The Stroller Strategy: A Charming French Rom-Com

by Carrie Specht

the-stroller-strategy film photoThe Stroller Strategy is a charming French romantic comedy that plays with the idea of what happens when a baby unexpectedly enters the life of a young bachelor. Much like the 1987 American comedy, 3 Men and a Baby (which, by the way was adapted from the French hit Trois Hommes et un Couffin) the film is full of humorous situations mostly centered around the cliché that a single male is incapable of properly taking care of an infant. Cliché or not, the film manages to work regardless of the far-fetched initial set up due in large part to the incredible magnetism of French heartthrob, Raphaël Personnaz. He’s not just a handsome face but also a true talent whose screen presence is one to rival that of the hottest American stars. With good looks and cherubic charm, Personnaz is definitely one to watch.

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Personnaz (who kind of looks like a younger Zach Braff) stars as single Parisian, Thomas who had a terrific girlfriend whom he fell in love with at first sight. After a brilliantly devised series of short scenes in a stairwell Thomas loses Marie, the love of his life several years later due to his inability to commit to the idea of having a family. In one of the best sequences I’ve ever seen in any movie (it’s so good it could have worked well on its own as a short film) the history of the couple’s relationship is played out beautifully in a very concise and clever way. So, it’s only fitting when this same location serves as the source of Thomas’ sudden responsibility when he is made the temporary guardian of a baby. The scenario involving a case of mistaken identity when the mother is admitted to the hospital is a bit silly and far-fetched, but it’s forgivable since Personnaz makes it work. How? By rolling his gorgeous blue eyes and taking advantage of the situation.

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As it turns out, Marie (Charlotte Le Bon, a dazzlingly fetching on-screen paramour) now runs some kind of baby care facility. So, Thomas quickly gets the idea to pretend to be the father of his new charge in order to win back the girlfriend who wanted to have a child with him but left him when he showed no interest in developing their relationship. In order to prove he is ready to take the next step toward marriage and family, Thomas goes on a humorous adventure to get the girl of his dreams to believe he has changed. His only guide is his best friend Paul (Jérôme Commandeur), an ex-Tennis star on the make for woman attracted to young dads. In a comical sequence, Paul trains Thomas to walk properly with a stroller. However, Thomas soon learns he is left to his own devices and instincts when he begins to form a bound with the baby who fell into his life.

Raphaël Personnaz and Baby Léo in Clément Michel?s THE STROLLER STRATEGY (2013). Courtesy: Rialto Premieres/Studiocanal

That’s when things get complicated and the dramatic situations ring true. Director Clément Michel clearly has a comedy on his hands, however he doesn’t shy away from the very real emotions of what it means to be a parent (the frustrations and the fears). Personnaz has a couple of terrific scenes where he’s challenged by the feelings he’s developed for his irresistibly charming little co-star. Yet, as heightened as some of these moments get they are evenly dispersed through out the film and don’t get in the way of the comedy, or visa versa. The comedic situations are for the most part amusing without going overboard with a few exceptions (it is a French comedy after all). One of my favorite moments is when Thomas is trying to remove little baby Leo’s onesie for the first time. Although he tugs at the garment in steady repetition causing the child to vibrate as if stuck at the end of a conveyor built, Leo just smiles as if he’s in on the gag.

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The Stroller Strategy opens in Los Angeles, June 28 at Laemmle’s Music Hall on Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills. The hit romantic comedy runs a brisk 90 minutes in French with English subtitles. But don’t let the subtitles scare you off. With a comedy as thoroughly entertaining as this one, you’ll get caught up in the moment and forget you’re reading the dialogue in no time. Besides, it’s the silent moments between actors that really tell the story of any film. And in this case that story is a humorously touching one.

The LA Film Festival Wraps Up This Weekend

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by Carrie Specht

The 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival (produced by Film Independent) has returned to downtown Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE for a fourth year. On its final days, the highly regarded event continues through Sunday, June 23. Long known to mix Hollywood blockbusters with art-house experiments, and everything in between, the Festival has been screening a diverse slate of nearly 200 feature films (narrowed down from 5,428 submitted), representing more than 40 countries, in genres ranging from horror to comedy to sci-fi to sports documentaries, shorts and music videos. So don’t miss out on any more than you already have. With red carpet premieres, conversations, live music, free outdoor screenings and films from around the world the LA Film Festival is a cinematic experience not to be missed. So get your tickets to what’s left of the most anticipated films before they sell out!

2013 Los Angeles Film Festival Premiere Of Sony Pictures Classics' "I'm So Excited!" - Red CarpetThere are a lot of hot new movies playing this weekend, among them Elijah Wood’s recent success, Maniac, the latest sensation from Denmark, A Hijacking, Sophia Coppola’s Cannes favorite, The Bling Ring, and the low budget indie 20 Feet From Stardom. And then there’s the eclectic array of options offered by the LAFF, which kicked off opening night with the North American premiere of Pedro Almodovar’s bawdy, mischievous, new comedy of bad manners, I’m So Excited! The overall lineup includes films from first time filmmakers having their world premiere in LA, and popular favorites from recent festivals gathered from around the world, including the Sundance Grand Jury and Audience award winner Fruitvale Station. This film is set for release later this summer, but the LAFF offers the opportunity to see it and many other gems now before everyone else.

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Now in its nineteenth year, the LAFF is known for showcasing the best in new American and international cinema. It has a long running reputation for providing the movie-loving public with access to some of the most critically acclaimed filmmakers, film industry professionals, and emerging talent. This year the festival introduces 35 World, North American and US Premieres, including Ava DuVernay’s Venus Vs. and the music doc Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, as well as the sci-fi thriller Europa Report. It also features unique signature programs such as the Filmmaker Retreat, Music in Film Nights at the Grammy Museum, Poolside Chats, Master Classes, and Coffee Talks.

la-et-mn-film-independent-announces-lineup-for-001Another Festival highlight are the free Community Screenings. This year they include the world premieres of the music documentary Brasslands and the chess drama Life of a King starring Cuba Gooding Jr., which is a byproduct of Film Independent’s Project Involve, a program dedicated to cultivating the careers of filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the industry. And then there’s the 20th Anniversary screening of Dazed and Confused from director Richard Linklater, and a Dance-A-Long screening of John Waters’ Hairspray in honor of its 25th Anniversary.

LA_Film_The-House-That-JackWith so much from which to chose, including the highly anticipated closing night film, The Way, Way Back starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, and Maya Rudolph, it’s best that you visit the official site at lafilmfest.com for the most up-to-date schedule of films and programming. You’re bound to find something that peeks your interest, and since it’s now officially summer I say you go all out and make this weekend’s movie-going experience something you and the whole family will remember. Enjoy all that downtown LA has to offer and take the metro, see the sights as you walk from the station, and bask in what is LA LIVE – it’s a visual sensation before you even get to the theater. Then take a chance and see something you might otherwise never see. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be disappointed. I never have been, not by the LAFF. You owe it to yourself to be a part of what thousands of other Angelinos have known for 19 years – that there’s nothing like else like the LAFF.

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Regular screenings, conversations, chats and talks are just $13, and even less for Film Independent Members. That’s better than the price of the usual LA movie ticket or even other festivals. Gala screenings and Music Nights at the Grammy Museum run a bit steeper at $20, but then for the experience of participating in such unique events it’s more than worth the money. In addition to screenings and events, Festival passes provide access to a series of networking receptions and entry to the Filmmaker Lounge, where Festival pass holders can interact with Festival filmmakers and professionals in the film community. All Access, Fast, Industry and Cinema Pass holders have access to sold out events. Contact the Ticket Office for passes, tickets and event information by calling 866.FILM.FEST (866.345.6337) or visit LAFilmFest.com.

Napa Valley Dreams: A Documentary That Offers a New Take on a Familiar Place

img_5492by Daniel Larios

The Cameo Cinema is a small but beloved theatre in St. Helena, Napa County.  The fine old building recently celebrated its Centennial Celebration this past May, attracting the valley’s finest to come out and express their appreciation for the historic landmark. For this special evening the theatre’s impresario, Cathy Buck arranged for several esteemed wineries along with The Culinary Institute of America to cater the event, and included a film historian who praised the incredible milestone the Cameo shares with few other movie palaces. It was clear that the Cameo is a deeply cherished part of the community for the people who call Napa their home. What better time or place then to premier a brand new documentary celebrating the virtues and mysticism of that home. The evening in fact culminated with the very first screening of, Napa Valley Dreams, a documentary short produced and shot entirely in the Napa Valley. The film ties cinematically ties the thoughts and dreams of the area’s people with its beautiful landscape, capturing the unabashed adoration the locals have for their highly esteemed land. Director Rodney Vance masterfully combines captivating imagery, enthralling sound, and remarkable personalities to create a poetic film both ethereal and effervescent in its tribute to the truly special relationship between Napa and its people.

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Unlike most films devoted to the local, Napa Valley Dreams does not focus on the famous agriculture byproduct of the area (wine). Instead, the film does a fair amount of work introducing the audience to the diversity of characters that inhabit the region. For instance, featured in the film is a humorous southern landowner presented in front of his geyser, as well as a solemn army veteran shown at his rehabilitation home. The two men are very different, yet both have reasons to be tied to the valley. Vineyard owners and master chefs speak of their craft, what it means to them and how Napa is the right place for them to lay roots. Thrill enthusiasts zoom along zip lines and jump through the lush forests on mountain bikes, enjoying the marvelous geography the valley offers. Children play in the vegetation while gardeners plant new seeds in the nourishing soil. Artists off all kinds, from dancers to glassblowers, find their inspiration in Napa’s vibrant colors and natural wonder. Even the late, great Ray Manzarek is seen (in one of his final recorded interviews) detailing his journey from his UCLA days, to his time as a member of the iconic rock group The Doors, to his home in Napa Valley. The various stories connect together to form one collective idea – that there is an inherent connection between the valley and its people. And this is what is at the heart of Napa Valley Dreams.

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The stories are laced together through stunning cinematography, courtesy of John Tagamolila and Christopher Rusin. Napa Valley Dreams varies heavily between intimate close-ups and sweeping landscapes. Some images are heavy on texture and other complexities, playing with focus and planes of action, such as when the chocolatier smashes her latest delicacy with a wooden spoon. Other images are as simple as a glass swirling rich red wine, with nothing but grey sky filling in the background. Rusin, a time-lapse photographer and himself a subject of the documentary, displays his talents by capturing the transformation of the valley over time from various gorgeous vantage points, presenting no a scene that is less than enticing, paying just homage to the beauty of Napa.

But visuals alone are not the only source of entertainment in this film. A sensory experience like Napa Valley Dreams demands an equally evocative score, and composer Scott Greer provides just that. With organic sounds that subtly heighten the emotions, Greer masterfully complements every image and storyline with the appropriate tones. An equally important factor in an excellent composition is to know when to let the moment speak solely for itself. The film is an excellent example of this on multiple occasions, notably when a climber scales a mountainside. Here the score helps the audience get involved with the struggle, yet allows the intensity of the climb to stand-alone. Once the climber reaches the top and stretches his arms out victoriously it is at that moment that the score swells, leading us into the next sequence. It is these nuances within the Greer’s score that adds richness to the film with its harmonious, meditative subtlety.

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The glue between the various components in filmmaking is the editing, and Napa Valley Dreams required a substantial amount. As the editors, Robert Schafer and John Tagamolila intertwined and interlocked a variety of stories and images together, artfully confectioning a whole. They wisely paced the film, allowing the viewer to soak in every image as they slowly move from one to another. On a rare instance they craftily deviate from this relaxed pace, such as when a bicyclist crashes into the screen. We cut sharply to black on the collision, fade back in and the leisurely progression resumes. The overall story, or path of the film is laced together with stream-of-conscious speeches. This is a method that normally doesn’t translate well to film, but the sparse distribution of the voices allows the viewer to focus on the image and allows the words to supplement the mise-en-scene. The film is edited to entrance; it is not an edge-of-your-seat film but a back-of-your-seat, eyes-wide-open one.

I came in to the theatre that night in May with the understanding that Napa Valley Dreams is a highly atmospheric film about the Napa Valley, a region with which I am admittedly not at all familiar. Essentially I knew the area has many vineyards and nothing else. I had even less of an idea as to who the people of Napa are or why they live in the region. I am furthermore not the kind of viewer to be necessarily swept into the personal appeal of watching the film in Napa on its debut. Yet Napa Valley Dreams did manage to sweep me in many ways. It not only opened my eyes to the valley and its people, it offered an understanding to how Napa stirs a multitude of sentiments in the locals and allows them to bloom.

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Many documentaries make their appeal to the audience with heavy logos. Napa Valley Dreams is pure pathos, and unapologetically so. Not does it need to be apologetic; the film wears its heart on its sleeve and that’s what makes even someone as unfamiliar and unconnected with the content as myself amazed. On the other hand, I knew going in the film was airy and minimalist with speech. To someone expecting orthodox filmmaking the film may be abstruse. Vance’s approach is not traditional, but it works for this film and even more importantly, I feel nothing else would. The married elements of the film give a sense of wonder, something great filmmaking should aspire to; Napa Valley Dreams, like the Napa Valley to its people, provides that experience.