Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Starring ... Paris!

Guess Who Got Shot in Paris?
Hollywood Capitalizes on the Ile-De-France Region’s Film Production Resources

Lise Bouvier: Maybe Paris has a way of making people forget.
Jerry Mulligan: Paris? No. Not this city. It's too real and too beautiful to ever let you forget anything.
(An American in Paris, 1951)

For as long as there have been movies, there have been clichéd love stories set in the city of lights. Paris’ traditional landscape has been romanticized to the extreme by Hollywoodian love stories; sharing a sweet embrace on the Pont Neuf seems to be a rite of passage into big screen immortality. Think: Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris, Billy Crystal and Debra Winger in Forget Paris, Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan in French Kiss, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give. Filmmakers from around the world have fallen in love with France’s capital city and given life to the Parisian landscape on the big screen. In many of these films, Paris is not only a background setting, but is a major part of the plot, a character in its own right. With the new Mrs. Tom Cruise saying “I do” atop la Tour Eiffel and Brangelina recently shacking up in the 15th arrondissement, Paris has become the Hollywood love hot spot du jour. Carrie Bradshaw – almost! – followed her hunky dancer to Paris on the series finale of “Sex & The City” and, had Ross not arrived in the nick of time, Rachel Green of the hit series “Friends” would probably be working at the just- renovated Louis Vuitton flagship store on the Champs Elysées. The Bachelor in Paris recently watched Travis and Sarah find true love against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, and other cheesy tourist attractions. Though Paris has always been a favorite spot for filmmakers and film buffs alike, the Ile-de-France Film Commission has lately gone even further to promote filming in the region.

More and more films are being made in Ile-de-France, especially Paris. About 90% of the French cinema and audiovisual industry is based in Ile-de-France and Hollywood is following fast in its tracks. The Ile-de-France Film Commission’s goal is to identify projects in the planning stage and encourage promoters to use the Ile de France region for filming and production activity. While French films have always been eligible for local subsidies, the Ile-de-France has attracted myriad international productions, offering regional aid to projects if more than 50% of the footage is filmed in the Ile de France. According to Olivier-René Veillon, Executive Director of the Ile de France Film Commission, “We want the Ile de France region to be a major site for international film production.”

In 2005, the French capital was home to 662 film shoots, including 100 feature films, 90 short films, 150 TV fiction films and 54 documentaries. On a typical day from May through August every year, there are between 10 and 15 films being shot in the region, both French and international. In addition to The Da Vinci Code and Marie Antoinette, the Ile-de-France welcomed the cast and crew of Steven Spielberg’s Munich, Stephen Frears’ The Queen and popular French films including Danièle Thompson’s Fauteuils d’Orchestre, Claude Chabrol’s L’Ivresse du Pouvoir and Francis Veber’s La Doublure.

Last summer, cameras invaded the world’s largest cultural staple of art to film the movie version of Dan Brown’s international bestseller The Da Vinci Code, which will premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival on May 17th.

From June through August of last summer, Ron Howard’s team of professionals occupied the French capital – from the Louvre Museum, to the suburban Chateau de la Villette. It was hard not to notice the 87 trailers parked all around the Louvre, and filming took place on Tuesdays and at night, after the museum was closed to the public. According to Veillon, the challenge in filming The Da Vinci Code was finding a balance between the importance of such a central cultural monument and the grandeur of such a big-budget Hollywood film. Veillon attributes the success of the film shoot to the competence of the Paris police prefecture who assured that the numerous trailers found a place to park themselves in the Louvre’s constricted surroundings and secured the area for the high-profile cast and crew without disrupting Parisian daily life.

“If a movie like The Da Vinci Code can be filmed in the Louvre, it’s possible for any film to be shot in Paris,” Veillon told The Paris Times.

Not only did French Cultural Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres allow the project to occur in his country’s most famed national palace, but he has been rallying for a more ubiquitous use of French cultural monuments in film. In January of last year, De Vabres invited presidents of France’s principal museums along with film producers in an effort to fuse cinematic production with the spread of French culture throughout the world. De Vabres urged the attendees to increase the number of film productions in national museums.

The cinema has proven itself to be a significant means of cultural transport. In fact, 62% of tourists visiting France claim to have chosen to come to France for their vacation after exposure to the country in a feature film. France’s recent efforts to open the doors of its most precious cultural establishments to film production is not merely a defense mechanism against the invasion of Hollywood’s monopoly, but a means of defending its patrimony. The marriage between film and culture not only attracts film crews to ameliorate France’s economic health and enhance its cultural influence, but it also brings jobs to thousands of local film crews struggling to find work in a Hollywoodian hegemonic world.

The Mona Lisa isn’t the only one rolling in the dough recently. Marie Antoinette is also taking in some big bucks from Columbia Pictures. Sofia Coppola shot Marie Antoinette, produced by her father Francis Ford Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst, at the Chateau of Versailles, in particular Marie Antoinette’s apartments. The film will also premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May. The Versailles Château welcomed Coppola and crew with open arms. “I was very impressed by the way Sofia Coppola handled such a historically significant topic,” said Veillon, “I have a great deal of respect and admiration for her.”

Yet Coppola is not the first to feature Versailles on the big screen; in fact, 160 films and 50 documentaries have been filmed in this historical palace. The Louvre last opened its doors in 1999 for “Belphegor,The Phantom of the Louvre” a mystery film about a ghost haunting the Louvre and stealing precious Egyptian artifacts.

Cannes will also be the home to the world premiere of Paris, Je t’aime, a series of shorts directed by 20 different film-makers invited from around the world to write and direct a five-minute film, each illustrating the timeless theme of romance in one of Paris’ 20 arrondissements. The stories were shot separately in both English and French, but woven together to create a coherent single narrative. Participating directors include such famous names as Joel and Ethan Coen, Olivier Assayas, Gus Van Sant, Isabel Coixet, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès and Wes Craven. The casting credits read like a potpourri of the world’s most beloved actors: Gérard and Julie Depardieu, Nick Nolte, Emily Mortimer, Natalie Portman, Juliette Binoche, Elijah Wood, Willem Dafoe, Ludivine Sagnier and Maggie Gyllenhaal to give just a sample of the extraordinary cast.

In February, American director Hal Hartley was in Paris to shoot his latest film, Fay Grim, the sequel to 1997’s Henry Fool which stars Jeff Goldblum and Parker Posey.

Fay Grim was filmed in the prestigious Hôtel de Soubise.

And … Badabing! Paris also welcomed the cast and crew of hit US series, The Sopranos, from February 27-March 3 of this year. Under the direction of Tim van Patten and the supervision of Executive Producer Ilene S. Landress, actresses Edie Falco, Shannon Angela and Drea de Matteo brought an international dimension to the famous mafia drama. Spoiler alert!: After Carmela and Tony have a marital dispute, the lovely ladies of Prime Time head to Paris for an overseas escape including the fancy Raphael Hotel on the Champs-Elysées, dinner at the Grand Véfour, lunch at the Brasserie Pereire at the Place du Maréchal Juin, prayers at the église Saint Eustache, a quick tour through the markets at the Rue Lévis in the 17th arrondissement and a promenade that takes them from the Palais Royal gardens to the Pont Alexandre III. Not to mention a visit to the Musée du Moyen Age and the Cluny thermal baths. The Sopranos cast and crew all stayed at the Grand Hôtel on the rue Scribe.

Woody Allen will be in Paris this summer filming his next movie, known only to date as the mysterious “Woody Allen Summer Project 2006.” David Krumholtz has recently signed up to star opposite Michelle Williams. This marks the first Allen film ever to shoot entirely in Paris and will be co-produced by Virtual Films and Wild Bunch, and distributed by TF1 International.

“I am really looking forward to the opportunity to shoot a film in Paris,” Allen told the Ile-de-France Film Commission. “I have always had a wonderful experience when visiting there. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I know it is going to be a great place to work.”

As Jean Cocteau once said, “In Paris, everybody wants to be an actor; nobody is content to be a spectator.” Yet the recent films starring the famous city give Parisians good reason to head to the nearest cinema to watch the Ile-de-France come alive on screen. Un, deux, trois … Action!

Quote of the Day:
Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.
- WH Auden

French Expression of the Day:
Marcher à côté de ses pompes.
Literally: To walk next to one's shoes. Figuratively: To be out of it.

Pastry of the Day:
Le Financier:

"A cake made from a sponge mixture using ground almonds and whisked egg whites." Like a Madeleine, and about as ubiquitous, the financier looks like a tasteless rectangular cake, but, when made well, has a light almond flavor and is a nice addition to an afternoon coffee.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Metro Moment...

(François Berléand at the Montparnasse métro station. Monday, April 10th, 2006. Photo taken by Rebecca Leffler)

(Berléand in Mon Idole)

(Berléand in L'Ivresse du Pouvoir)

Though magazines such as Voici and Closer have amassed a large following of celebrity-crazed French citizens, Paris remains a safe haven for the rich and famous looking to lead “normal” lives. While, in Hollywood, even C-list stars must hire 300-lb. bodybuilders to accompany them to the grocery store, in Paris, French A-listers can buy a baguette from their neighborhood bakery, ride their “moto” to work without being offroaded by papa razzi on wheels or even – gasp! – take the subway. US Weekly has a weekly section (or so I’ve heard, not like I actually read that trashy magazine –ha!) (okay that was a lie, I smuggle it across the Atlantic whenever possible) titled “Stars, They’re Just Like Us!” Look, Gwyneth is walking with her baby in the park! (pushing a MacLaren stroller, with a Louis Vuitton baby bag over one arm and a nanny three feet away) Sarah Jessica Parker stepped in dog poo! (and subsequently called her personal assistant who arrives within seconds to replace her Jimmy Choo shoes with an identical pair.) Jennifer Aniston buys groceries! (at Whole Foods, and then brings said ingredients to her personal chef who whips her up a Zone-friendly gourmet meal before her private Pilates session). Just like us … riiiiiiight.
In Paris, however, or, more specifically my lovely neighborhood of St-Germain-des-près, celebrity sightings are a frequent event, and one that involves no loud shrieking, autograph-demanding or photo snapping. I was amazed when I saw Charlotte Gainsbourg and Yvan Attal, two of France’s most famous faces and tragically separated couple à la Jen and Brad, walking along the rue de Rennes calmly with no one stopping them for an autograph or even saying hello, though it was clear that many passersby recognized them. (Including me, however, I will have you know that I contained myself and resisted all urges to act like an American and attack them in the street.) Mathieu Kassovitz, one of Gaul’s most acclaimed directors (and actors), rides a “moto,” wears jeans to work and post comments on his personal blog. Cédric Klapisch frequents modest cafés in the 11th arrondissement, though he can clearly afford to be dining at Alain Ducasse whenever he so chooses. I saw Yolande Moreau in the metro one day, right after she took home a César award. And Edouard Baer is always riding down the streets of St-Germain-des-près on his moto. (He wears a helmet, I am happy to report, for all of you who were worried about his safety.) Though the American cinephile in me always screams “attack!” during such encounters, the classy French woman inside me quickly shuts her up. However, yesterday morning on my way to work, I noticed François Berléand standing on the opposite side of the quai at the Montparnasse metro stop. I couldn’t resist. I nonchalantly snapped a photo of him from across the quai. And, by nonchalantly, I mean completely noticeably, seeing as how Berléand looked a me with a look of disgust (I felt like I’d walked a mile in a People Magazine photographer’s shoes) and boarded the approaching train. I simply adore François Berléand. Well, his acting roles at least – as you can see, we are quite far from becoming best mates although I feel that our charming interaction on the quai yesterday will eventually lead to a lifelong friendship. Berléand boasts over 150 films to date in his vast filmography, and is currently in production on several projects.
His role as Monsieur Jo in Jacques Audiard’s Un Héro Très Discret (A Self-Made Hero, 1996) – one of my favorite films of all time for that matter – introduced me to his work, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his work in Guillaume Canet’s Mon Idole, 2002, (sidenote : I plan to marry Guillaume Canet one day, now that he is fresh off his break-up with Diane Kruger, Franco-German supermodel turned actress. Yes, I still think I have a very good chance. Look, here's a photo of us at dinner the other night),

Christophe Barratier’s Les Choristes (The Chorus, 2003), Alexandra Leclère’s Les Sœurs Fâchées (Me and My Sister, 2004), Gilles Lellouch’s Narco (2003) and the more recent L’Ivresse du Pouvoir (Comedy of Power, 2006). I look forward to seeing him in Guillaume Canet’s upcoming Ne le Dis à Personne (Tell No One) alongside a stellar cast including François Cluzet, Nathalie Baye, André Dussollier, Gilles Lellouche and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Quote of the Day :
« I think being funny is not anyone's first choice. »
-Woody Allen

French Expression of the Day :

“Ouais Gros”: Apparently there’s no direct English translation of this expression (one of my colleagues offered “Yeaaaaah bitch!” as the closest translation) but you’ll hear it in almost every French rap/hip hop song. It’s the French way to show everyone you are that hard core (since they don’t seem to know that being from New Jersey already places you in said category).

French Pastry of the Day: Le Croissant

« Croissant is French for « crescent or crescent-shaped. » Croissants are composed of a light buttery rich yeast dough that can have either a sweet (jam, marzipan, chocolate) or savory (cheese, ham, chicken, mushrooms) filling. Traditionally enjoyed in France for breakfast with coffee and milk.
Legend has it that one night during the war of 1686 between Austria and Turkey, bakers in Budapest Hungary heard Turkish soldiers tunneling under the city and sounded the alarm. This led to the Turkish defeat of the war and the bakers' reward was the honor of making a commemorative pastry in a crescent shape (the shape that is on the Turkish flag). » Croissants come in many forms, my favorites of which include La Durée’s Croissant aux Noix (a glazed croissant with a walnut filling) and any Almond Croissant (the Bonbonnerie de Buci’s is delicious, for example). A good croissant should be crispy and flaky on the outside and soft on the inside.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

French Kissing: Romantic Comedies à la Française


I almost did it. That is, I nearly went an entire month without seeing a film starring Daniel Auteuil. The last time I saw the ubiquitous French actor, he was engaging in a sexually experimental foursome in the countryside with a blind man and their wives (in Peindre ou Faire l’Amour that is, although I cannot confirm how he spends his leisure time). I more recently spent Saturday evening watching Auteuil play the role of Pierre Levasseur, a wealthy businessman trying to juggle his wife (played by the perfectly dislikable Kristin Scott Thomas whose mastery of the French tongue was a pleasant surprise) and his mistress, supermodel – or, in French, “top model” (pronounced taup moodell) – Elena (the beautiful, amazonian Alice Taglioni).
When a photographer publishes a shot of Levasseur arguing with Elena over whether or not he will indeed divorce his wife for her, Levasseur needs an excuse to avoid divorce with his wife, whose family owns 60% of his business. Levasseur’s attorney, Maître Fox (Richard Berry) decides there’s only one thing to do: find the random passerby in the photo and pretend that Elena is actually dating him. Soon, with an alacrity only possible in Hollywood – or, rather, French films mimicking the Hollywood model such as La Doublure – François Pignon, an unlucky-in-love valet at a nearby restaurant, is contacted and Elena moves into his apartment as the two attempt to fool the papa razzi – and Levasseur’s wife – that the two really are an item. Hilarity consequently ensues as the goofy Pignon (Gad Elmaleh) and the beautiful in an I-could-eat-Angelina-Jolie-for-Breakfast sort of way Elena shack up, Levasseur grows increasingly more jealous of their duo and Madame Levasseur continues to investigate the ostensibly odd situation. Danny Boon is uproariously pathetic as Pignon’s berating best friend and steals the screen in a scene of disbelief when he sees that a gorgeous supermodel is indeed co-inhabiting his friend’s apartment. And Virginie Ledoyen is cold yet likable as the object of Pignon’s affections. The film was a lesson in Product Placement 101 – the Mercedes should be listed on the cast list since the cars probably took up at least 50% of screen time, and Karl Lagerfeld makes a cameo to present his new season line, starring Elena – yet this big-budget Hollwoodian commercial French film actually provided a witty storyline and perfect performances from its talent. The film is directed by Francis Veber, who also directed two of my favorite French comedies of all time: Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game) and Le Placard (The Closet). In the grand tradition of terrible Hollywood remakes of good foreign films, a remake of The Closet is currently in production over at Miramax, though I think it would be nearly impossible to find a better duo than Depardieu and Auteuil. La Doublure, which, in English means “the stand-in” but whose English title is The Valet, has been at the top of the French box office this week and deservedly so. I’ll do my best from now on to somehow end up in a papa razzi photograph (as if I haven’t spent my life in such a pursuit already) because who knows what male model a wealthy businesswoman might send to my doorstep?


Last night, I went to a premiere of On Va S’Aimer, a new romantic comedy directed by Ivan Calbérac, at the Publicis Cinemas on the Champs-Elysées. In sum, I spent one hour and 26 minutes watching a bunch of French people cheat on each other and then sporadically break into song; really no different than a typical day in Paris … The film follows two couples, Laurent (Julian Boisselier) and Camille (Mélanie Doutey) and François (Gilles Lellouche) and Elodie (Alexandra Lamy). First Laurent and Elodie sleep together – and then sing about it through the streets of Paris in sort of a musical romantic comedy, if you will. Elodie then subsequently breaks up with François, leaving Laurent to decide between the forceful feminist Elodie and the sweet and charming Camille, all the while trying to prevent an angry François from discovering that he is Elodie’s mysterious new fling. Though ostensibly just another romantic comedy, the incredibly witty script and intermittent bouts of song and dance, distinguish this film from other more banal movies of its genre. While I’m not such a fan of Alexandra Lamy – nor her hairdo in the marriage scene, oh mon Dieu don’t they have fashion consultants on set? – the rest of the cast was superb, specifically Gilles Lellouche. The supporting cast also brought talent and laughs to the table, including a hilarious cameo by Patrick Chesnais as an undercover detective François hires to find out who Elodie’s new man of the hour is, and the always luminescent Anne Consigny. I watched the cast and crew shoot a scene from this film on the Pont des Arts last summer, so it was great to see it all come together so well. It reminded me of Chantal Akerman’s 1986 film Golden Eighties (Window Shopping), a glimpse of life in an underground mall where the characters cut hair, fall in and out of love, and sing about it. Long live the French musical comedy!

French Word of the Day
Undémodable : not ever going out of fashion

Quote of the Day
A Frenchman's home is where another man's wife is.

-Mark Twain

Pastry of the Day
La Madeleine

« Dating back to the 18th century in the French town of Commercy, in the region of Lorraine, the story goes that a girl name Madeleine made them for Stanislaw Lezczynski, Duke of Lorraine, who loved them and subsequently gave some to his daughter, Marie, the wife of Louis XV. Their popularity grew after that. »