American films and actors are embraced by the French audience at the Deauville film festival.
18 Sep 2009 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 6:30 PM

Andy Garcia was so moved by the tribute paid him by his "Modigliani" co-star Elsa Zylberstein and the clips reel of his long, distinguished career, that he choked up several times during his acceptance speech. And while we all relish the feigned emotion of a good screen performance, there's nothing quite like witnessing genuine emotion freely expressed to start an evening off right.

Zylberstein used up several thesaurus' worth of superlatives to laude Garcia's generosity, elegance, talent - and talent, elegance and generosity. Nobody in the sold out crowd on September 11 was about to disagree with her assessment of the humble and gifted honoree, but we could have done with less rhetoric, verbal exposition, oral expression, affectionate pontificating and, uh, repetition of the same thing several times over and over again repeatedly ad infinitum.

Still, it was worth the wait to see "City Island," (pictured) starring Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Garcia's daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido and Emily Mortimer. Writer/director Raymond De Felitta's film is a satisfyingly entertaining tale of a family whose 20 members seem to have taken an oath the OPPOSITE of the one witnesses take in an American court of law. You know: I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

The members of the Rizzo family, lifelong residents of the title isle - an old fishing village in The Bronx in New York - all have secrets. Fibbing, concealing and prevaricating are the order of the day, every day.

When corrections officer ("You mean you're a prison guard?") Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) decides to bring hunky 24-year-old inmate Tony (Strait) home on parole, at least two things Vince has been hiding from his wife, at least one thing his daughter has been hiding from her parents and at least one thing his son has been hiding from everybody pop to the surface like a buoy in the harbor. The result is funny, resoundingly human and splendidly acted.

Harrison Ford was the guest of honor on Saturday. Much like Garcia, he was moved by the fest-produced tribute reel to the point of saying that he'd "forgotten" having made some of those films. At his crowded press conference - with townies peering in in awe that a star of Ford's stature was breathing the same air they were - a bashful Ford admitted that he rarely goes to the movies. He said he finds himself "grateful for the experience" whenever he DOES manage to catch a movie in a theater but that he rarely manages it. He doesn't watch his prior films unless he happens to catch a snippet on TV. He takes pleasure in the work itself while the film is being shot and shaped. "If the crew will tolerate my presence" he enjoys watching rushes, following the editing process and accompanying the film "all the way through test screenings." But, he says, "when the film is finished and I can no longer help shape the outcome" he sees no reason to watch the film again. "I feel bad about not going to the movies more often, because I really should know more about people working in the industry," Ford admitted. Apparently, it didn't occur to him to lie. (He's a good actor -- he could have convinced us he's as rabid about filmic output past, present and future as, say, Quentin Tarantino is.) So, take heart SBS viewers - it's statistically likely that YOU know more about the current state of international filmmaking than Harrison Ford does. Cool, huh?

On Friday and Saturday, Deauville unspooled its two world premieres: Miguel Arteta's delectably off-kilter coming-of-age tale "Youth in Revolt" starring Michael Cera in a double role as a 16-year-old virginal nerd and his suave French alter ego; and Dagur Kari's "The Good Heart" in which Jacques (Brian Cox), an ornery New York bar tender with a damaged heart, takes good- natured homeless lad Lucas (Paul Dano) under his wing. Jacques loves to lay down his own20strange laws while bending or breaking most of the established rules other people live by. Iceland-bred Kari grafts his wry Nordic sensibilities onto the gruff cityscape of Manhattan with bittersweet panache. One is tempted to think that only a foreigner would portray New York hospitals as such compassionate places.

French audiences tend to enjoy American films because the protagonists usually undergo growth and change, preferably for the better. There is no such requirement in French cinema, where an unexceptional character may be allowed to evolve little or not at all in the course of a film. And yet, in "Youth in Revolt," Cera's mild-mannered all-American character draws his inspiration for impressing the girl of his dreams from a nihilistic alternative self who boasts a pencil mustache and a moral code derived from early Jean-Paul Belmondo characters. If this is what is meant by Franco-American cultural exchange, long may it thrive.