Saturday, October 30, 2010

10 Things I love about Paris this week

1. Frenchie
Looking for the best meal – and the best deal – in Paris for lunch or dinner? Hungry? Tough luck – you won’t be able to get a reservation at Frenchie for at least three months. The hotspot has been the talk of le town since it opened, and is still packed every night and day it’s open. “Frenchie” is named for chef Gregory Marchand’s nickname when he worked abroad. The traveling chefsman is now back in his native land and turning out dishes that can be described as “French grandmother meets wordly contemporary.” I’d been to Frenchie back when it first opened and found it perfectly enjoyable, but not memorable. Then, after reading the only positive reviews and talking to foodie friends here who are obsessed with the place, I decided to head back to the rue du Nil. “What could possibly be so good?” “What’s all the fuss about?” I wondered. And now I know. First of all, Frenchie’s location on a tiny little street near the Sentier makes you feel like you’re literally in Marchand’s home and watching him while he cooks for you. Every so often, Marchand will stick his neck out to make sure his diners are content. The service is warm and welcoming without being overbearing. And then there’s the food…
While I do usually prefer more of a choice, the fact that Marchand picks out the day’s market’s best and offers just two choices actually forces you to try thing you wouldn’t normally try. I shared both appetizers, since they were both too good to resist – one was a cooked and raw beet salad with a yogurt and hazelnut sauce and the other a smoked mackerel with Brussels sprouts and a root vegetable purée – DIVINE. Then, the choices were pork belly with parsnips or a seabass with a mushroom sauce. I chose the seabass and, though I’m not a huge mushroom fan, it was absolutely delicious. And then, la pièce de résistance… dessert! The baba au rhum looked good, but I opted for the Physalis tart. Not only did I learn what Physalis is (not a sexually transmitted disease though it does sound like that, non?) but it was quite possibly the best dessert I’ve ever had. And all of it washed down with Poujaran bread – does it get any better than that? Not to mention, 38 euros for the whole meal – incroyable! Thanks, Monsieur Marchand, see you … well, I’d say soon, but looking like I’ll next be seated in 2015 at this rate!

2. Claude Monet

Once upon a time, I fell in love with Claude Monet. I was only 16, he was 260 (not such a shocking age difference, we’re in France remember?) It was love at first Water Lily. Now, the love of my life, notre cher Claude, is back for an incredible expo at the Grand Palais in Paris. Almost as interesting as following the artist’s works is seeing where all of the paintings come from since most have been pricked from museums all across the world. Pre-paid tix are sold out, but it’s worth braving the lines for this memorable exhibit. Claude, je t’aime!

3. Oscillococcinum

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away…” Actually it doesn’t. (Or maybe that’s because a tarte tatin or chausson aux pommes don’t count as “apples”?) When all else fails – it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… Oscillococcinum! (say that five times fast) This hard to pronounce yet easy to swallow French homeopathic medecine works miracles. Feel flu-like? Just take a bit every few hours and – voilà! You’re cured. Vive la France and their strange but fantastic medecines.

4. La FIAC

What the FIAC? No seriously, are you asking yourself what the FIAC is happening at the Grand Palais this week? In fact, it’s a colossal modern art fair that takes over Paris once a year. Gallery owners from across the globe convene to show off their latest contemporary art masterpieces. What are you waiting for? FIAC you!

5. Ze Kitchen Galerie

I know I know, zees eez not zee first time I am writing about ze wonders of Ze Kitchen Galerie. But what can I say? It’s simply zee best. William Ledeuil’s asian-inspired modern French cooking is unparalleled, especially in terms of its price-quality ratio. Ledeuil changes his menu depending on the seasons, and always offers the freshest of ingredients with ostensibly bizarre yet unexpectedly delicious flavor combinations that amuse and surprise even the most sophisticated palettes. I’ve been a few times in the past month (yes, ‘tis the season of visitors!) and some of this season’s memorable dishes have included a seabass with a turmeric sauce and vegetables (though that description doesn’t do justice to the cacophony of interesting flavors on the plate), a handmade pasta with shrimp, scallops and an incredibly creamy yet light sauce, a Thai bouillon soup with shrimp that exploded with flavor and And then there were the desserts: poached pears with fried coconut and caramel with an apple and caramel ice cream, an apple and ginger cappuccino, a chocolate dish topped with a creamy coconut milk panna cotta-like sauce that was incredible, a molten fig cake to Ledeuil’s signature dessert (and my all-time favorite) the white chocolate and wasabi ice cream with strawberry and pistachio coulis (yes, I’ve tried all of the above). And all in a swanky yet relaxed setting with swanky yet relaxed waiters who make the experience flawless.

6. Jackass 3D

I had the honor* (*loosely used here) to host the JACKASS 3D premiere here in Paris on Wednesday night, then the press conference on Thursday. The film’s director Jeff Tremaine and stars Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera were in town to promote their third dimensional onscreen antics. I did manage to emerge unscathed, though having to translate sentences like “he’s a douchebag” and “I stuck my penis into vodka” was quite an experience. I must say, though I may have lost a few (or a few hundred) brain cells in the process, JACKASS 3D is actually quite entertaining at time, though the “toilet humor” segments went a bit too overboard (warning: don’t see this film while eating, before eating, after eating, or if you plan to eat in the next 24 hours – OH LA LA!)

(photos courtesy of Olivier Borde)

7. Disney’s TRON in IMAX 3D

On Thursday night, I headed to the Gaumont Pathe Quai d’Ivry to catch the exclusive world premiere of Disney’s upcoming “Tron: Legacy” movie at the IMAX theater. Disney screened 23 minutes of the movie and all I can say is so far, so good – can’t wait to see the finished product! “Tron:Legacy” is based on the 1982 sci-fi movie “Tron” with Jeff Bridges about a hacker and an electronic world. While I’m not so into hackers or electronic worlds, the special effects were incredible, especially in the IMAX cinema, and I adore Jeff Bridges, who rounds out an all-star cast also including Michael Sheen and (very handsome) newcomer Garrett Hedlund. The film comes out on Dec 17th in the US and in February in la France.

8. “Drop Dead Diva”

OK, I confess – I watched Lifetime all summer. As if that were bad enough, I watched a TV show about a model who dies and is reincarnated into the body of a lawyer and looked over by her guardian angel as she pines away for her former fiancée who just happens to work in the same law firm as her, all of which is complete with musical numbers and guest spots from Paula Abdul. Alas, it’s true (I mean, the fact that I watched the show, not the plot, as far as I know…) However, apparently I’m not the only one with such a guilty pleasure. “Drop Dead Diva” has already had a successful two seasons on Lifetime, has been ordered for a third season, and is selling well across the globe. The show’s second season will air on French cable network Teva and the first season has been picked up by major terrestrial network M6 here. The show’s star, Brooke Elliot, was in Paris to promote the show and I met her for a diva date at the Hotel Bristol.
“It’s a different show than we’re used to. The overall theme of the show is globally understood – this idea of identity and self-acceptance. In the end, we’re all humans battling different issues,” Elliot said of the show’s success abroad.
She added: “Our society has created rules we’re supposed to follow. Our show is eradicating the myth that you have to fit into a certain little box. But if you’re stuck inside the little box, then you miss out on all the beauty around.”
But is it hard to play a character with a different set of beauty rules?
“I never see her as ugly,” Elliot said. She added: “Just because someone doesn’t wear makeup or do her hair doesn’t mean she’s ugly. I have never been of the belief that Jane is ugly.”
Plus, Elliot has not only gotten to do a few musical numbers, but also share the screen with several high-profile guest stars like Paula Abdul and Rosie O’Donnell.
“I get to do a lot. It’s a pretty fantastic position to be in as an actor,” she said, adding: “It’s crazy to shoot with Paula. I grew up listening to Paula Abdul and watching her dance with the cat. I love when Rosie’s on – she’s so talented and so easy to act with. She makes me laugh.”
So what’s up for the next season of “Drop Dead Diva” ?
“I’m hoping that we can get into Deb’s shallowness that still remains. I would love to see some of her closed mind shatter and see her keep living her life in a more spiritually open way,” Elliot said.
And why not add a few dream guest stars into the mix? “I’d love to have Kathy Bates, Joan Allen, Joan Cusack, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson or Kate Winslet on the show…I mean if we’re going to ask, let’s ask!”
The very un-diva-like Elliot seems a far cry from Deb’s superficial supermodel character, though she admits: “I’m very girly like Deb – my makeup and hair take me time to do.” However, she added: “But sometimes, I’m more shy like Jane. I’m a mixture of both.” Plus, she said, “I like to try and make Jane a little more girly.”
So will Elliot trade in her acting career for a new career in court?
“I’ve learned some things about the law, but I don’t have the desire to be a lawyer,” she said. Can’t wait to check out the third season of “Diva” – yes, you heard it here first, my guilty pleasure has become simply a pleasure!

9. Bruce Willis

Why? Because he’s still the man after all of these years. I caught Bruce at the Plaza Athenee while he was in town to promote action comedy “Red.” Willis ironically plays a retired CIA agent in the film and had a lot to say about the controversy in France about the retirement age. As the streets of Paris around him filled with protests, Willis offered his views on current French politics: “I’m very pro-choice. I’d like to see you have a choice of when you retire and when you don’t,” but added: “On the contrary, other people think that what I say should be changed, that I shouldn’t even be talking about it.”

So how does Willis manage to look so good as he ages? “Here’s my secret: my mother has really good skin. My mother has great genes. I don’t wear products, I don’t wear lotion. I only wear makeup when I absolutely have to for work,” he said.

This isn’t Willis’ first visit to Paris, of course – the prolific actor makes regular trips to France. He told me: “I have been here a lot. I like to get out of the United States I like to get out of my own country. I like to eat food and I eat a lot more food when I’m here. I can’t stop. Sometimes it’s a problem. But there are a lot of things I like about France. I like the pace here I like a lot more than other places. I really love the people. I always feel welcome here. There are some really great papa razzi here.

10. Robert Redford, Nicolas Sarkozy and the Elysée!

I joined my friends Nick (Sarkozy) and Bob (Redford) for the Legion of Honor ceremony at the Elysée Palace in Paris. (Excuse me, would you mind if I just repeated that? Not often I get to say that.)
Nicolas Sarkozy and the Sundance Kid were the stars of the Elysee Palace when the French President named Redford a Knight in the French Legion of Honor at a private ceremony in Paris. Redford was honored for his work both on and off screen, with Sarkozy citing Redford’s work in “The Great Gatsby,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Out of Africa,” but also his involvement in the Sundance Institute and work as an environmental activist. “For us, the French, you represent American mythology. You’re the face of the America that we dream about,” Sarkozy said, adding: “You are the incarnation of the United States and all that that country represents.” Redford accepted the award, telling guests about the time that he spent living in Paris as a struggling young artist and how that influenced his career. “It changed me in very dramatic ways,” Redford said of his 1957 visit to France, adding: “I began to look at my country through the eyes of another country.” Redford was joined by French filmmaker Costa-Gavras, the CNC’s Veronique Cayla and French writer-director-artist Loic Prigent at the intimate gathering among other high-profile guests who enjoyed mini Croque Monsieur sandwiches and champagne to toast Redford’s love affair with French cinema. Redford told the crowd: “France – this country has made a contribution to world culture that is just profound,” then ended the night showing off his French language skills, saying: “I’m deeply, deeply, honored. Merci, merci.” Redford’s The Sundance Channel recently launched on SFR in France and is already available in the territory on Numericable and Free cable providers. Plus, Redford personally invited me to the Sundance Film Festival. Cher Robert, I'm waiting for my invite!

11 sorry, just too much to love about Paris this week!) “L’Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie” / “The Big Picture”

Don’t miss Eric Lartigau’s French adaptation of Douglas Kennedy’s American best-selling novel “The Big Picture.” The film premiered in Toronto and will be released in France on Wednesday. Lartigau manages to capture the spirit of the novel, though changes the storyline, setting and language to make it his own. Romain Duris is wonderful as the protagonist in this story about a man unhappy with his life who is able to start over after a horrible accident. The thriller about a man running from his past features incredible cinematography and a fabulous soundtrack. Bravo, Lartigau! I had the chance to talk to the director before the film premiered in Toronto. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Me: Why the decision to adapt this particular book?
Eric Lartigau: In fact, the decision was made 12 years ago when I first read the book. I called my agent right away and asked him for the rights, but they were already taken by a US studio, so I started working on other projects. Then, two and a half years ago, someone told me that Pierre-Ange Le Pogom had bought the rights to it. We had a drink and talked about the movie until 3 am. My initial goal in making this film was to talk about fear and the questions “Do we really know each other?” and “Do we really know ourselves?” and “How do societal and social pressures make us forget who we really are?”
Me: This is an adaptation of a popular novel – did you feel pressure to remain loyal to both the book’s author Douglas Kennedy and loyal fans of the novel?
Lartigau: Many people said “It’s unadaptable!” “It’s too American!” but I think that the theme is universal. Douglas Kennedy was very generous. He never asked for anything. I wanted to make sure not to betray what he’d written. I wanted to adapt it without simplifying it and I wanted to give the book a visual language. He makes a small cameo in the film, but he waited for the end of the editing to see the finished product.
Me: And what did he think of the movie?
Lartigau: I was very touched because I expected him not to like it, and instead, after the screening, he stood up during the end credits, came over, kissed me and said “You’ve given me the greatest gift one can give to a writer.” I was very touched by his attitude. He told me: “It’s not the book, it’s your film. It’s your story and I have mine and that’s marvelous. It’s funny that the movie is very different, but it’s exactly the same story that I told.”
Me: Kennedy’s original story takes place in a Connecticut suburb and in Montana, but your film takes place in Paris and in Montenegro – how much did you have the change the story to adapt to the different geographical surroundings?
Lartigau: It’s much easier to get lost in the US than it is in France. I wanted the character to turn his back on France and head East, where he could get lost. Once you cross the border into Montenegro, you feel like you can travel for miles without seeing anyone, similar to Montana. We really feel like Ben Bradford is in another country when he goes to Montana in the book, just as Paul travels to totally different surroundings in the movie.
Me: Geographical location and language aside, how does the movie most differ from the book?
Lartigau: It’s a 400-page book and I couldn’t make a four-hour movie so I had to condense it and make choices. I didn’t want a voiceover, so we had to put all of Ben Bradford’s anguish into his dialogue and expressions. That was the most complicated part. It’s more about the dramatic tension and the psychology and less an action thriller where the spectator is worrying “Will he get arrested in Montenegro?” I concentrated more on how this character would conquer his inner demons. IOnce he gets to Montenegro, he figures out who he really is. It’s a psychological thriller.
Me: The protagonist in Kennedy’s book is Ben Bradford and your protagonist is called Paul Exben – is the “ex ben” ironic?
Lartigau: Exactly – I threw in a bit of irony. It’s a wink at Douglas Kennedy.
Me: Photography plays a big role in this movie – is it an art that interests you personally?
Lartigau: Yes, it’s always interested me. It’s something that touches me profoundly. Photography is a very particular art. Today, anyone can take photos, but when you are a spectator at a photo expo, that’s when you see what a real photo is and a real photographer who has a unique view of the world. You notice the difference. I worked closely with a photographer on the movie – Antoine D’Agata. I asked him to take practically all of the photos that we see at Paul’s expo in the movie. Antoine is a passionate photographer with a real unique view of people.
Me: Did you have the French public or a more universal audience in mind when you were writing and shooting this film?
Lartigau: I never thought about that to be honest. I thought about things in the context of what happens in France, but the questions Douglas poses in the book are universal and that’s what is interesting about the story. Everyone asks themselves the question “Am I happy in my own skin?” and “What would I do if someone gave me the chance to re-live my life?”
Me: The book is about the “American dream” – what does the “American dream” represent for you and what’s the “French dream” equivalent if one exists?
Lartigau: Beyond the American dream is the quest for the self more than for a particular identity. What interests me are these doubts, that are all universal. The dream is about understanding our fears and identifying them then doing what we really want to do. The ending of the movie is different than the ending in Douglas’ book, which I found to be very sad – this character who ends rather alone, and for me, that’s not what the American dream is about. The dream is about understanding ourselves and listening to ourselves. Even 12 years later, the social pressures are the same and I wanted people to understand that in the film.
Me: Your recent films “I Do” and “A Ticket for Space” were both popular comedies. This film, as a psychological thriller, is a departure from that genre. Was it tough to make the shift from comedy to drama? What do you prefer?
Lartigau: I love both. Above all, I love to tell stories, whether they’re dramatic or joyous. Plus, we can easily fall into comedy from drama. The situations that make us laugh are also sometimes the most terrible – we can translate comedies into dramas and it’s a very exciting experience. I love both. I’m crazy about stories and crazy about actors – that’s what motivates me.
Me: Your last comedy, “I Do,” was considered to be in the style of American romantic comedies. Would you agree? Are you influenced by US cinema?
Lartigau: I’m very flattered. Of course, I’ve grown up with American cinema and it’s fed my appetite for making movies. As far as romantic comedies go, Americans are the world champions – you can’t get any better than that. It was the critics who, after the film was made, made that comparison – that wasn’t our goal. But I’m still very flattered.
Me: What are some of your upcoming projects?
Lartigau: I’ve been working with Alain Chabat again – this time, on a new script. I just read a book that Pierre-Ange [Le Pogom] gave me. I’ve been reading different scripts – comedies and dramas. There’s a little bit of everything, I don’t know yet. It’s a real investment - two to three years of my life - so I need to be prudent and at the same time, just got for it, so we’ll see.
Me: The French title of “The Big Picture” is “L’Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie” or “The Man Who Wanted to Live His Life.” Do you relate to your protagonist? Do you feel like you’re really living your life?
Lartigau: Yes, I’m trying. I am lucky enough to live with a wife that I love, and children too. I’m absorbed with my work and I’m thrilled to be able to do what I love. At the same time, I feel like I could be doing something else. That’s also fear speaking – not to be understood by audiences or to be late with something. But I can’t complain about the life I’m living now – it’s filled with many happy moments. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rose Bakery blossoms at the Maison Rouge

Third time’s a charm ? Not that Rose Bakery needed any more charm – the famous Parisian restaurant brought to you by Franco-British couple Rose and Jean-Charles Carrarini is already a hit in its two locations on the rue des Martyrs and the rue Debelleyme. Now, Rose is turning Red – well, the “Red House” or La Maison Rouge, a museum in Paris’ Bastille neighborhood. The new “Rose Bakery Culture” opened its artsy doors at la Maison Rouge last week. The new spot will see not only its organic menu, but also its décor change with the seasons thanks to Emilie Bonaventure’s hot interior designs (inspired by the always innovative expos in the museum, of course) that will change three times a year. Check out the new spot courtesy of your host, Rose Bakery owner jean-Charles Carrarini. Bon appétit!