Romantic Comedy—French Style

I’m a sucker for French films; perhaps it’s because I studied French in grade school and like brushing up on my vocabulary, or maybe it’s because they make so many good movies. For the fourteenth year, Francophiles here in Los Angeles have been lucky enough to see some of the best new work from young directors and veterans alike at the City of Lights—City of Angels Festival. It’s a source of perpetual frustration to me that the COLCOA event, now in its fourteenth year, always occurs when I’m on book deadline. If I could, I would camp out at—

—the Directors Guild of America theater all week and take in every screening. Many of these films will never be distributed in America, sorry to say, so this is a unique opportunity. For more details, click HERE.

Fortunately, this year’s opening night attraction has been acquired by IFC, so Americans will get a chance to see the romantic comedy L’arnacour (Heartbreaker), which is already a success on its home turf. It’s a commercial, crowd-pleasing piece of work with engaging performances by Romain Duris, as a cocky guy who makes a living breaking up romantic relationships, and the lovely Vanessa Paradis, as his latest target. (He’s been hired by her wealthy father, who doesn’t like her fiancé.) The screenplay was written by two Frenchmen, Laurent Zeitoun and Yohan Gromb, and an American, Jeremy Doner, and represents a seamless merging of French and American sensibilities. Doner, who was present at the screening, said he was influenced by classic Hollywood films like It Happened One Night. (If you’re going to have role models, you might as well choose the best.)

Vanessa Paradis and Romain Duris in the French romantic comdey L’arnacour (Heartbreaker).

Normally, the director of the opening-night attraction would be present for a Q&A session following the screening, but that pesky Icelandic volcanic ash kept much of the French delegation from making the trek to L.A. this year. Instead, we got to meet filmmaker Pascal Chaumeil through the magic of Skype. The curtains parted at the DGA theater and as if by magic, the image of Chaumeil, sitting at his desk in Paris, appeared on screen. While there were some initial glitches in sound transmission (we could see and hear the director, but he couldn’t hear moderator Donald Petrie), all it took was a call to his cell phone to enable him to hear Petrie’s questions and respond directly to the camera. Simply amazing.

Chaumeil has enjoyed a successful career making TV commercials and directing episodic television in France. Heartbreaker is his first feature film, but you’d never know it; there is a feeling of confidence about the film, from its assured visual presentation to the appealing star performances. Chaumeil revealed that he used two cameras, based on his TV experience, and had a relatively uneventful shoot over forty days’ time. An audience member, from a French television outlet, asked how he would feel if Hollywood remade the picture, and whether he would want to direct. He replied that he’d be flattered to see the film remade but wouldn’t want to be the at the helm, fearful that he couldn’t make lightning strike twice. That seems like a sensible attitude, given the fact that everything seems to have fallen into place so well in his debut feature.

Because it’s a foreign-language film, I suspect most Americans won’t go to see Heartbreaker when IFC releases it later this year, and that’s a shame. It puts most of Hollywood’s recent romantic comedies to shame and proves that there’s still vibrant life in the genre…at least, in France.

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May 2024