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Showing Gaul

Hollywood heads for the Normandy coast

PARIS — It is not hyperbole to say there’s a film festival under way every week of the year somewhere in France, but — along with a little shindig staged each May in Cannes — the Deauville Festival of American Cinema is among the best-known beyond Gallic shores.

The English Channel laps right up against the quaint Normandy resort town where the 27th edition of the world’s only foreign fest devoted entirely to American fare unspools Aug. 31-Sept. 9.

“Our mission is clear: We show American movies for 10 days in a French town,” says Bruno Barde, who heads up the cinema department of Le Public Systeme, a PR firm that nurtured and continues to run the Deauville fest. “Our job is to show the complete spectrum of American production, and I think we provide an excellent cross-section of what American filmmakers are doing here and now, in addition to the retrospectives.”

Deauville is equal parts continuity and change. The two gents who started it — Lionel Chouchan and Andre Halimi — are still in charge. Noncompetitive for two decades, the fest added a 10-pic competition section in 1995 — a move that is widely believed to have boosted the event to its current high profile.

The town has three very comfortable venues for screenings, including the 2,000-seat C.I.D. auditorium, a marvel with terrific sight lines that was christened in 1994.

Deauville, a two-hour drive northwest from Paris, has been the weekend playground of wealthy Parisians for over a century. There’s luxury galore for those who require it but, much as at Cannes, enthusiasts on a budget who don’t mind lodgings by the train station can swing a visit. The public is welcome and prices are reasonable: 900 francs ($125) for a pass for the entire 10 days or $35 per day. (Tickets are not sold for individual screenings.)

And while Deauville can be something of an industry gathering (Vivendi and Universal brass had their first exec summit here last year), it’s more of an opportunity to launch new U.S. films in France. Event screens a wide array of “avant premieres” or previews of bigger Hollywood fare alongside the 10 smaller competition pics.

“Comedy is our unofficial theme in this year’s batch of films,” says Barde of the previews. “We open with ‘Swordfish,’ close with ‘Queenie in Love’ and have at least a dozen comedies in between.”

In his second year as programmer, Jerome Lasserre continues to keep a low profile and lets the films speak for themselves.

“It’s too soon for me to say whether the job has gotten easier,” he says. “Any programmer relies on the creativity of filmmakers but I’m incredibly pleased with this year’s lineup.”

Although film festivals fight over premieres of new work, there’s much to be said for revisiting the proven pics of the past. Deauville’s popular Carte Blanche sidebar gives a noted American director the opportunity to program personal favorites. Oliver Stone will take the stage this year to explain his choices, including John Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and “How Green Was My Valley,” Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront” and David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.”

Honor roll

The supply of still-active living legends may be dwindling, but the fest takes seriously its role in honoring established showbiz personalities while discovering new talent. In recent years, it has added homage sidebars dedicated to important filmmakers and thesps. This year’s honorees are Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds and producer Joel Silver.

“I wanted to salute Joel Silver’s audacity,” says Barde of this year’s producing honoree. “He’s made some terrific movies through the sheer force of his personality.

“As for Julianne Moore, the range of her artistic choices as an actress is breathtaking,” Barde continues.

The fest will present the world preem of Bart Freundlich’s “World Traveler,” starring Moore, who when last attending Deauville with the director — in 1997 for “The Myth of Fingerprints” — was very pregnant with their son.

Reynolds — who made his screen debut 40 years ago in 1961’s “Angel Baby” and went on to become the top American box office attraction in the late 1970s and early ’80s — will be feted with a retrospective. Fest will also preem his latest pic, Bill Bennett’s New Orleans-set “Tempted,” in which Reynolds stars as a wealthy man with a tricky proposition involving his sultry wife (Saffron Burrows) and a young law student.

“It’s our goal to acquaint the French moviegoing public with the accomplishments of important people,” Barde emphasizes. “We show over 50 movies every year.”

The fest has two other tributes in store, for the late Stanley Kubrick and James Dean.

Twelve Kubrick films are set to unspool in the Casino theater. Warner Bros. is pitching in to strike fresh, subtitled prints of many of them. Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, will attend and Jan Harlan’s docu “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures,” which drew raves at the Berlin Intl. Film Festival, will be shown.

The Dean hook for this year’s fest is that the icon would have been 70 this year. The three features that cemented his legend will be shown, along with Mark Rydell’s recent TV pic “James Dean,” starring James Franco.

Manhattan-based Ruda Dauphin — the fest’s U.S. liaison whose golden Rolodex has supplied Deauville with much of its star power over the years (starting with Gregory Peck at the second edition) — once faced the cameras with Dean, who became a close friend.

“Jimmy and I screen-tested together in New York for a picture called ‘Battle Cry,’ because Warner Bros. had dubbed us the best two rising young actors in New York,” says Dauphin, whose stage name was Ruda Michelle. (Raoul Walsh directed the 1955 pic and the part Dean auditioned for went to Aldo Ray).

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