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City of Lights, City of Angels gives French film an L.A. spotlight

Albert Dupontel is a popular French comedy actor and film director whose heroes are Charlie Chaplin and "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

Katell Quillévéré, one of the France's up-and-coming filmmakers, lists among her influences Douglas Sirk and John Cassavetes.

Dupontel and Quillévéré are making their first appearance at the City of Lights, City of Angels film festival, which will showcase the diversity of contemporary French cinema at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles through Monday.

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"They are two different filmmakers and are very popular," said festival director and programmer Francois Truffart. "Quillévéré is considered one of the leaders of new generation of filmmakers. Dupontel has renewed the joy of comedy in France. His universe is very unique."

Created in 1996, COLCOA this year includes "A Man and a Woman" director Claude Lelouch's latest film the family drama, "We Love You, You Bastard"; Guillaume Gallienne's comedy, "Me, Myself and Mum," which won five César Awards, France's equivalent of the Oscar; and Lisa Azuelos' romantic drama "Quantum Love."

The festival also is featuring new restorations of classic films, including Jean Cocteau's landmark 1946 "Beauty and the Beast," and a tribute to François Truffaut, who died 30 years ago.

Dupontel will be screening his comedy hit "9 Month Stretch" on Friday. The film, which won Césars for leading lady Sandrine Kiberlain and for original screenplay, is a broad, crazy comedy about a prim and proper judge who discovers that she's six months pregnant. To make matters worse, the father somehow turns out to be Bob (Dupontel), a.k.a. the Eye Gobbler, an accused murderer.

The film also features cameos from Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin ("The Artist") and Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam ("Brazil," "12 Monkeys").

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"I was a stand-up comedian first," Dupontel, 50, said by email. "It was the only way for me to access the movie world."

"9 Month Stretch" was supposed to be in English originally.

"First I asked Emma Thompson — one of the greatest actresses I know — to play the part," he said. "But the Franco-English co-production was difficult to set."

So he returned to France and set out to look for a leading lady. No actress seemed to fill Thompson's shoes, and Dupontel nearly abandoned the project until his producer told him that willowy Kiberlain liked the script.

"I realized that I was looking for an aggressive brunet, but a sweet, tall blond was infinitely better," he said.

Quillévéré will be at the festival Saturday to screen her acclaimed "Suzanne," a complex drama that follows the turbulent life of a young woman. It screens as part of the festival's "French NeWave 2.0" showcase of young filmmakers.

She also wrote the screenplay to the coming-of-age story "Vandal," directed by her boyfriend, Hélier Cisterne. That film screens Saturday.

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"I am really excited to talk about the movie with American people," said Quillévéré, who will also be teaching a master class to local college students.

"Suzanne," which won a César for supporting actress Adèle Haenel, has an unusual structure that departs from the straightforward narrative. Quillévéré spotlights pivotal moments in the tumultuous life of the title character (Sara Forestier), from her childhood to teenage pregnancy to single parenting to her love for a charismatic bad boy.

"I was really inspired by American biopics," Quillévéré said. "So when I started thinking about the movie, I read some books about women who shared their life with French gangsters. These women were always talking about their childhood and trying to understand their own story."

The nontraditional structure, she said, "allows you to understand the part of fate and chance in life. It's a movie that has many questions, but never answers them. It forces the audience to search for themselves what might be the answers."

"Suzanne," she said, was influenced by Sirk's lush melodramas, such as the 1954 "Magnificent Obsession," the 1955 "All That Heaven Allows" and the 1956 "Written on the Wind."

"He made movies that really deal with emotions," she said, adding later, "cinema is a catalyst that helps you have strong feelings you don't allow yourself to express every day. Cinema helps you deal with your own life. That is what I am trying to do with 'Suzanne.'"

susan.king@latimes.com

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COLCOA Film Festival

What: City of Lights, City of Angels, a showcase of French cinema

Where: Directors Guild Theater Complex, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Through Monday

Tickets: $3 to $11 per film; multifilm passes available.

Information: http://www.colcoa.org

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