Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Sausage

On the eve of the birth of Christ, French television is giving birth to … “Johnny Saucisson” (aka “Johnny Sausage" in French). Canal+ will air the humorous glimpse of French life through the eyes of foreigners starting this Christmas Eve, Dec. 24 at 6:15 PM local time then every night in the same time slot through Dec. 28. The 26-minute series follows five Anglo-Saxon authors and journalists – including yours truly – as we experience the ups and downs of expat life in France and, in turn, highlight the foibles of the country. My segment is called “Une Américaine à Paris” (“An American in Paris”). Les Inrockuptibles magazine (see excerpt below) wrote this week: “Special mention to Rebecca Leffler, a sort of pest straight from Sex & the City…” and VSD magazine (last week’s top selling magazine thanks to their breaking story about President Nicolas Sarkozy hooking up with singer/model Carla Bruni) wrote: “A dynamic show without pretension, well served by mischievous reporters without complexes.” My fellow “mischievous reporters” include lovely ladies Sophie “I’m British, sorry!” Davidson and Susan “Paris is so sensual” Oubari and British blokes and talented authors Stephen “A Year in the Merde” Clarke and Mike “An Englishman in Paris” Sadler. The show is produced by Story Box Press and DERALF, and directed by the fabulous Fabien Constant and Loic Prigent. Please watch! Merry Christmas and Joyeux Saucisson!

Click here to see clips of the show:

(I’m in the “une américaine à paris” and “French lover” segments)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


The King of the world met the King of Morocco as the Marrakech International film festival rolled out its red carpets in the “Red City” for the 7th annual celebration of global cinema. Under the patronage of King Mohammed VI, the fest kicked off Friday Nov. 7 with hommages to Leonardo DiCaprio and Moroccan director Mustapha Derkaoui followed by a royal screening of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.”
Director Martin Scorcese made his way to the mean streets of Marrakech to honor his star actor during the lavish ceremony at the city’s Palais des Congres. “When I come back to Marrakech, I feel like I’m coming home,” Scorsese told the crowd. The director also gave a Masterclass the following day for public and professional cinephiles.

“Cinema for me is the great modern art form. It allows us for limited moments to escape ourselves and be transported to alternative circumstances,” DiCaprio said accepting his honor. Festgoers too were all able to escape to sunny Morocco as the laid-back atmosphere provided a welcome change from the awards season frenzy in the rest of the world.
Speaking of laid-back… Marrakech is officially the only film festival I have attended where I didn’t see one film! I had quite a wonderful weekend of sun, souks and stars.
The stars were all out under the Arabian night sky from American actor Matt Dillon to French actresses Marie-Jose Croze and Marina Hands, not to mention Milos Forman’s high profile eight-strong jury including John Hurt, Parker Posey and French director Claude Miller. Dior held a lavish dinner during opening weekend, Canal Plus Cinema held daily poolside director’s lunches, Dessange made sure everyone was well-coiffed and what glamorous film festival would be complete without a visit from Catherine Deneuve? I wined and dined my way through the city from the swank très French Café de La Poste to the more authentic Moroccan Tangia to the Costes look-a-like La Villa Rossa. Then went for some Fez-abulous dancing at Pacha and the Jad Mahal. A hammam/gommage/massage at the Hotel Sultana turned my skin to fine porcelain and my body to jello.

Yet behind all of the glitz, festival organizers made sure to shed the spotlight on its panorama of global film. Egyptian cinema blew out its 100th birthday candles and a retrospective of the Moroccan films of 2007 screened as a sidebar to the diverse competition line-up with titles from 23 countries including Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s “Actresses” from France and Tamara Jenkins’ “The Savages” from the US. James Mangold’s “3:10 to Yuma” and Florent Emilio Siri’s Algerian War drama “Intimate Enemies” screened out of competition.
“The festival is really growing year after year. Even the Festival de Cannes wasn’t as big as us after seven years!” the festival’s artistic director Bruno Barde told me.
Theaters were packed throughout the week and crowds swarmed to the Place Jemma El Fna for a series of open air screenings including a special visit from Scorcese and DiCaprio who came to the city’s large bustling marketplace center to present “Aviator.”
“Marrakech is a unique opportunity to meet directors and authors from the Maghreb region. It’s a bridge between Morocco and France,” Canal Plus’ Director of Acquisitions of French films Manuel Alduy said.
Barde agreed. “Marrakech isn’t a market for buyers and sellers. It’s an economic platform where people meet each other and talk about movies,” he said.
From the herds of cinephiles who descended on the city from all over Morocco to the professionals and talent from all over the world, the Marrekech International Film Festival’s 7th edition certainly gave everyone something to talk about.
Just a three hour plane ride from Paris, Marrakech is a completely different culture, filled with beautiful landscapes, friendly people and the most amazing mint green tea I’ve ever had. Not to mention that everything there is half the price it is in Paris. So shout out to King Mohammed VI and His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid for the couscous-coolest weekend ever.

Actor of the week: Gilles Lellouche

You can read my interview with him in the soon-to-be on newsstands January issue of French PLAYBOY, but if you can’t wait….voilà le scoop. Gilles Lellouche is THE it boy of the moment here in Gaul. Matt Damon may have been chosen PEOPLE magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Year but the Sexiest FRENCH Man of the Year is by far Monsieur Lellouche (no relation to Claude Lelouch, mind you – this bad boy’s got his own blood boiling.) Sorry Guillaume Canet, but your BFF has replaced you in my heart. (which is OK since I hear you and a certain rumored to be Oscar-nominated actress are seeing the world through rose-colored lenses together these days? Cough cough.) Not only is the ubiquitous actor in pretty much 99% of all movies out in Gaul currently and soon to be released, but he also directs and writes … not to mention he’s très handsome and incredibly charming. His first film as a director, “Narco,” is on tap for a remake in the US through Spyglass Entertainment so I think what he needs is a remake by an American in the way of loooove (I have someone in mind!) He’ll soon be starring in the on-screen adaptation of Frederic Beigbeder’s popular novel “Love Lasts for Three Years” but I believe that our love willl last forever. No just kidding, but I’d take 3 hours to start!

A few Lellouchalicious quotes from the interview:

“I’m capable of foolish acts if I love a woman. That’s what romantic comedies are all about. It’s all about the acts. In the movies, we see people who do things out of the norm, out of the box all for love. I think that love merits nothing less than that, to be outside of the box.”

“I’m profoundly in love with Paris… It’s truly a city that I love and that’s in my blood. I stop when I’m on my scooter when the sun goes down over the Seine. I’m still blown away by the city.”

Monday, December 10, 2007


I was called upon for “jury duty” last week. This position entailed hours upon hours of time spent examining the subjects, long and sometimes heated deliberations and a verdict capable of changing someone’s life.
This year’s case featured handicapped Norwegians, a lost girl in Afghanistan, a poor Russian family, an unusual interpretation of Moby Dick, a lost horse in Mexico, internet romance in Canada, a wandering man on the streets of Paris and even Arab-Israeli relations.
These ostensibly mutually exclusive themes were all part of the 13th edition of the Rencontres Internationales de Cinéma à Paris, an eight-day event devoted to global independent cinema organized by the city’s film center and archive the Forum des Images. I was on the jury for the Press Award, a prize given to the best first or second film in competition.
This year’s contestants included: Bard Breien's "The Art of Negative Thinking" (Norway), Hana Makhmalbaf's "Le Cahier" (Iran-France), Philippe Ramos' "Capitaine Achab" (France-Sweden), Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas' "Cochochi" (Mexico), Antoine Cattin and Pavel Kostomarov's "La Mere" (Switzerland-France-Russia), Aurelia Georges' "L'Homme qui Marche" (France), Denis Cote's "Nos Vies Privees" (Canada) and Eran Kolirin's "La Visite de la Fanfare" (Israel-France).
All of the directors were in Paris to present their films, with the exception of Denis Cote who was stuck in Canada due to inclimate weather.
We saw Bard Breien’s self-described “feel-bad comedy,” “The Art of Negative Thinking,” first. The Norwegian dramedy about handicapped people who join a “positive thinking” focus group is both depressing and uplifting at the same time. The dark humor had the audience both laughing and crying – often both at the same time. “I wanted to show that human misery can be funny,” director Breien told us. He added: “We really don’t need to smile that much.”
Next, we traveled across the globe to Afghanistan, backdrop to 18 year old Iranian director Hana Makhmalbaf’s second feature film “Le Cahier.” The film, featuring non-professional actors from the small village in Afghanistan where the action was shot, follows a young girl who becomes entangled in children’s war games as she searches desperately for a notebook in order to go to school. The drama, which has already made its way along the film festival circuit from Toronto to Rome to San Sebastian, was a moving postcard from Afghanistan through the eyes of the next generation. Not to mention an impressive coup for such a young director. “I went into cinema because I saw the love my father had for cinema,” Makhmalbaf said of her movie-making father, head of the prolific Makhmalbaf Film House.
Next up was Swiss-French-Russian co-production “La Mere,” a close-up on the life of a poor Russian farming family. While the innocence of the children – these “Russian dolls” forced to grow up in poverty yet who always find a way to laugh – is moving, the story itself was somewhat underdeveloped and, oftentimes, quite boring. The next few titles were equally disappointing - Philippe Ramos' "Capitaine Achab" was an interesting idea – namely, a look at the background of Captain Achab from “Moby Dick” told through the eyes of five different characters – but failed to deliver an interesting film. Aurelia Georges' "L'Homme qui Marche" captured the loneliness of a Parisian expat with beautiful shots of the streets of Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Pres district, but left a hole where the plot should have been. The synopsis: an emaciated man walks along the streets of Paris (yes, that’s it.) Denis Cote's "Nos Vies Privees" was a disturbing portrait of a Bulgarian couple vacationing in Canada after meeting on the internet. Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas' "Cochochi" followed young Mexican boys looking for a lost horse (again, yes, that’s it.)

Eran Kolirin’s “The Band’s Visit,” however, was definitely the best “witness” in this case for me. The Israeli comedy despite itself is the story of a brass band featuring members of the Egyptian police force who find themselves lost in Israel on their way to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab cultural center in that city. “I started with just an image of a man in an Arabic uniform, very serious and very closed-in, but underneath you can feel a heart beating,” director Kolirin explained of his film, fresh off a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award. The mélange of humor and fable is a light, enjoyable romp through Arab-Israeli relations that explores more profound themes beneath the surface.
“People think that because it’s a big screen, you need to fill it with big things. But movies are a way to make small things big,” Kolirin said.

From big films to small films, this week’s Rencontres Cinematographiques took all of us on the Press Jury on a long voyage through different cultures. We met on the last day of the fest to discuss the films in detail and determine which candidate most deserved such an honor, not to mention help with the film’s distribution in France. We finally chose “The Art of Negative Thinking” for its audacious premise, its biting script and incredible performances by its cast. The “feel bad” comedy finds the humor in even the most dire of circumstances. We presented the award at the closing ceremonies as the fest wrapped Tuesday evening. “The Band’s Visit” won both the Public Prize and a prize given by French film students. Case closed.

Restaurant of the Week: Livingstone

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” For those of you looking to explore Thai cuisine, definitely pay a visit to my not-so-recent-but-still-kicking discovery, Livingstone. I’d eaten there many times last year, but had almost forgotten about it until last week. After waiting at a nearby restaurant (to remain nameless to protect the innocent) for almost an hour, a friend and I decided to venture into unchartered territory (namely, the right bank) in search of food. Friday night. Paris. Circa 11 pm. Thus, “sorry, we’re full” was the response we got from pretty much every place we stopped in. And then I remembered – “Eureka!” I screamed (no, just kidding, nobody has used that expression since the 1700s I believe) – a small Thai place right on the rue St. Honoré. The décor is très chic and very Dr. Livingstonesque, with animal print lining the walls. The silverware and tables are modern, as is the light yet delicious Thai cuisine. Their pad Thai is delicious – the sauce not too creamy, and topped with fried tofu and shrimp. Start with the chicken satay with peanut sauce, the steamed shrimp dumplings or the shrimp and mushroom spring rolls, continue on with the shrimp and scallops in a coconut milk broth or the fish cooked in banana leaves, then finish with fresh mango or sweet rice with mango. The highlight of the evening may have been the automatic electric, light-up saltshaker (yes, you read correctly) – it’s so fun to use, I guarantee sodium-filled fun all night. And ask for the sesame nougat to accompany your coffee or dessert. Not to mention that, in a city where Thai food is typically ridiculously expensive or ridiculously disgusting, the prices are reasonable for the high quality of the cuisine and experience. Definitely an expedition worth embarking on.

Quote of the Day (or, again, why I adore Gertrude Stein) :
“I do want to get rich, but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich”
Gertrude Stein quote