- - Thursday, November 17, 2016

Los Angeles filmgoers eager for a distraction from post-election fury made a beeline for the 30th annual American Film Institute’s free film festival. Held in the heart of Hollywood each November, it is where over 80,000 annual patrons take in a mix of indie art house, foreign and big-budget films.

Chilean director Pablo Larrain screened his English-language debut, “Jackie,” starring Natalie Portman as the grieving first lady in those pivotal days following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“It was daunting,” said a very pregnant Miss Portman about her tour-de-force performance on the red carpet. “It was an incredibly traumatic moment, of course, for the whole nation — and for this woman privately. The combination of her balancing this private and public grief is quite challenging.”

Damien Chazelle, who directed J.K. Simmons in his Oscar-winning performance in 2014’s “Whiplash,” came to AFI for his latest project, the romantic musical “La La Land,” which stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Of directing the pair, who sing and dance throughout this film, Mr. Chazelle said: “It was as fun as that would sound. It was everything I thought it would be.”

Mr. Chazelle praised his stars’ on-screen chemistry and ability to look natural when performing many complicated dance routines.

“Their ability to banter and slip from different emotions, to do lighter and heavier stuff, they really go through a gamut on this movie, which demanded a lot of them,” Mr. Chazelle said. “They were just able to make it all look effortless.”

“All the locations in the movie felt very L.A. This is such an iconic place,” added Miss Stone of shooting the film — strongly rumored to be an Oscar front-runner — in and around Los Angeles environs.

Hollywood legend Warren Beatty debuted “Rules Don’t Apply,” his first directorial effort in 18 years, and his first time acting since 2010. Mr. Beatty portrays real-life eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes who takes an interest in two fictional young arrivals to Hollywood.

While introducing the movie at the gala, Mr. Beatty reminisced about seeing “South Pacific” in the same venue, when it was still known as Grauman’s Chinese, in 1958, after dining at Musso and Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood.

“I was staying at a place called The Montecito Hotel that was just a few blocks away. I think it’s an apartment house now,” Mr. Beatty told the audience of his extremely modest living situation of the time, replete with a bed that came out of the wall. “Now that I no longer have to pull the bed out of the wall, I want to tell you how honored I feel that you have come here to see this movie.”

The two young people at the heart of “Rules Don’t Apply” arrive in Hollywood in, not coincidentally, 1958, and are soon put under contract by the megalomaniacal Hughes.

“I have never had this view of this theater,” the 79-year-old Mr. Beatty quipped from the stage of the venue he first visited nearly 60 years ago for the first time.

Mr. Beatty’s wife, Annette Bening, who also appears in “Rules Don’t Apply,” had never before been directed by her Oscar-winning husband, although she described the experience as “a joy.”

“He had planned it so carefully for so long, and now it’s happened,” Miss Bening enthused.

The Oscar-nominated actress also received an AFI tribute for her new family dramedy, “20th Century Woman.”

Also receiving a tribute was French actress Isabelle Huppert, who was at AFI with two films, Mia Hansen Love’s “Things to Come” and Paul Verhoeven’ controversial rape revenge thriller “Elle.”

“In my life, if I ever thought I would be working with Paul Verhoeven, I would not have believed it,” Miss Huppert said of the controversial Dutch director, mostly known to American audiences thanks to “Basic Instinct” and “RoboCop.” “He was always one of my favorite directors ever, so it’s really a dream for me that I have been able to work with him,” she said.

“She’s the most fantastic actress I’ve ever worked with,” Mr. Verhoeven said of his 63-year-old star, who successfully and effortlessly anchors the torment undergone by her character, Michele, in the new film. “She’s a level on her own really.”

“Elle,” opening Friday in the District, is France’s submission for the Oscars foreign film category.


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