05 December 2010

Francophile is Not a 4-Letter Word

According to my father (The Walking IMDB, Sr), there are two types of people: Those who love French cinema and those who don't. We easily fall into the former category and lap up anything with a Gaulic twist. I'm always weary of those who fall into the later category. What do they have against the French? Is it simply because it's "cool" to dislike them? Did a Frenchman steal their mother away from their father? Did they go to France once and get sick on foie gras? What did France ever do to them?

I randomly think about this topic throughout the year. I guess you could say I'm a bit obsessed. I love foreign films. An early diet of Herzog, Wenders, Wargnier, Truffaut, Godard, Kurosawa, Antonioni, etc; has bred me to prefer subtitles to dubbing, the avant garde to the normal. My parents are wonderful people with few restrictions when it came to movies when we were children. Sex, drugs, rock and roll; all were okay with Mom. She was a bit protective about gratuitous violence, but if it served the purpose of the story...

I started reading "Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard" this week. Of all the nouvelle vague auteurs, he is my favorite. "Vivre sa vie" my favorite movie, "Breathless", "Le Weekend", "Pierrot le fou", "Alphaville". Each and everyone is brilliant. The book is not designed for the casual reader though. The in depth study of the birth of New Wave, it's colourful characters, it's politics, is a bit daunting if you are not deeply interested. However, as a portrait of a man from a professional point of view only, it's quite good.

My dad asked me if I had ever seen "The Last Metro". It was on TV the other day and he caught it again. Oddly enough, I had just taped it. Truffaut's story about the German occupation of France centers on a fading theatre run by Marion (Catherine Deneuve) and her husband who must now hide in the basement from the Nazi's. For my dad it was a testament to the wonder of Deneuve, an actress I have always been passionate about. In her earlier works, he believed her beauty got in the way of her true talent. Here, in a more mature performance, he could recognize her subtle ability to blend into any character. Yet one does not become the face of a countries cinema and it's reigning queen on looks alone. How difficult it must be to forget you are watching Catherine Deneuve! She has appeared in over 100 films (!!) and worked steadily in 6 decades. What prompted me to push my viewing up on my internal list was his claim that it, and her performance, was better than "Indochine"- Which I have long believed to be her most amazing work and a great film.

With Christmas around the corner, it's time to brush off those movies that sit sadly on the bottom of the pile, waiting for that one day a year in which we watch them. For the francophile, a great choice is Arnaud Desplechin's "A Christmas Tale" (now available on Criterion). What could have easily been trite and boring has instead breathed new life into if by an amazing cast. Four generations come together for Christmas, but dysfunction wins out and lives are forever changed. Led by family matriarch (Denueve), the typical becomes atypical. Also starring a who's who of French cinema: Jean-Paul Roussillon , Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Chiara Mastroianni (Denueve's real life daughter), Melvil Poupaud , Emmanuelle Devos , and Hippolyte Girardot . It is a depressing film for those of us who prefer Halloween to Christmas. 

So, where do you fall? Lover of French cinema or hater? Pro-foreign films or against?  

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