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May 30-June 5, 2007

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This summer, look for a French invasion

By Monte Freidig

While most Americans will be snoozing though major-studio-sequel hell this summer, art-house fans will be transported away on cinematic journeys to one of the world's most romantic cities. With so many promising upcoming indie films set in the city on the Seine, Paris should sizzle once again this summer. Some of these features have already hit local theaters, such as Daniele Thompson's excellent Avenue Montaigne, which is still playing on some screens in the Bay Area. The Valet, a farce by the team who tickled Francophile funny bones in The Dinner Guest and The Closet, stars Daniel Auteuil as a wealthy businessman caught in a compromising photo with his mistress who takes extraordinary measures to save his marriage and is already playing in Mill Valley.

Also already screening, and among the most ambitious of these projects, is Paris, Je T'aime, a series of 18 small stories set in various neighborhoods around Paris by a diverse and unlikely group of directors, ranging from the Coen Brothers to Wes Craven to Gus Van Sant to Alexander Payne and others.

La Mome, a three-hanky bio-pic about Edith Piaf, arrives in the States on June 15 under the title La Vie en Rose. The film, which features Gerard Depardieu, should make lead Marion Cotillard a star in this country. Those who prefer to leave their tissue box at home may prefer Molière (July 27), a lighthearted biography of the famous playwright, which appears to be sort of a French version of Shakespeare in Love.

Writer-director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) has said that he rediscovered Paris while making Angel-A (June 22), his new great-looking, black-and-white comedy about a man who hooks up with an über-babe during his Seine-ic suicide attempt (Wings of Desire meets It's a Wonderful Life?). Julie Delpy, who starred with Ethan Hawke in Before Sunset, places her own derrière petite into a writer-director's seat for 2 Days in Paris (no date set).

Beautifully filmed Parisian stories can generate interest in the city itself. Amélie transformed the sleepy little neighborhood on Rue Lepic almost overnight, and within a year of it's opening, property values in Montmartre skyrocketed as busloads of camera-laden Japanese tourists on Amélie tours cruised the area. (Last year's Da Vinci Code created a similar phenomenon.)

With offerings like these coming to local theaters, the environmentally friendly thing to do this summer may be to forget that fuelish Fresno vacation you've long been planning and transport yourself instead, with Bordeaux and popcorn in hand, to a much cooler destination. It's the next best thing to actually being there.

SRJC instructor Monte Freidig leads the 2008 Study Abroad Program in Paris.

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