It’s that time of the year again, when a super-packed schedule of French film premieres reigns at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, where sold-out crowds of cinemaphiles, Francophones and Frenchies delight in macarons, pissaladière and good champagne (on opening night, anyway!). The annual COLCOA French Film Festival continues, and the habitual bonhomie evident among attendees was again on full display, as is the case whenever groups of like-minded people come together. Based on my own, and overheard conversations throughout the evening, familiar topics of interest prevailed — upcoming travels, movies and the people who direct and produce them; food and wine, the arts, good writing and bad writing, the previous year’s festival, this year’s lineup of films, screening schedule comparisons, and I’m too busy to see as many as I saw last year!
Wondering when I’ll get to the part about writers and other human beings? Well, it was the festival’s opening film that got me ruminating on the subject! A Perfect Man (Un Homme Ideal in French), co-written and directed by Yann Gozlan, presents a story that has been told many, many times before, so I was concerned. That I already knew how it would end, that the plot points and twists would aim for originality, but fail, that I would exit the theater thinking, I could’ve waited to see it on Netflix. But my misgivings were unfounded. In fact, viewing the film gave me hope!
A Perfect Man portrays an aspiring author well-acquainted with the reviled rejection letter. He comes upon a dead man’s manuscript. Irritation and frustration at full tilt, he discards integrity, retypes it under his name, and sends it to a major publisher. The publisher professes stupefaction at the grit and power of the manuscript. The writer lands a large advance, the book comes out; our man emerges as the hottest author of the day. A gorgeous byproduct of his success comes alive in the form of his dream girl, who promptly falls in love with the great writer, making him happy happy happy until expected complications eventualize. I told you, we’ve seen this all before, right? Except that we haven’t seen it this way.
This is a tightly-drawn thriller. With the help of a score, which keeps you riveted, even though you know what’s coming, you wait to see how it will be told. You might wish a couple of plot points weren’t so telegraphed, and you spot a hole or two in the story, but you forgive the filmmaker because you’re having a good time! Which brings me to the point I wanted to make.
We all know there’s nothing new in the world, we’ve heard it a million times: there are no new story lines, they’ve been written already; only two basic plots exist (or seven, or 20 or 36, depending on whom you ask); all art is an appropriation of someone else’s art, another twist on an old idea, a tip of the hat to someone else. But is that really true? I don’t think so.
To begin with, I thought the movie, Luc Besson’s Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, was pretty damn original. Feel free to tell me it is not. I don’t care. And let’s not forget that we really like the familiar; that often, when we watch a movie or read a book, we thrill in the re-discovery of something already known to us about ourselves. Keep in mind it is in the trying that old ideas are made new; and that if we stopped trying we would be would left with nothing but recycled junk. So, if you are a writer with a genius concept for a coming-of-age story, who cares if there are a billion and ten of them already? And what does it matter if it isn’t brand new? It’s how much fun you have writing it that counts; and the enjoyment that the viewer derives from the experience of watching your words come to life as they down popcorn and Coke in a dark theater.
And, if you are a human being with a new app idea for connecting people together or a flying car or or a facial product which delivers on the promise of the fountain of youth, who cares that Facebook already exists, that your car idea would just be a permutation of an airplane, or that no one else has ever been able to transform a 58-year-old into a 38-year-old without the knife? What matters is how much fun you have developing your new product while anticipating the look on your father’s face when you tell him you’ve made it.
COLCOA stands for City of Lights, City of Angels, in acknowledgement of Paris and Los Angeles as world centers for cinema. Check it out next time April rolls around. You may come away with some new ideas. Or maybe just with renewed hope that the creative process still rules!