Fest Traveler: City of Lights, City of Angels 2012

Arriving less than two months after the triumph of “The Artist” on Oscar night, the 16th City of Lights, City of Angels appears to be riding a wave of Gallic awareness that places France back in the forefront of pop culture, and the film fest itself on the radar of U.S. distributors looking for a breakout specialty hit.

The mostly invite-only event has always served as a promotional showcase for French-language product, and the roughly 19,000 expected to attend work in the biz, with a roughly 60-40 split between American and French audiences.

This year’s program is certainly heavy on commercial and award-winning triumphs from the mother country.

The Weinstein Co., which released “The Artist” Stateside, has three films in Colcoa’s lineup, including closing-night offering “The Intouchables,” France’s top-grossing film of 2011 ($164 million).

The film — about the growing bond between a disabled aristocrat and his Senegalese-born, ex-con caretaker — is just the kind of crowd-pleasing, if socially conscious fare the fest has championed (e.g. “Service Entrance” and “Welcome to the Sticks” in recent years).

In addition, “The Intouchables” and “Polisse,” about a child-protection unit in Paris, tout 22 Cesar nominations between them, while Cesar-winning doc “Leadersheep”is also on tap.

photos/_specials-art2/COLCOA_My-Way.jpg” vspace=”5″ hspace=”5″ align=”left”>And while roughly a third of the 34 features on display already have U.S. distribution, there are some available morsels that might prove tasty to the American palate, including the opening-night “My Way,” a pop biopic about French singer Claude Francois that Variety called “swiftly paced, and full of catchy hooks and heartbreaking moments.”

Francois Truffart, exec/artistic director of Colcoa, cites the Juliette Binoche film, “Another Woman’s Life,” which press notes call “a romantic comedy about second chances,” and the topical “Early One Morning,” inspired by a recent wave of workplace suicides in France, as ripe for the picking.

To this end, distributors from other countries also are exhibiting a growing presence at the fest.

“More and more producers want their films to be at Colcoa,” says the well-connected Truffart, who embarks on two pilgrimages to France every year, not including attending Cannes, to view films with producers and distributors.

“My Way” director Florent-Emilio Siri personally screened the film for Truffart, who says more filmmakers are approaching him about a fest berth. “This way I’m able to see almost everything,” he says.

If multihyphenate Julie Delpy is this year’s “it girl” with two films on tap, the program includes the feature directing debuts of two other actor-turned-filmmakers: “The Adopted” from Melanie Laurent, the stoic resistance fighter in “Inglourious Basterds,” and “The Well-Digger’s Daughter” from prolific leading man Daniel Auteuil.

And while Colcoa bestows audience and critics awards, “Americano” has to be a shoo-in for pedigree; it’s written and directed by Mathieu Demy, the son of New Wave icons Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda, and stars Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie, and Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve. Talk about cinematic royalty.

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