Italian-French ‘Like Crazy’ is crazy good

Like Crazy” (Folles de Joie in French and originally titled La pazza gioia), an Italian-French production, had its Los Angeles premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival. The film won the Audience Special Mention Award at the fest.

There’s an Italian proverb: “Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro,” which means “whoever finds a friend finds a treasure.”

The leads of “Like Crazy,” directed and co-written by Paolo Virzi, bear this out on-screen in a uniquely dysfunctional and hilariously messed-up way.

You may remember Valeria Bruni Tedeschi from the 2013 films “Human Capital” or “A Castle in Italy” (she directed, co-wrote and starred in the latter). After seeing this film, you won’t soon forget her. In “Like Crazy,” she plays Beatrice, a chic, snobby, well-to-do party girl a bit past her prime who never stops talking and namedropping.

It’s a little hard, though, to be a social butterfly as a resident of a group-home facility for people suffering from mental and emotional disorders. (“Facility” doesn’t quite do the place justice – it’s an enchanting villa that Beatrice’s family once owned.)

Sure that she does not belong there, Beatrice decides that her fellow residents are freaks with the exception of a withdrawn, depressive 20something named Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti), who also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, extremely expressive and endlessly watchable as an actress. She too will remain in your memory long after the credits roll.

Beatrice insists that she and Donatella will be pals and sets about grooming her as a sidekick. Donatella doesn’t have the strength to resist her overtures and when Beatrice finds a way to break free from the group home, Donatella doesn’t need much convincing.

Thus begins a spree of sweet-talking and stealing, boozing and barhopping, haute hustling and hightailing it from the cops and the admin staff at the home.

Smart, funny and deeply touching, thanks to Virzi’s deft and soulful directing, “Like Crazy,” is a stellar addition to the commedia all’Italiana tradition. It also reminds us of classic road-trip movies, such as 1991’s “Thelma and Louise” (directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri), and is reminiscent of the days when American movies featured authentic, fleshed-out characters with human flaws and quirky peccadilloes.

(That’s not something we much these days, unfortunately. A case in point: “You Choose,” which closed the COLCOA festival. Amusing and innocuous, it’s a by-the-numbers, superficial comedy.)

Having a woman’s input (Virzi co-wrote the script with Francesca Archibugi) lends “Like Crazy” a special nuance and sensitivity.

Granted, the film follows a fairly conventional structure but all of the filmmaking elements – in particular the writing and acting – are presented so honestly, so movingly and with such consummate skill that we are swept along for one hell of a ride.

“Like Crazy” opens Friday in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre and the Laemmle Playhouse 7.

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‘A Woman’s Life’ is a story that charms, chills and resonates

A Woman’s Life” (Une Vie), which had its West Coast premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival, won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Jury Award at the fest.

In the opening scene of “A Woman’s Life” (Une Vie), we watch the lovely lead character Jeanne le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla) watering a vegetable garden on her family estate. The copper watering can gleams in the sunlight, water and mud spatter on Jeanne’s dress. It’s a day like any other for her – unhurried, predictable, peaceful. She is the only child of wealthy land owners in Normandy, France, in 1819, and her comfortable future is taken for granted.

But in fact these days of tranquility will dwindle and, as Jeanne’s life unfolds, we are drawn into her emotionally compelling world, viscerally experiencing her moments of poignancy and pain.

At the urging of her mother (Yolande Moreau), Jeanne marries the dapper but weasely Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), who has a pedigree, a shiny frock coat and not much else. The marriage turns out to be short-lived and their child, Paul, grows up to be a willful, selfish brat of the highest order. (Finnegan Oldfield plays the adult Paul.)
Jeanne continues to love Paul blindly, falling back on her father (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and the family maid Rosalie (Nina Meurisse) for companionship and support.

Director Stéphane Brizé’s film (which he co-wrote with Florence Vignon, based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel) is subtle, complex and layered. Beautifully shot, impeccably acted and featuring first-rate art direction and costumes, “A Woman’s Life” almost seems to have its own organic existence so heightened and intense is its poetic mood and darkly enchanting atmosphere.

(The novel has been adapted one other time: In 1958, director Alexandre Astruc made “One Life” (Une vie) with Maria Schell and Christian Marquand. It was released as “End of Desire” in the U.S.)

Most obviously, Brizé’s film looks at the strict and narrow conventions that defined a woman’s role in family and society at that time. On another level, it’s a study of loyalty and sacrifice, broken trust and betrayal. Jeanne’s mother’s ulterior motives cause Jeanne suffering; her father’s devotion is steadfast.

After she marries, Jeanne turns to a priest for moral counsel but cannot bring herself to follow his advice, lest she inflict pain on an innocent party. A treacherous decision by one of Jeanne’s acquaintances (Clotilde Hesme) has disastrous consequences. Jeanne’s unwavering love and generosity toward her son become her undoing.

At a time of need, Jeanne is rescued by a friend with whom she has a long and complicated history. The film ends with the ultimate symbol of commitment and perhaps fresh hope.

It’s a story that charms, chills and resonates.

“A Woman’s Life” opens Friday in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre and the Laemmle Playhouse 7.

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Basinger and Pearce delight a sold-out audience at anniversary screening of ‘L.A. Confidential’

Guy Pearce and Kim Basinger spoke with critic Stephen Farber after the screening.

Kim Basinger’s initial answer to playing the voluptuous call girl Lynn Bracken in “L.A. Confidential” was a resounding “no.”

“I’m not going to play a whore! I’m a Mom now,” she recalled saying. (Basinger gave birth to daughter Ireland Baldwin in October of 1995.)

Basinger was speaking at Tuesday night’s screening of the movie, marking its 20th anniversary, held at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills. Co-star Guy Pearce (squeaky clean Det. Ed Exley) joined her for the Q&A, which was moderated by critic Stephen Farber.

But the film’s director Curtis Hanson was determined and invited Basinger to meet him at the Formosa Café to discuss the idea. (The famous bar/restaurant would later feature in the film – it’s there that Kevin Spacey as cop Jack Vincennes gives his perfectly timed line: “It is Lana Turner.”)

At the Formosa, Basinger said she experienced “the seduction of Curtis Hanson,” referring to his eloquence and deadpanning that he was “very manipulative.”

Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce share a scene in “L.A. Confidential.”

Hanson’s persistence paid off: Basinger won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal. “He believed in me much more than I believed in myself,” she said. “He had a magical connection with actors and with people in general.”

(Hanson and Basinger worked together again in 2002’s “8 Mile,” with Hanson remarking, while she was deciding whether to take the part, “I know if she fears it, she’s going to do it.” Sadly, Hanson died on Sept. 20, 2016.)

Fans wait in line late Tuesday afternoon at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Playing Ed Exley was a much easier choice for Pearce, who was unknown in America at that time, though he remembered being a little overwhelmed by the plot’s twists and turns. “I read the script and I was really confused,” he laughed.

(Hanson and Brian Helgeland earned an Oscar for their screenplay adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel.)

Once Pearce heard that fellow Aussie Russell Crowe had been cast as muscle-bound cop Bud White, he was eager to be a part of the production, adding that he went through extensive screen tests at Warner Bros. before it was a done deal.

“L.A. Confidential” turned out to be Pearce’s break-through role. As he put it: “It’s the greatest film I’ve ever been a part of. It sticks with me like nothing else.”

(Pearce went on to make many more films, including “Memento” in 2000, “The Hurt Locker” in 2008, and “Iron Man 3” in 2013.)

Basinger said director Curtis Hanson was a calming influence.

Pearce and Basinger both credit Hanson with being a calming presence and encouraging them to bring stillness to the screen. A true cinephile who had the cast watch a “film noir retrospective” to get in an old-school mood, Hanson pushed back when he was nudged by execs to speed up the production, telling them: “You can hurry me along all you want but I’m not going to go any faster.”

Veronica Lake was famous for her hair. Basinger was as well – as a Breck Shampoo girl. In the film, Basinger plays a call girl who is Lake’s doppelgänger.

Hanson’s treatment of his actors was often gentle but also spare. Basinger remembered being rattled after doing a scene repeatedly, noting that she had trouble walking gracefully in long gowns and clunky 1940s shoes, à la Veronica Lake.

She asked Hanson for help. His answer: “Do it again.”

“He was utterly inspiring, really,” said Pearce. “He was a mentor, a father figure and we stayed close friends.”

Pearce also shared Crowe’s advice before a close-up. He told Pearce: “Don’t blink.”

Basinger took the opportunity on Tuesday night to thank Pearce and Crowe for their support in her Oscar win, explaining that she’d been too flustered to do so at the time. With “Titanic” sweeping the awards that year, she was sure the trophy would go to Gloria Stuart. “When you hear your name, you freeze! You lose your hands. You lose your feet. You can’t think. I just sat there until Curtis, who was sitting behind me, nudged me. Jack Nicholson had to help me to the stage.”

At 63, and still every inch a beautiful blonde, Basinger looked sleek and slim in a black blazer and blouse, cuffed jeans, white socks and black Oxfords.

When an audience member asked if they had considered making Lynn a brunette for the film’s final scene (in which she leaves Los Angeles, with Bud, for Arizona), Basinger paused a moment, then replied:  “I don’t think there was any thought of that,” she said. “I think she was really happy being a blonde.”

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TCM Classic Film Festival honors Robert Osborne’s legacy

The TCM Classic Film Festival is dedicated to famed host and historian Robert Osborne. The fest runs Thursday through Sunday in Hollywood.

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

This year’s edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival will be bittersweet. Our excitement about four days filled with gorgeous movies and great guests is tempered with sadness because of a very sad loss: TCM host and historian Robert Osborne passed away on March 6 at his home in New York City. He was 84.

The fest, which runs in Hollywood from Thursday, April 6, to Sunday, April 9, is dedicated to Osborne’s memory and we hope that this year’s theme – Comedy in the Movies – will help to chase the blues away.

At Wednesday’s press conference, held at the TCL Chinese Multiplex Theatre, TCM representatives noted that Robert Osborne was the festival. As to how Osborne’s legacy and contributions (specifically his intros to the films) will be remembered going forward, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz said: “We would like to bring Bob back, sure, but there’s the question of doing it the right way. Maybe it’s a matter of having an introduction to his introduction.”

“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” screens poolside Friday night. Do we need to watch Bette and Joan for the 5,000th time? Maybe …

Some of the titles for a comedy-focused fest have obvious appeal, for example: “Born Yesterday,” “The Graduate,” “The Jerk,” “High Anxiety” and “Whats Up, Doc?

Others have a dark slant … which is right up our alley, of course: “Some Like It Hot,” “Beat the Devil,” “Unfaithfully Yours,” “Lured,” “Twentieth Century,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Harold and Maude,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Front Page.”

And the campy noir treat “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” will screen Friday night poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Additionally, there are tearjerkers, such as “Postcards from the Edge,” perhaps the greatest musical of them all, “Singin in the Rain,” and other feel-good fare, such as  “The Princess Bride,” “Casablanca,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

There are, in fact, nine themes for the fest: Discoveries; Essentials; Festival Tributes; Dark Comedies; Divorce Remorse; Movies Spoofs; Hey, That’s Not Funny; Special Presentations; and Nitrate.

As for Nitrate, the TCM program guide points out that films produced before the early 1940s were released on nitrate stock, which has a luminous quality and higher contrast than the cellulose acetate film that superseded it. (Nitrate was replaced because of its volatile nature.) The film noir classic “Laura” is part of this roster.

TCM programming director Charlie Tabesh explained at the press conference: “We try to get everyone interested in classic film, young and old. When we book, we try to put very different films against each other … so that people have a choice.”

That is an understatement! There are about 90 films at the fest.

Plus, there is a full slate of special guests and events – Mankiewicz will interview veteran actor Michael Douglas; director Peter Bogdanovich will discuss his career as will blacklisted actress Lee Grant; comedy greats Carl and Rob Reiner will be honored at a hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX – as well as panels, parties, presentations, book signings and more.

Mr. Osborne would be proud.

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Celebrating the 70th anniversary of groundbreaking ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ at the Lasky-DeMille Barn

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Hollywood Heritage Museum and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will present on Wednesday, April 12: An Evening at the Barn – “Gentleman’s Agreement”: Hollywood’s Stand Against Anti-Semitism.

Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire, “Gentleman’s Agreement” was a critical and box-office hit. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and was named Best Picture of 1947, additionally winning Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holm and Best Director for Kazan.

Few critics would rank it that high today – it’s perhaps too much a message picture. That said, many of its performances are vastly underrated.

For Peck, it was one of his most curious, controversial movie roles: a New York City magazine writer named Philip Schuyler Green, who (at first reluctantly) takes on the assignment of writing an exposé of contemporary American anti-Semitism.

Phil decides to personalize the piece by posing as a Jewish man and recording how he’s treated or mistreated in the posh sections of Manhattan, Darien, Conn., and elsewhere – places that usually welcome him, or anyone else who looks like Gregory Peck, with open arms.

Kathy (Dorothy McGuire) and Phil (Gregory Peck) have the ideal romance. Or do they?

Peck’s Phil, who renames himself Phil Greenberg, gets more than he bargained for, from restaurateurs, real-estate agents, hotels, and from his increasingly skittish girlfriend, Kathy Lacy (McGuire) and her parents and friends.

Meanwhile, with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) operating in high gear, the postwar movie audience got a lesson in tolerance of unusual candor – from a first-class director (Kazan), Laura Z. Hobson’s highly acclaimed and best-selling source novel, a brilliant screenwriter (Moss Hart) and top actors (including Holm, Albert Dekker, Anne Revere, Dean Stockwell, June Havoc and Jane Wyatt.)

From left: John Garfield, Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Celeste Holm.

Stealing every scene he’s in, is a bona-fide New York Jewish actor, John Garfield, who begged to do the film and gives a powerhouse performance. Peck, McGuire, Revere and Hart received Oscar noms, as did Harmon Jones for editing.

Ironically, though many of the 1947 Hollywood moguls were themselves Jewish, they all shied away from the project. It took the 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck (a Gentile) to get “Gentleman’s Agreement” on the screen.

(And it should be noted: in 1952, Kazan gave HUAC the names of eight actors who had been members with him of a Communist Party unit in the Group Theatre.)

At Wednesday’s event, film historian Claudine Stevens will discuss the book and the movie, with clips, and Cecilia Peck, daughter of Gregory Peck, will talk about her father and his part in the film.

Reserve your tickets now for this special event, which will take place in the historic Lasky-DeMille Barn. Free parking is available in Hollywood Bowl Lot D, which is directly adjacent to the museum.

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Restored ‘Jamaica Inn’ highlights top acting talent

In Hollywood’s Golden Age, no one held court quite like Charles Laughton. Pompous and puffed-up, charming and shrewd, he often played characters brimming with confidence, or, some might say, entitlement. A case in point is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Jamaica Inn,” from 1939, in which Laughton plays Sir Humphrey Pengallan, an aristocrat lording it about in Cornwall, England, in the early 1800s, amid shipwrecks and pirates and a butler named Chadwick (Horace Hodges). Of course.

Based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel and made a year before Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning movie of Du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” the film introduces Maureen O’Hara as Mary, a headstrong young Irish woman (is there any other kind?) who travels to Cornwall to find her Aunt Patience, her last surviving relative. Mary finds Patience as well as much crafty scheming and seaside battles.

“Jamaica Inn” was the last film Hitchcock made in England before embarking on his stellar Hollywood career. Hitchcock’s wife and creative partner Alma Reville Hitchcock also worked on the movie. Laughton co-produced. (Laughton and O’Hara reunited for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” also 1939, directed by William Dieterle. Lest anyone think Laughton was typecast as a British bigwig, this famous and poignant part let him show his acting chops.)

From left: Cohen Media Group Chairman and CEO Charles S. Cohen, Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter Tere Carrubba, Hitchcock leading actor Norman Lloyd, Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter Katie Fiala and KCETLink Media Group President and CEO Michael Riley at Tuesday’s screening of “Jamaica Inn.” Photo courtesy of Lisa Rose.

“Jamaica Inn” was recently restored and shown Tuesday night on the big screen at the Pacific Design Center’s SilverScreen Theater in Los Angeles, hosted by KCETLink Media Group, BAFTA Los Angeles and Cohen Media Group. The “Jamaica Inn” screening was held in advance of the movie’s KCET broadcast premiere, part of KCETLink’s Cohen Film Classics lineup.

Cohen Film Classics’ telecast of “Jamaica Inn” will air on Friday, March 24, on KCET in Southern California at 10:20 p.m. PT and on Link TV nationwide (DirecTV 375 and DISH network 9410) at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The restoration looks great and is well worth seeing.

Special guests at Tuesday’s event included Charles S. Cohen, KCET’s host of Cohen Film Classics, KCETLink Media Group’s Michael Riley, two of Hitchcock’s three granddaughters – Katie Fiala and Tere Carrubba – and legendary actor-producer Norman Lloyd, who played in “Saboteur” (1942) and “Spellbound” (1945) and produced many episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Lloyd, 102, had the audience in the palm of his hand as he shared memories and anecdotes about working with the Master and Mistress of Suspense. “Alma Hitchcock knew as much about film as anyone who ever lived and Hitch knew it,” said Lloyd.

As for his famous leap from the Statue of Liberty in “Saboteur,” Lloyd said Hitch asked him: “Norm, can you do a back flip over the railing?” Lloyd agreed and it was shot in one take. “Hitch got it. I gave it. And forever after we were great friends. It was the greatest piece of acting I’ve ever done!”

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‘This Gun for Hire’ opens Noir City: Hollywood Festival on Friday at the Egyptian Theatre

The Veronica LakeAlan Ladd quintessential film noir “This Gun for Hire,” co-starring Laird Cregar, opens the Noir City: Hollywood Festival on Friday at the Egyptian Theatre. Directed by Frank Tuttle from a Graham Greene novel, the 1942 film helped shape many archetypes of the genre. Albert Maltz (one of the Hollywood Ten) and W.R. Burnett wrote the script, with an uncredited contribution from Tuttle. John F. Seitz shot it and Edith Head designed the costumes.

Noir City: Hollywood, the longest-running film noir festival in Los Angeles, is now in its 19th year. For 2017, the Film Noir Foundation and the American Cinematheque will present a program “replicating the movie-going experience of that time – 10 double bills, each featuring a major studio A picture paired with a shorter B movie … showcased exactly as it was back in the day.”

In Friday’s B-movie slot is the well regarded “Quiet Please, Murder” (1942, John Larkin), which stars the inimitable George Sanders as a con artist.

The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller will introduce the lineup. There’s a cocktail hour between films for all ticket buyers, sponsored by Clarendelle inspired by Haut-Brion and Teeling Irish Whiskey.

Compiled by Muller, Alan K. Rode and Gwen Deglise, the festival runs through April 2.

In honor of the film and the fest, we are re-running an earlier review of “This Gun for Hire.”

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Three COLCOA films view World War Two through the eyes of women and children

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

The unthinkable horrors and everyday nightmares on the home front during World War II are movingly depicted in three excellent new French films, which premiered at this year’s COLCOA French Film Festival: “The Innocents,” “Come What May” and “Fanny’s Journey.”

“The Innocents” is a shocking film set in 1945 Poland.

“The Innocents” is a shocking film set in 1945 Poland.

“The Innocents,” from director Anne Fontaine, received both the Audience Award and a Critics’ Special Mention. (Unlike 1961’s “The Innocents” – an adaptation of Henry James’ classic ghost story – by director Jack Clayton, starring Deborah Kerr, this film is based on fact.) Lou de Laâge stars as a French Red Cross doctor who comes to the aid of a Polish convent in 1945, after learning that several nuns have been raped by Russian soldiers. Fontaine’s graceful sweeping storytelling balances the shocking subject matter. She elicits memorable performances from the cast as she shows the nuns questioning their faith in varying degrees. Luminous cinematography and a somber score enhance the chilling mood.

“Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

“Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

In 1940, about 8 million French people left their homes as the invading German Panzers made their way through the Ardennes forest. “Come What May” tells the intimate story of a handful of villagers (August Diehl, Olivier Gourmet, Mathilde Seigner, Alice Isaaz and Matthew Rhys) as they abandon their town to head for the coast, where they hope to be safe from the invasion. Director and co-writer Christian Carion based the film on his mother’s real-life recollections of fleeing the Nazis at age 14. Beautifully made and acted, the film also boasts a score from Oscar winner Ennio Morricone. “Come What May” won the festival’s Critics’ Award.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud plays Fanny Ben Ami.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud (center) plays Fanny Ben Ami.

In “Fanny’s Journey,” Léonie Souchaud plays Fanny Ben Ami, who in 1939, when she was 13, fended for herself and her younger sisters, after their father was arrested in Paris. The girls stay briefly in a refectory for Jewish children but when that is no longer safe, Fanny faces a fearsome duty: leading a group of children left on their own through Nazi-occupied Europe to the Swiss border.

Director and co-writer Lola Doillon (daughter of filmmaker Jacques Doillon) has made an exquisite-looking period film – both a tense thriller and tender coming-of-age story. She has carried on the family tradition of delivering effortlessly fresh and spontaneous performances from child actors. “Fanny’s Journey” is based on Ben Ami’s autobiography.

FNB writer Mike Wilmington called the film “an instant classic.”

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‘Courted’ touts top acting, but its stories disappoint

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

In “Courted,” writer/director Christian Vincent transports us to the professional and private world of Michel Racine, a fussbudget French judge in the criminal courts. Racine is a memorable characterization, beautifully played by Fabrice Luchini, who received last year’s Best Actor prize at the Venice International Film Festival for this performance.

“Courted” (“L’Hermine” in French) had its West Coast premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival in Los Angeles Wednesday night, the same night as its North American premiere at the Tribecca Film Festival in New York.

Courted posterThe movie, which almost instantly recalls Sidney Lumet’s courtroom classic, “Twelve Angry Men,” shows Racine presiding over a brutal murder case, in which a 7-month-old child has died. The child’s surly father (Victor Pontecorvo) is the defendant. As the mechanics of the trial unfold, we meet the lawyers, the jury and a key witness, the child’s mother (Candy Ming). The jurors are a chatty bunch and one of them tells the group she has heard through the grapevine that Racine is known around the courthouse for his arrogance.

But he’s also a human being with very human problems. Indeed, it’s a bit jarring to see Racine, at the end of the day, sans his regal ermine robe, ordering soup in the tacky hotel where he lives, a result of his pending divorce.

By coincidence, another juror (Sidse Babett Knudsen), an empathetic Danish-born doctor, has crossed paths with Racine in the past, and this connection plays out as a budding romance.

A novel premise, “Courted” has much to offer – it’s well written and well acted all around. Luchini removes Racine’s pompous, curmudgeonly veneer to reveal his wistful vulnerability. Knudsen shines as the woman who attracts him, a lonely divorced mom who has devoted herself to her kids and career.

Crisply shot and nicely paced, the film’s tonal changes between drama and romcom are gracefully handled. But, at the same time, this mix of genres creates some problems. While it’s fascinating to see the French judicial system at work, shown with some of the same engrossing detail as Lumet’s great films and Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order,” the trial scenes lack the crackling tension that would have completely hooked us voyeurs.

Similarly, there’s a shortage of subtle chemistry between Luchini and Knudsen – both are sympathetic but there is an awkward flatness between them that never lifts. Even if this is intentional, it’s hard to care much about this fledgling couple. There’s a pivotal moment in the trial that would seem to clinch their relationship and oddly that moment is glossed over, a small but significant flaw.

Also strangely lost in the shuffle is any authentic reaction or concern about an unusually dire and depressing murder case. The characters’ jaded detachment is puzzling.

The fact that veteran writer/director Christian Vincent’s point of view remains rigidly superficial limits the film – the merged storylines should pulse with riveting intensity on two fronts, but instead “Courted” retreats disappointingly into bland disengagement.

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Enchanté, Monsieur Sy … COLCOA opens with a deftly performed drama, ‘Monsieur Chocolat’

Omar Sy

Omar Sy

France’s hottest export right now just might be actor/writer/producer Omar Sy. His new film “Monsieur Chocolat,” was the opening selection at the City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival Monday night in Hollywood.

The 38-year-old, easy-on-the-eyes French actor attended the fest reception and stayed after the film for a Q&A with director Roschdy Zem.

Monsieur Chocolat” is based on a true story of two circus clowns – one black and one white – who change the dynamics of comic performance in turn-of-the-century France, clearly no small task, given society’s hard-wired and rampant racism, not to mention the hardscrabble and precarious life of on-the-road entertainers. James Thierrée co-stars.

Sy’s most famous film is 2011’s “The Intouchables,” where he played a streetwise caregiver to a wealthy quadriplegic (François Cluzet). Enormously popular in France, the movie became the best selling French film of all time, but was less well received in the U.S.

A gifted comic actor, Sy’s engaging performance is the highlight of this flick. Thierrée, too, is at the top of his game. In fact, these are two of the best actors in contemporary French cinema.

Enchanté, Monsieur Sy! Let’s hope he stays all nine days of this truly charming and delightful festival.

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