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Sure that she does not belong there, Beatrice decides that her fellow residents are freaks with the exception of a withdrawn, depressive 20something named Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti), who also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, extremely expressive and endlessly watchable as an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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City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival is in full swing in Los Angeles at the Directors Guild

The 21st annual City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival opened Monday night in Los Angeles at the Directors Guild of America with a grand party and the North American premiere of “Everyone’s Life” (Chacun sa vie), directed and co-written by the great Claude Lelouch. The comedy-drama stars pop legend Johnny Hallyday, Oscar winner Jean Dujardin, Christopher Lambert, Elsa Zylberstein and many other French stars.

As we sipped champagne and noshed on fare from local French restaurants and food stores, we spotted the stunning and gracious Jacqueline Bisset and shared a hug with her. That made our night!

The festival will screen about 80 films, including classics, shorts, dramas, comedies, documentaries, NeWave 2.0 and a special slate of film noir. The fest also features a considerable offering of acclaimed TV programs and will hold a virtual reality live demo. No matter which movie you select, you will more than likely see a work that is extremely well made with top-notch acting.

Additionally, COLCOA will honor writer-director Stéphane Brizé with a special presentation of “Not Here To Be Loved” (2005) and the festival will host the West Coast premiere of Brizé’s new film “A Womans Life,” (Une Vie), based on the Guy de Maupassant novel and starring Judith Chemla.

To mark the 100th anniversary of iconic filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville’s birth is a special presentation of “Le Cercle Rouge,” starring Alain Delon, Bourvil and Yves Montand.

“Le Cercle Rouge,”  will essentially kick off the film noir lineup on Friday and will be followed by “The Eavesdropper,” an espionage thriller directed and co-written by Thomas Kruithof. It stars François Cluzet as a man with few career options who accepts a mysterious job transcribing tapes of intercepted phone calls.

The second film noir is “Corporate,” directed and co-written by Nicolas Sihol, with Céline Sallette playing an ambitious career woman whose cut-throat “innovation” plan seriously backfires. The last film of the series is “Ares” a dark fantasy set in 2035 Paris, starring Ola Rapace and Micha Lescot. Jean-Patrick Benes directed and co-wrote “Ares.”

Additionally, COLCOA will show an international premiere of “Farewell Bonaparte,” a restoration of Youssef Chahine’s 1985 film. “Playtime,” Jacques Tati’s inventive and ambitious 1967 film, will have a special presentation at the festival as will “The Lovers on the Bridge” (1991, Leos Carax).

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Noir City: Hollywood, TCM Classic Film Festival and COLCOA French Film Festival are around the corner

Calling all cinephiles: Three great festivals are about to kick off…

Noir City: Hollywood will run Friday, March 24, to Sunday, April 2, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The famed fest is presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation.

Organizers say the fest will feature favorite rarities as well as many never-before-screened obscurities. This 19th edition of the event aims to replicate the movie-going experience of that time: 10 double bills, each featuring a major studio A picture paired with a shorter B movie.

The series opens with “This Gun for Hire” and “Quiet Please, Murder.” Other highlights include: “Ministry of Fear,” “The Dark Corner,” “The Accused,” “Chicago Deadline,” “I Was a Shoplifter,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends”  and “The Big Heat.”

Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation will introduce the movies.

Next up: Find your best vintage pencil skirt and your favorite fedora. The TCM Classic Film Festival comes to Hollywood Thursday, April 6, to Sunday, April 9. Gear up for a dose of hilarity because this year’s theme is Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies. “From lowbrow to high, slapstick to sophisticated comedies of manners—we will showcase the greatest cinematic achievements of lone clowns, comedic duos and madcap ensembles.”

We’re very stoked about “Born Yesterday,” “The Graduate,” “High Anxiety,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Postcards from the Edge,” “Singin in the Rain” and “Whats Up, Doc?

Holliday and Holden in “Born Yesterday.” Turns out, Judy ain’t as dumb as she looks.

And might there be a third title to feature redheads?! So far, we have “Those Redheads from Seattle” and  “Red-Headed Woman.” Let’s hope more are announced.

We are also eager for the slate of panels, special guests and parties that have come to define this fest. Organizers do a truly stellar job of planning and programming and keeping their cool amid the craziness.

Wry chuckles, silly humor, belly laughs, boundless fun. We’re in!

Last on the lineup but first on the list of any self-respecting Francophile (bien sur!) is the 21st annual City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival. COLCOA runs Monday, April 24, to Tuesday, May 2, at the Directors Guild Theater in Hollywood.

So far, we know that director Damien Chazelle, who just won the Oscar for “La La Land,” (at 32, he is the youngest director to win the coveted prize) will present Leos Carax’s “The Lovers on the Bridge,” starring Academy Award® winner Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant.

COLCOA will honor writer-director Stéphane Brizé with a special presentation of “Not Here To Be Loved” (2005) and the festival will host the West Coast premiere of Brizé’s new film “A Womans Life,” (Une Vie), based on the Guy de Maupassant novel and starring Judith Chemla.

Of special interest to noiristas: COLCOA will present the world premiere of the newly digitally restored “One Day in a Clowns Life,” the first film written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. The screening honors the 100th anniversary of the iconic filmmaker’s birth.

We are looking forward to our date with Delon.

Also part of the Melville birthday celebration is a special presentation of “Le Cercle Rouge,” starring Alain Delon, Bourvil and Yves Montand.

Additionally, COLCOA will show an international premiere of “Farewell Bonaparte” (1985), the beautifully restored historical fresco from filmmaker Youssef Chahine.

Playtime,” Jacques Tati’s inventive and ambitious 1967 film, will have a special presentation at the festival to celebrate its 50th (gasp!) anniversary.

The full schedule will be announced April 5.

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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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COLCOA announces festival winners

The Franco-American Cultural Fund today announced the winners of the COLCOA French Film Festival.

Anne Fontaine photo by uniFrance.

Anne Fontaine photo by uniFrance.

The Innocents,” directed by Anne Fontaine won the COLCOA Audience Award. The film will be released in the U.S. by Music Box Films.

Come What May” was awarded the Critics Award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association jury.  The film was written and directed by Christian Carion. It will be released shortly in the U.S. by Cohen Media Group. “COLCOA proves it is the indispensable film festival for Los Angeles movie lovers,” said the jury in a statement. “It’s deeply satisfying to sink into a week of films of such originality, authenticity and substance.”

Made in France,” co-written and directed by Nicolas Boukhrief, won the Audience Special Prize while the Critics Special Prize went to The First, the Last, written and directed by Bouli Lanners.

Audience Special Mentions were given to “Un Plus Une,” co-written and directed by Claude Lelouch and to “I am a Soldier,” co-written and directed by Laurent Lariviere.

Critics Special Mentions went to “Fatima,” written and directed by Philippe Faucon and “The Innocents.”

The Best Documentary Award went to “Tomorrow,” co-written and co-directed by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent.

The First Feature Award went to “Neither Heaven nor Earth,” co-written and directed by Clément Cogitore. The film will be released in the U.S. by Film Movement.

The Coming Soon Award, a prize given in association with KPCC 89.3, to a film with a U.S. distributor, went to animated feature “Long Way North.” The film will be released in the U.S. by Shout! Factory.

For the winners of Television and Shorts categories, please visit the COLCOA web site.

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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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COLCOA celebrates 20th anniversary with a superb lineup

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

The COLCOA French Film Festival turns 20 this year!

The Franco-American Cultural Fund’s City of Lights, City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival, now in its 20th year, will run April 18-26 at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles.

COLCOA’s executive producer and artistic director François Truffart has announced that a record 70 films and television series will be shown at the fest. This includes four world premieres, seven international premieres, 19 North American or U.S. premieres, 17 West Coast premieres and 21 new shorts. Fest organizers say COLCOA is the world’s largest event dedicated to French films and television.

The festival will open on Monday, April 18, with the North American premiere of “Monsieur Chocolat,a biopic about the first French black clown, directed by Roschdy Zem, and starring Omar Sy. The fest will close with a romantic comedy called “Up for Love,” starring Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin and Virginie Efira.

COLCOA will celebrate the 11th anniversary of its Film Noir Series with a three-title series to run Friday night, kicking off with “A Decent Man,” a dark drama about a feckless dude (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who falls into a dire trap of dishonesty. Emmanuel Finkiel directed and co-wrote.

Kalinka film posterThe next film in the series is director and co-writer Vincent Garenq’s “Kalinka” (“Au nom de ma fille”), the story of a father’s  27-year fight for justice in the name of his murdered daughter, starring the always-magnificent Daniel Auteuil.

The final movie is “Fast Convoy,” which the fest calls a “slick, turbo-charged road thriller.” It was co-written and directed by Frédéric Schoendoerffer and stars Benoît Magimel.

All other series are back as well: COLCOA Shorts, Classics, and Documentaries as well as Happy Hour Talks, World Cinema Produced by France, the After 10 series and the French NeWave 2.0 series.

Bon anniversaire, COLCOA !

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French neo-noir takes the cake at this year’s COLCOA

The next time I visit Paris, I might not wander on the Left Bank. I might skip the visits to the Musée Rodin and the Petit Palais, and say no to making a little journey to Giverny. I could easily be talked into holing up at the Plaza Athénée (I am overdue for a visit), ordering room service and binge-watching superb French neo-noir and police-procedural gems. I found out at this year’s tremendous COLCOA film festival that French filmmakers can now claim the title of the hottest, most cutting-edge noiristas in the world.

“SK1” won the fest’s First Feature Award.

“SK1” won the fest’s First Feature Award.

How so? Well, “L’Affaire SK1,” a riveting depiction of an eight-year hunt for a serial killer nicknamed the Beast of the Bastille (based on real events), snared the fest’s First Feature Award. “SK1” was directed by Frédéric Tellier (who co-wrote the film with David Oelhoffen), and features Nathalie Baye as a public defender. “SPIRAL” Season 5 (think “The Wire”) received the TV Series Award.

Joining “SK1” in the Film Noir Series, now in its 10th year, was Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin’s new film (from director Cédric Jimenez) “The Connection,” which picks up where William Friedkin’s landmark thriller “The French Connection” left off. The final film in the noir series was “Next Time, I’ll Aim For the Heart,” a tense and haunting story, based on the real-life Oise Killer, a cold-blooded psycho on the loose in 1978 Paris, flawlessly portrayed by Guillaume Canet. The film was written and directed by Cédric Anger.

Anger was one of several writers on yet another gritty and twisted tale taken from real life, “In the Name of My Daughter,” which stars the one and only Catherine Deneuve, and was directed by the great André Téchiné. “Daughter” was somewhat disappointing, however, seeming to lose its way about midway through.

The COLCOA festival opened with “A Perfect Man.”

The COLCOA festival opened with “A Perfect Man.”

Perhaps my favorite part of the fest (other than hearing French accents and enjoying lovely receptions) were the revival screenings of “La Chienne” (1931, Jean Renoir) and “Two Men in Town” (1973, José Giovanni). Seriously, does it get much better than watching Alain Delon as a divinely handsome ex-con struggling to go straight and Jean Gabin as a world-weary but somehow regal cop, not to mention a brief appearance by Gérard Depardieu? No. It does not, especially when you know there is a chilly St-Germain cocktail waiting for you after the show.

The COLCOA festival opened with the North American premiere of “A Perfect Man,” a thoroughly enjoyable Hitchcockian thriller co-written and directed by Yann Gozlant. I heard some post-screening crabbing about the flick’s plausibility but I think the naysayers missed the point.

American neo-noir storytellers would do well to study these sleek, sharp, psychologically complex cinematic offerings.

Now, to make that reservation at Plaza Athénée …

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