Two legends of French cinema, — Oscar-winning director Bertrand Blier (“Get Out Your Handkerchiefs”) and César-winning actress Nathalie Baye (“Day for Night,” “La Balance”), will be appearing with their latest films at the 15th annual City of Lights, City of Angels festival, which opens Monday and continues through April 18 at the Directors Guild of America Theater.
It is the first time either has appeared at the festival, which features an eclectic array of the latest in contemporary French cinema — and includes two world premieres among the 34 features.
François Truffart, director and programmer for COL-COA, had long wanted to do a tribute to the 72-year-old Blier, whose controversial comedies have always provoked mainstream conventions such as 1978’s “Get Out Your Handkerchiefs,” which revolves around a married woman who is unhappy until she finds love with a 13-year-old boy. It went on to win the foreign film Oscar.
“I was just waiting for the right film, and I knew his film, ‘The Clink of Ice,’ had released in France,” said Truffart. “I thought I would show the film to an American audience. It was a rare opportunity to make a focus on him.”
Blier will attend Thursday evening for a screening of “Ice” as well as at a showing in the afternoon of his dark 1979 comedy “Cold Cuts,” starring frequent collaborator Gérard Depardieu. After the screening of “Cuts,” he will discuss his career with moderator Wade Major.
Age hasn’t tempered Blier’s desire to spark controversy — the bitter comedy “Clink of Ice” focuses on an alcoholic writer dying of cancer at his country home who is visited one day by a nattily dressed man claiming to be the writer’s cancer.
Over the phone from Paris, he explained through a translator that he came up with the idea for “Ice” some 20 years ago.
“The idea amused me enormously but made me laugh, but I [didn’t hurry] to do it because it was an idea that scared me very much,” confessed Blier. “To do a film 20 years ago about cancer was simply inconceivable. But I am very interested in scientific research, and I have followed that closely, and lots of cancers have been cured lately. So a couple of years ago, I felt I could possibly do it. I was less worried about the idea.”
Though it is his first appearance at COL-COA, Blier is no stranger to Los Angeles. He recalled arriving here more than 30 years ago to attend the Oscars. “Francis Ford Coppola put his hand on my shoulder and told me to ‘stay and work with us.’”
He didn’t. “I ran very fast. It scared me [working in Hollywood]. I told my producer I am doing the film I wanted to do. I was actually coming back to France to shoot ‘Cold Cuts.’ I was coming back with my Oscar under my arms, and when you come back with your Oscar in France no one ever tells you ‘No.’”
Though Truffart generally invites the films’ directors or writers, he always selects an actress each year “that represents French cinema and the glamour.”
“This year, I wanted to have Nathalie Baye,” he said. “She is an interesting actress like Catherine Deneuve and an amazing talent. She started doing films in the 1970s, and she is still doing a lot of films. She is very popular, and she plays in different kind of films. She plays with directors from François Truffaut [‘Day for Night’] and Steven Spielberg [‘Catch Me If You Can’]. She’s amazing.”
Though Baye, an ageless 62, began in comedy in the 1970s with “Day for Night,” she had rarely had the opportunity to do anything funny later. “I love comedy,” she said via a translator on the phone from Paris. “I thought it was my destiny when I was studying at the Conservatory of Dramatic Art” in Paris.
But then she went dramatic 31 years ago in her first starring role in “Une semaine des vacances,” and she became typecast as a serious actress. “Everybody saw me as a dramatic actress,” she lamented. But she gets to strut her comedic stuff in “Beautiful Lies,” as the mother of beautician Audrey Tautou, which screens Saturday. “In fact, I wanted to do comedy. So I am very happy now.”
Unlike the age-conscious U.S. cinema, in which actresses older than 40 generally have a difficult time finding meaty roles, French actresses such as Baye and the 67-year-old Deneuve seem to be working as much as when they were ingénues. French audiences, Baye said, are faithful to cinema’s actresses and actors. “Since cinema is supposed to talk about life and represent life,” said Baye, “life doesn’t stop at 40. I have the privilege of being one of the French actors like Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Fanny Ardant who are constantly in demand.”