“Oh, it’s just so French.” I’m sure you’ve heard me use that simple phrase to describe something— or someone. But what does that mean, to be French? français? française?
In the world of film, if you describe it as French, it carries many assumptions and dissertations. Such as…
1. It is probably a little, teeny bit, well, weird. At least to American standards. The humor is different… not as blunt as American humor, and unless you have studied the French language and are familiar with the culture, it can be hard to pick out and grasp.
2. It is probably a depressing film, in some aspects. American films have the reputation for always having a happy ending– it is basically the complete opposite in France. Many, if not most, French productions usually contain a quite depressing ending; or as the French often describe it—more realistic and likely to occur. This is, in my humble opinion, probably because most French people are very blunt and to the point– aka, no BS ! My favorite type of French films (notice the sarcastic emphasis on the word ‘favorite’) are the films that just simply end. There is no notice or connotation that the film is coming to a close, it just… ends. With unanswered questions, five people lying dead in the street, a woman standing on Pont Neuf above the Seine, a car driving away, going to bed after a long day…
In this scene, they call a boat, a “butt.” Now in the English language, that’s funny. All of the jokes they say, “It’s called a butt!” or, “Ohhh look, I’m gonna go touch the butt!” make us giggle. However, when you translate this into French:
- Boat = le bateau
As you can see, the translation, and therefore humor, just doesn’t work !
Another great thing about French film and going to the cinema in France is that viewers usually have the choice to see a film in V.O. – version originale (meaning that the film is shown in its original language, with French subtitles) , or VF- version française and the film, if international, is dubbed in French. Usually, one movie theatre shows one version and another shows another, as advertised in le journal. The members of my host family had their preferences. While living in France, we quickly learned where to go for V.O. or V.F.
So, now that I’ve had a chance to explain some of the differences between film culture, I thought I would share with you some of my personal favorite French films. (All of these trailers are either in English or have English subtitles).
1. Intouchables- Okay, I haven’t seen this yet, but I want to. This is currently the #1 film in France; some are calling it the next Amelie. This is about a man who is completely handicapped, and hires a man from the Paris ghetto as his primary caretaker, for one month.
2. Amélie- Probably the most well-known French movies from the last fifteen years. This is about a young Parisienne who tries to fix every one’s problems, in secret/disguise.
3. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not– This is a perfect example of a “****ed up” very French film!
4. L’Auberge Espagnole & its sequel, Russian Dolls: This film is right up my alley– it’s about study abroad and inhabiting with people from all over the world. The initial film and then what happens when they’re back together 5 years later.
6. The Class (Entre Les Murs): This gives you a look at inner city French schools, and how society works in France. This is basically France’s version of The Freedom Writers.