For 35 years a small seaside community in northern France has been a champion of... American cinema.
By
10 Sep 2009 - 10:27 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 1:04 PM

Deauville, the Normandy town that has hosted the Festival of American Cinema for 35 years, is adorable. The seaside community where Coco Chanel made her name (and where it's possible to pick up a little something from most of the Big Names in Fashion without walking more than two blocks in your bespoke shoes) may be the only spot on earth with a film festival that voluntarily shows nothing but American movies – the irony being that it's far easier to see the cream of U.S.-made documentaries and indie films in this small community a two hour train ride from Paris than it is in the vast majority of major cities in America.

Journalists who make their livings doing celeb interviews or taking red carpet photos may gripe that Deauville has fewer Big Names in Cinema than it used to – this year "only" the likes of Meryl Streep, Nora Ephron, Andy Garcia, Robin Wright Penn, Matthew Broderick and Harrison Ford – are attending, but Deauville continues to excel at what it has always done best which is showing films. This the event does in three pleasant venues including a 1500-seat auditorium with a huge screen and excellent sightlines. Deauville's competition, sneak previews, doc programming and repertory screenings attract an enthusiastic mix of (mostly French) industry types, local residents and folks from far and wide, many of whom save up all year to bask in relatively easy access to worthwhile films.

Pioneering American food writer and TV chef Julia Child, whose home kitchen is preserved as an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., is virtually unknown in France. But Streep, who plays her in Nora Ephron's Julie and Julia is a minor diety. Streep had festgoers eating out of her hand although she admits to "not being much of a cook" in real life.

Writer/director Lynn Shelton seems way smarter than her film, Humpday, which, based on informal eavesdroppping in the ladies' room, pleased retirees more than it did folks under 35. Take that, marketing execs: I tend to doubt that anybody's research concluded that most of the potential audience for a film in which two heterosexual college buddies end up promising to star together in an amateur gay porn film pointed to the age bracket whose denizens takes cruises and wear orthopedic shoes.

"My goal in making this film was to make it into the Sundance Film Festival," the personable Shelton explained to the press on September 8. "Being invited to the Director's Fortnight at Cannes and then Deauville was a dream come true." The film, which has a French distributor, retains its original title. French people tend to drop the letter "h" so movie-goers will be requesting tickets to "Umpday."

Kevin Spacey is great fun as a Los Angeles "therapist to the stars" who has good reason to be depressed and is "self-medicating" with prodigious quantities of marijuana in Jonas Pate's Shrink. The film's parade of mercenary jerks and affable losers makes Los Angeles seem about as appealing as Chernobyl. But as with almost any film in which characters are screenwriters, producers, actors and agents, one suspects their behaviour, however outrageous, is either copied verbatim from real life or falls fall short of the even more egregious reality.

John Gunn's Like Dandelion Dust is a well-structured weepie that earns its tears. A child who was put up for adoption at birth is 6 years old and enjoying life with his doting, insanely well off mom and dad when his birth parents – whose annual salaries Adoptive Dad probably racks up in an afternoon – decide they made a mistake and they want him back. The implications and logistics involved in trying to "re-pot" a youngster like a plant lead to some very interesting places.

Personal Effects, directed by David Hollander, stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Ashton Kutcher and Kathy Bates as working class people with relatives who have been murdered. The film explores the daily renewal of anger and dismay experienced by people who have been robbed of a husband, a sister, a daughter. It wouldn't be an American film without some hope of resolution and emotional healing but, to the film's credit, viewers are kept guessing.

If anybody is planning to mount a Women Who Couple With Men Half Their Age film festival, Pfeiffer's turns in this and Cheri should earn a prominent slot.

Photograph: (C) Guy Isaac.