Colcoa Fest Offers Angelenos Chance to Sample French Fare

Every few years, a broad comedy catches France by storm, while causing barely a ripple in the U.S. Whereas Hollywood studio comedies tend to perform well in France, mainstream American moviegoers couldn’t be less interested in what makes the French laugh.

Los Angeles’ annual Colcoa French Film Festival is as good a place as any to sample a Gallic tickler. Given the event’s proximity to Hollywood — and the fact that many agents and industry pros scour Colcoa for fresh French talent — festival director Francois Truffart tends to favor polished, populist offerings over the more esoteric auteur fare featured at other Gallic film showcases.

“This year, we have a lot of comedy in the lineup,” Truffart tells Variety, unspooling such laffers as Anne Fontaine’s “Gemma Bovery” and Fanny Ardant starrer “Chic!” this week. “A few years ago, we opened the festival with Dany Boon’s fil, ‘Welcome to the Sticks.’”

“Sticks” earned $193.7 million in France. But Boon’s made-up hillbilly dialect, which delighted native speakers, didn’t exactly translate in subtitles, and after relocating to L.A. to develop a remake and other projects, Boon has reportedly left town.

When Ed Arentz launched Music Box Films, “It was a general rule of thumb that anything commercially popular in Europe was, by definition, not suitable for import into the U.S.,” he recalls. “We saw the falseness of that with the first couple of films we released.”

French thriller “Tell No One” put the company on the map, earning a cool $6 million, while spy spoof “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” did decent theatrical business (around $300,000), generating solidly on homevideo ever since — especially after the attention “The Artist” brought to star Jean Dujardin and director Michel Hazanavicius. (“Cairo” is being screened at this year’s Colcoa as part of its Focus on Filmmaker tribute to Hazanavicius.)

Last year in France, a comedy “Serial (Bad) Weddings” earned nearly $105 million in Gaul and $44 million more abroad — big enough numbers to get Hollywood’s attention, right? And yet no U.S. distributor will touch the TF1 title, in which an old-school Catholic patriarch is horrified when each of his four daughters chooses to marry someone of a different cultural background.

The year before, Guillaume Gallienne’s “Me, Myself and Mum” — about an identity-challenged guy whom everyone is convinced is gay — delighted locals and scored five Cesar awards, but also failed to land a U.S. release. Like “Weddings,” some consider the film too politically incorrect for American auds, if that’s even possible.

“I think we do have a kind of savoir faire involving social comedies, where French audiences are comfortable talking about sensitive subjects, like racism or the handicapped,” says UniFrance managing director Isabelle Giordano, citing 2012 hit “Paulette,” in which a cash-strapped elderly woman resorts to pot dealing, and “The Intouchables” (the 2012 Colcola closer), which scored a stunning $10.2 million for the Weinstein Co. (despite accusations of racism in its Variety review).

Still the challenge remains that  American audiences don’t read subtitles and arthouse-goers prefer edgier, more sophisticated French pics.

That leaves the possibility of remake rights — an arena where many high-concept French comedies have scored big. And Colcoa also remains a great place to evaluate that potential.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Pawel Pawlikowski, during the ceremony award

    Pawel Pawlikowski on the Power of Making Movies With ‘Barbarians at the Gate’

    Academy Award winner Pawel Pawlikowski says he’s watching “with horror” as political developments increasingly divide countries across the globe, and admits that he’s reluctant to take a stab at documenting modern life after the success of his two critically acclaimed period dramas, foreign-language Oscar winner “Ida” and thrice-nominated “Cold War.” “I don’t have a hook [...]

  • Jessica Chastain Lupita Nyongo

    Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o Spy Thriller '355' Gets 2021 Release Date

    Universal Pictures has dated its spy thriller “355,” starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing, for a Jan. 15, 2021, release. Simon Kinberg is set to direct from a script he co-wrote with Theresa Rebeck. The movie follows a group of spies from international agencies around the world. These women must bond [...]

  • Florenc Papas on Road Movies, Ancient

    ‘Open Door’ Helmer on Road Movies, Ancient Traditions, Social Pretensions

    Albanian director Florenc Papas, an alumnus of the Sarajevo Talents program, is in competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival with his feature film debut, “Open Door.” The road movie follows two sisters, Rudina and the pregnant and unmarried Elma, who embarks on a journey to visit their strict and traditional father in the remote mountain [...]

  • Dronningen/Queen of HeartsDirected by MAY EL-TOUKHYNordisk

    'Queen of Hearts,' 'White, White Day' Among Nordic Council Film Prize Contenders

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Iceland’s “A White, White Day,” Denmark’s “Queen of Hearts” and Norway’s “Blind Spot” are among the five films that will compete for this year’s Nordic Council Film Prize, a prestigious film award aimed at promoting Nordic co-operation and environmental initiatives. Sweden’s “Reconstructing Utøya” and Finland’s “Aurora” help round out the list, which [...]

  • Actor Javier Bardem looking at chinstrap

    Javier Bardem on Toronto-Bound ‘Sanctuary,’ See Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID  — Just selected as a Special Event at September’s Toronto Film Festival, Alvaro Longoria’s “Sanctuary.” starring and produced by Javier Bardem, may need a new ending. On Aug. 19, Bardem, along with Greenpeace, addressed delegates at the United Nations in New York to urge governments to agree to a strong Global Ocean Treaty. Creating [...]

  • Bosnia's Canton Sarajevo to Launch Film

    Bosnia's Canton Sarajevo to Launch Film and TV Rebate Incentive

    Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Canton of Sarajevo is introducing a new €1 million ($1.1 million) film funding initiative next year aimed at promoting domestic and international film and television production in the region. The incentive is the first of its kind in the country. Government representatives of Sarajevo Canton, including Prime Minister Edin Forto and culture [...]

  • Antlers Trailer

    Guillermo Del Toro's 'Antlers' Starring Keri Russell Drops Chilling First Trailer

    Events take a dark turn for a small town school teacher, played by “The Americans'” Keri Russell, in the first teaser trailer for horror movie “Antlers,” produced by Guillermo del Toro. The footage, unveiled Tuesday, centers on a young boy (Jeremy T. Thomas) reading from a frightening short story he’s written as Russell listens. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content