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Gallic hitmaker likes L.A. lifestyle

Featured player: Francis Veber

PARIS — Some French filmmakers dream of making movies in Hollywood. Francis Veber is content simply to live there.

“L.A. is a provincial town. People go to bed early and I like that,” says the comedy writer-helmer, whose California tan sets him apart from the pale faces milling around Paris’ Hotel Bristol this early spring day. “Also, my wife likes to play golf.”

“The Valet,” Veber’s latest pic, recently opened the City of Angels, City of Lights French film festival in L.A. Released wide on 720 screens in Gaul March 29, in its opening week the movie notched more than 1 million ticket sales, an unsurprisingly robust result for this reliably bankable filmmaker.

There is not a trace of bitterness that Tinseltown hasn’t been disposed to employ Veber’s talents since “The Three Fugitives,” a remake of his Gallic hit “Les Fugitifs,” and “Out on a Limb,” made after he moved Stateside 16 years ago.

“You don’t get a second chance in Hollywood,” he says wryly, “but that’s the economics of the business there.”

Working in France has its advantages, he adds.

“It is a lot less complicated than in the U.S. You don’t have 120 pages of executives’ notes for a 100-page screenplay.”

Ironically, there has long been a brisk business Stateside in remaking Veber’s films. Seven pics written or helmed by him, or both, have received the Hollywood treatment, including “Buddy, Buddy,” “The Man With One Red Shoe” and “La Cage aux Folles” — with widely differing results.

“I’ve often wondered why so many remakes turn out to be duds, especially when there are so many excellent writers in America,” Veber says.

“I think the trouble is they see the film over and over again so many times that they get bored with it and want to enrich it, but you can’t put whipped cream on foie gras.”

Three more remakes of Veber’s films are in the works, at more or less active stages of development: “The Dinner Game” with DreamWorks, “Tais Toi” with Sony and “The Closet” with Miramax. A Broadway musical version of the latter also is in development.

It is understandable that remaking Veber should seem like a good idea. His films blend French humor with well-honed scripts and themes in a classic screwball comedy mold.

“The Valet” stars hot comic actor Gad Elmaleh as Francois Pignon, a recurring character in Veber’s movies; this time he’s called upon to shack up with a leggy blond model played by Alice Taglione.

She needs the cover so that her married lover, a powerful businessman played by Daniel Auteuil, can foil his suspicious wife, Kristin Scott Thomas.

Taglione was a find, Veber tells Variety, discovered after he had tested a bevy of models including Wonderbra babe Adriana Karembeu, to no avail.

“I needed someone who could be convincing as a supermodel but whose French was up to it. But most French actresses are midgets,” he quips.

With yet another hit under his belt in “The Valet,” Veber’s stock as a helmer is likely to remain high in Gaul. Most of his films have been backed by Gaumont — including “The Valet” — although he made “Tais Toi” with UGC.

What’s next? Veber’s not telling. “I don’t know what I’ll do,” he says mysteriously. “Perhaps I’ll write a novel.”

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