OH LÀ LÀ French Comedy Festival 2017: Recommendations

L’Embarras du choix/Photo courtesy of PR

Overwhelmed by an over-abundance of choices? Having difficulty making decisions? So does Juliette, the protagonist of L’Embarras du choix, one of several very entertaining films to be shown at the OH LÀ LÀ French Comedy Festival, opening this week on November 16, 2017. Éric Lavaine, who directed Barbeque (2014) and Retour Chez Ma Mere (2016), is well versed in exploring the comic aspects of everyday life, exposing the absurd within the ordinary. In particular, Lavaine has great insight into the foibles of early middle-age, that time of life when it feels as though everything is set, except it’s not… The charming Alexandra Lamy (Retour Chez Ma Mere) returns here as Juliette, a who at 40 is still letting her father (Lionnel Astier) make decisions for her. When she is put on the spot and has to decide for herself, her waffling leads nowhere but disaster.

At first glance, Juliette pales in comparison to her more glamourous friends, hair stylist Joelle (Anne Marivin) and the spicy Sonia (Sabrina Ouazani), she does have a good excuse – her boyfriend just dumped her. But just a few minutes into the film she gets up off Joelle’s couch, the action gets going, and Alexandra Lamy really shines. Vivacious, warm, and – after a drink or two, rather impetuous. Juliette starts to have some fun and gets into a cute predicament, learning something about making choices along the way. It’s a light romantic comedy, with nice ensemble performances and two very different leading men – Jamie Bamber as Scottish banker Paul, who moves effortlessly between English and French, and Arnaud Ducret as tall, dark, and handsome Etienne. The film is in French, with subtitles in Hebrew.

A feel-good comedy with social resonance, Lucien Jean-Baptiste’s Il y a deja tes yeux, is a warm and wonderful film with an excellent cast. Paul and Sali’s dreams are about to come true – the long-awaited phone call from the adoption agency. There’s a baby for them, but, and here is the hesitation that speaks volumes about our concept of family, culture, history, and social norms, the director informs them that baby Benjamin is white, while Sali and Paul are Caribbean/West African. The film looks at issues of race, identity, and prejudice in a light-hearted manner. Emotions and situations are taken to wacky extremes, yet there’s an underlying warmth, and awareness of the serious issues under consideration. The mandate of child welfare and adoption agencies is clear: the best interests of the child. Yet are those decisions made through a filter of prejudice? How do we check ourselves to know if we are truly impartial? What is the best interest of the child – to be raised by parents from the same culture and ethnicity, or to be raised by parents of any culture or ethnicity with love in their hearts?

Paul (Lucien Jean-Baptiste) and Sali (Aïssa Maïga) have a good relationship that is tested by the predictable tensions and fatigue of new parents, and then some. As in any adoption, there’s a probation period with home visits by a social worker to make sure that child and parents are all settling in well. In this case, social worker Claire Mallet (Zabou Breitman) is somewhat over-zealous. To complicate matters further, for Sali’s parents, accepting a white baby is an emotional hurdle perhaps too high to overcome. Contributing some happy chaos to this mix is Paul’s super strange buddy Manu, who has come to help with their home renovations. Vincent Elbaz is hilarious as the extremely odd Manu, who keeps blurting the most outrageous statements in every situation. The film will be shown in French with Hebrew subtitles.

Our concept of family in the 21st century is increasingly fluid, and C’es quoi cette famille, directed by Gabriel Julien-Laferrière, explores the contemporary family from the perspective of the children. Specifically, one very savvy and charismatic 13-year-old, Bastien. Teïlo Azaïs is terrific as Bastien, whose cheerful cynicism is the engine that gets this film going with a great vibe. Typically, the family members with the least voting shares, every time there is a marriage or divorce, the kids get shuffled around. With a multitude of step-siblings and an assortment of parents, at 13 Bastien has seen it all and is fed up with the situation. Happily, he has an innovative solution: rather than moving from one parent to another, the kids from all the various relationships will live together in one apartment, and the parents will take turns in caring for them. Happily, there’s a spare apartment, centrally located in Paris. Yes, this is fiction! And it’s a real delight to enter the imaginative world of this film, with a really cool ensemble cast of children and adults as they experience the ups and downs, joys and mishaps of this new arrangement. The film will be shown in French with Hebrew subtitles.

The full festival program is on the OH LÀ LÀ French Comedy Festival website.