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2011 festival year is off and running in Palm Springs with Deneuve and Potiche opening

Opening with Potiche

(french film by François Ozon starring french icon Catherine Deneuve) just six days after New Years the Palm Springs Film Festival can probably lay claim to the honor of being the very first such festival of any size or signifigance on the annual international film festival calendar. While this is not a festival one hears too much about, being well off the beaten track and coming at a time when most of us are still recovering from year end Holidaze entertainment overload, and beginning to think about the Oscars and all that jazz, PSIFF is nevertheless a sizeable middle-weight contender that has been around -- -- don't look now --but twenty years! Nearly as many flms of all kinds and countries are screened as at any major festival, and being within striking distance of Hollywood a goodly turnout of Hollywood stars and celebs can be expected, even if they're just there to get away from the unseasonably cold and shitty weather in L.A. and party with eaxh other.

For readers unfamiliar with the geography of Southern California, most of the lower part of the state is actually a desert and Palm Springs is a kind of extremely upscale oasis in the middle of this desert, a hundred miles away from Los Angeles and halfway to more desert over in Arizona. The attraction of this little town in the middle of nowhere, in Indian country surrounded by dry brown mountains, is a most benign climate -- 365 days of sunshine and dependable warmth all year round. Moreover, the very geographical isolation means that true celebrities can actually walk the streets and go about their daily business without being hassled by autograph hounds. It's just too far way and too expensive to actually live here unless you're rich --ergo, good place for a film festival. Over the years many top superstars, the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and that ilk -- have made Palm Springs their watering hole and stomping grounds and many bought second homes here. So that is basically the setting.

Films are screened at a variety of venues but since Palm Springs has only one main shopping street and all the cinemas are state of the art no matter which one you pick it's gonna be nice and first classy. I have only tentatively scanned the film lineup but can easily see that there will be more than enough to choose from and something for every taste.

Up my own Perso-Indian alley I find four films each from India and Iran. Among them is the latest Aparna Sen offering. "The Japanese Wife" which is the odd story of a mail order romance and marriage between an Indian man and a Japanese wife, who never actually meet but are nevertheless married on paper. " Dog Sweat" is literally an underground Iranian film which harshly criticzes the current Fascisto-Islamic regime in that problematic country. Filmed in Tehran mainly in the apartments of friends of the director under the very noses of the Ayatollahs it had to be smuggled out of Iran and was first shown here at the Los Angeles International Film Festival back in April. I unfortunately missed it then, but look forward to seeing it now. One of the best things about a festival like Palm Springs is, that by repeating outstanding films from earlier festivals it gives you the opportunity to catch up and fill in the gaps.
"Gold Copper" is a new Iranian film straight fromTehran that was approved by the censors because it shows an aspiring religious acolyte in a favorable light. But, according to the description it goes well beyond that, when the young man's wife becomes terminally ill and he has to take over the household chores normally reserved for women such as taking care of their new baby. "Certified Copy" is a French langauge film starring Juliet Binoche but directed in French by the dean of Iranian film directors, Abbas Kiarosatami. Kiarostami is often compared to international grand masters such as Bergman and Kurosawa, but this is his first effort working outside of his own Persian milieu and language. Binoche was awarded the Best actrees prize for her work in this film when it was premiered last year at Cannes. This was the festival where Iranian director Jafar Panahi was invited to sit on the jury but the Mullahs not only refused to let him out of the country but put him in jail for making films unfriendly to the regime. Binoche broke into tears when the news was announced and Panahi's jury seat was left obtrusively unoccupied all through the festival. Panahi was later released and invited to this year's Berlin Film Festival, but he was put on trial and sentenced to 6 years in jail and twenty years of artistic silence! -- Did I hear somebody say "Hitler's Germany"? --

Another curiosity from France is a biopic entitled "Gainsbourg --a heroic life". Serge Gainsbourg was a French composer, singer, actor and self-destructive loose cannon about Paris, described here (aptly, for those familar with his career) as a cross between Sinatra, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Jimmy Morrison.
The actor who plays him apparently has an uncanny resemblance to the real Gainsbourg and has all his moves down pat-- and with jawdrop beauty Laetitia Cassa playing Brigitte Bardot -- this has gotta be one not to bemissed. We'll keep you posted...
As for Hollywood megastars being honored, on Friday Night there will be an evening for actor Mike Douglas --not really that Mega of a Star, but one who has carved out a niche in Hollywood history despite arriving in the shadow of a more famous (and far bigger star) father, Kirk Douglas. Mike is almost as famous for being married to one of Hollywood's juiciest beauties, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and more recently for his courageous battle against cancer which had him sentenced to imminent early death on every gossip magazine cover in sight. The latest seems to be that Mike is recovering, but, one way or another he is big news and Palm Springs's trophy guest of the year.

by Alex de Leon, for
Dailies from Palm Springs

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