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Bi-lateral diplomacy

Gallic fest remains favorite spot for American pix

TIP SHEET
What: Deauville Festival of American Film
When: Sept. 2-12
Where: Deauville, France
Opening film: “The Matador”
Jury: Alain Corneau, director (president); Dominique Blanc, actress; Rachida Brakni, actress; Brigitte Rouan, actress, screenwriter-director; Enki Bilal, graphic novel writer/illustrator/director; Christophe, singer/songwriter; Dominik Moll, screenwriter/director; Melville Poupaud, actor
Honorees: Robert Towne, James Toback, Ron Howard, Forest Whitaker
Literary Award: Budd Schulberg, “Sanctuary V”

Political pundits given to citing “Franco-American tension” would never use the expression again with a straight face after a visit to the festival of American films held each September in Deauville.

Call it another French paradox, but the Gallic tradition of appreciating quality extends to America’s movies, from the smallest indie to megabuck Hollywood fare. For 31 years, that appreciation has blossomed annually — free of jealousy, rancor or ulterior motives — in a Normandy resort town.

The town is home to luxury hotels, a casino and a civic personality so far removed from an inferiority complex that although it’s a two-hour drive or train trip from the capitol’s 20 arrondissements, Deauville is colloquially known as “the 21st arrondissement.”

And here, art is art and commerce is beside the point.

Michael Cimino was treated like a god when he collected Deauville’s literary award for his novel “Big Jane” in 2001. That was no fluke.

Indeed, the honorees at Deauville this year reflect France’s eclectic taste in U.S. cinema arts: Robert Towne, Ron Howard, Forest Whitaker and James Toback.

Toback will be screening his latest pic, “When Will I Be Loved,” and doc “Toback: The Outsider,” directed by Nicholas Jarecki, will also unspool.

Howard’s “Cinderella Man” gets its French bow as the headliner of a boxing films retro, while Uncle Sam’s Docs unspools U.S. nonfiction, including Oscar-winner “Born Into Brothels.”

The Literary Award this year goes to Budd Schulberg for his book “Sanctuary V.”

And although this is a fest devoted to American offerings, since 1991, the Michel d’Ornano Award goes to a French first film written and directed by the same person. This year, Karin Albou’s “Little Jerusalem” earns that honor, which comes with a cash prize.

Despite the fact that every big star and honoree shows up here, year in and year out, it’s far from being a place where U.S. companies can launch an early awards campaign — anything that extends beyond casual and gracious is overkill at Deauville.

Since the 10-title Competition was launched in 1995, Deauville has, technically, been a competitive fest. But while the caliber of the competition tends to be quite high — as do the reputations of the entertainers and artists on the jury — there is virtually no commercial impact, good or bad. A prize at Deauville simply denotes quality.

This year, films set for the Competition include “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” from Rebecca Miller; “Brick,” from Rian Johnson; Paul Haggis’ “Crash”; “Edmond” by Stewart Gordon; Ira Sachs’ “Forty Shades of Blue”; “Keane” from Lodge Kerrigan; “On the Outs” by Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnik; “Pretty Persuasion” from Marcos Siega; “Reefer Madness” by Andy Fickman; and “Transamerica” by Duncan Tucker.

On the opening and closing weekends, French industryites salute each other as the summer officially comes to an end. Until a few years ago, releasing a French film in July or August was practically shorthand for dud.

That pattern is being shaken up due to the sheer volume of French films. But the prestige slot for films of any nationality is still la rentree — the first week of September, when summer languor gives way to autumn industriousness. Deauville, which runs Sept 2-12, kickstarts the cinematic “re-entry” in style.

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