liked first-time writer-director Justine Triet's "Age of Panic." Triet shot scenes live at the Socialist Party headquarters on the actual night of the French presidential elections and skillfully juxtaposes the tension of the divorced couple - Laetitia and Vincent - fighting over his visitation rights for their children with the tension between the Holland and Sarkozy supporters. This is an extremely intense, combustible film but also quite humorous mostly because of Vincent's frustration over not being able to spend time with his children. Triet has elevated a relatively simple story of marital drama to a symbol for a divided, disillusioned generation and done so in an entertaining manner.

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Getty Images

All in all, it was a lovely and festive week filled with spectacular food and wine from the Club Culinaire of Southern California and wonderful warmth and hospitality by sponsor Air Tahiti Nui. I am very happy to have attended this wonderfully well-organized, delightful festival that screened a plethora of smart and exhilarating (and some very funny) films. Don't miss the above movies when they come out in theaters and don't miss the festival next year!