City of Lights vs. City of Angels?

Last night, I went to the opening of the City of Lights, City of Angels French film festival. I was at the celebrity-packed premier of a funny French film called The Valet (aka La Doublure) by the famous French writer and director, Francis Veber. Afterwards, there was a Q&A with Veber and the star of the film, Gad Elmaleh, who is a big standup comic in France. He was very funny, even in English.

The film is about this loser guy who is paid to pretend he’s the boyfriend of a supermodel to get the supermodel’s boyfriend — a married billionaire — out of hot water with his wife when their affair is exposed in tabloids. What I found interesting about the film was that it was missing what American directors and writers would consider a crucial scene: when the loser and the supermodel first meet. Veber skipped that moment entirely to show another “first meeting” that was far more powerful. (It’s too good. Kristin Scott Thomas delivers a priceless reaction shot. And I didn’t even know she could speak French!)

No American director or producer would have ever in a million bazillion years let that happen. EVER. And I felt the absence of the scene. I thought, “How can he do this? It’s the money shot, fer Chrissakes!”

Then as I heard him explain why he did it, I realized that American screenwriting rules don’t necessarily promote good storytelling. They’re too obvious and commercially driven. This is the guy who wrote La Cage aux Folles, The Dinner Game, and other classics; he knows a thing or two about visual storytelling.

Anyway, the film is funny and sweet. It makes a great twist on the traditional buddy film, as the loser and the supermodel become friends. And the ending…let’s just say it’s probably truer than anything. Sadly. Yet happily.

And that’s what you should expect from the City of Lights.

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