Sun, 17 February 2019
Over the years I have recommended, reviewed and shared a long list of French films or films set in France either as Petit Plaisirs in previous podcast episodes, in the weekly This & That under the Francophile Finds category or during the annual TSLL French Week the past three years in August.
And as someone who appreciates simplicity and organization, I realized I didn't have one destination where readers/listeners could find my favorites. So today, that is exactly what I have done.
Understandably, there is a multitude of French films from decades passed that many people would place on their top list, but I wanted to share films I have loved that premiered in the past ten years.
As you will see, most are French films with English subtitles, but there are a few that are American films set in France, and one, I couldn't not help myself, that isn't French at all. It is Italian, but I learned about it while watching a French film in New York City's must-visit-foreign-films movie theater The Paris Theater (which is located adjacent to Bergdorf Goodman on the south end of Central Park). All of them are thoughtful, some more comical than others, but each will leave you in a contented mood having finished the film (and some will leave you with a voracious appetite - most for food, some for wine and others for . . . well . . . let's get to my list of the 12 French films I love).
1. Un Peu Beaucoup Aveuglement (Blind Date)
Released in France in 2015, this romantic comedy juxtaposes two tenants who need starkly different things in their lives in order to achieve the goals they have set. With merely a wall that separates them, the battle ensues and the humor begins.
First shared in episode #130's Petit Plaisir, you can listen to my full review there, and here is the trailer.
In 2015 I was looking for a light-hearted film, yet something to catch my eye’s attention as well as pique my curiosity. Released in 2014, Barbecue is a French film situated the majority of the time in the countryside of south France, but also in the city of Lyon. Amongst a group of long-time friends, one suffers a heart attack only to have it prompt him to question his entire life’s approach to living well. Enjoy the laughter, the camaraderie, the tears, the frustration and the ultimate happy ending. Available on Netflix, be sure to put it on your watch list.
Last year I had the opportunity to watch a new film which debuted on Netflix a few weeks ago, I Am Not An Easy Man. Not only will Francophiles appreciate this modern film as it is set in Paris and is written in French, but with the recent swelling of awareness surrounding the #MeToo movement and #TimesUp, the lead role stars a male chauvinist’s whose life is flipped upside down when after a concussion he wakes up in a matriarchal world in which men are inferior to women.
The satirical plot will perhaps have you laughing at times until you take a moment, pause, and then recognize how conditioned society has become to accept certain behaviors, roles and expectations of each gender. Watch it, absorb the message and then live more consciously. I know I was taking serious note of the message. The last scene alone was all too real of a wake-up call of where society is and the progress that still needs to be made.
4. Last Love
In 2013, Mr. Morgan's Last Love, aka Last Love, starring Michael Caine as a bereaved widower living in Paris, debuted. Co-starring alongside French actress Clemence Poesy, a jovial dance instructor, this film was a Petit Plaisir in episode #60's. While critics did not like the film, I found it unexpectedly lovely. The friendship between the two, the unexpected introduction to people Clemence's character may not have met, there is great love shared throughout the film from the love the retired professor shared with his wife, to the current relationships being built to the future love Poesy's character will embark upon.
The film is based on Françoise Dorner's French novel La Douceur Assassine, and while the main character in the novel is French, the screenplay was written with Caine in mind for the part. The title reflects the widower's contemplation with ending his life, and it is the young dance instructor that he meets that begins to change his mind.
5. Sex, Love & Therapy (2014) aka Tu Veux Ou Tu Veux Pas (Do You Want It Or Not?)
Let's lighten it up a bit, and Sex, Love & Therapy are certain to do just that. Sophie Marceau and Patric Bruel star in this French romantic comedy about a marriage counselor (Bruel) who is trying to get over his love for sex, but his new assistant (Marceau) is not making it easy.
When I read the review of director Cédric Klapisch’s new French film in The Wall Street Journal, I immediately put it on my watch list, and since then I have had the opportunity to view the film and enjoyed it immensely.
Centered around a family vineyard and the dilemma of what to do when the patriarch passes, the three children come together, squabble, remember and then decide on the best path. The cinematography will transport you to the rolling hills of Burgundy and you will be spoiled with footage watching each season in the vineyard. It is a pure treat and a wonderful examination of siblings who dearly love each other, but are faced with a tough dilemma. Don't worry, the ending, I have a feeling will satisfy.
An American film, starring Diane Lane, Paris Can Wait was released in 2017 and was the Petit Plaisir episode #160. Written, directed and produced by Eleanor Coppola. Yes, that Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather series, The Outsiders, etc.) for 54 years. Debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival, Paris Can Wait is Eleanor’s first narrative feature film, but you wouldn’t have known. Now, not all the critics are loving it: The Boston Globe felt it was strained and relied too heavily on clichés, even those who thought they would love it came away unsure due to the ambiguous ending, but it is precisely the different approach to making the film that makes it lovely.
Coppola has shared that the film’s plot was inspired by her own life (be sure to read the San Francisco Chronicle‘s interview with her here), but not every piece and parcel of the story (there was no male companion). Along with the struggle Diane Lane’s character (Anne) wrestles with is what Coppola herself did as well, the “‘inner conflict, the push and pull’ she’s felt her whole adult life about pursuing her own creative ambitions while raising three children and supporting her husband’s career”. As well, both women (the character and Coppola) have suffered the loss of a child which is briefly, but touchingly included in the film.
Some readers have shared with me, they didn’t enjoy the insinuation of infidelity, but I think that may be taking it further than Coppola intended as nothing occurred, merely adoration and a woman (Anne) who was keenly aware and steadfast. What Anne’s journey does do for her is awaken her to her strengths, to her passions, to the realization yes of her imperfect, but still very adoring husband. And by not giving viewers the concrete ending, leaving us wondering, Coppola does something I must applaud her for: She doesn’t tell us how to think.
As someone who has been immersed in Hollywood due to her husband, then daughter and son’s successful involvement with silver screen productions, she doesn’t fall prey to the formula. Maybe she does have a sequel in mind, but I hope not only because this film, as she has stated, took six years to raise funds as it wasn’t full of “aliens, nobody dies, there are no guns and no car crashes. There was nothing that an investor wants to invest in. No sex, no violence”. Rather it was a piece of her life she wanted to share and explore, and in so doing, she allows the viewers to ponder what we don’t often see in movies: a leading female role who is complete all by herself so long as she embraces her passions, lets herself feel what she feels, appreciates her allure which may be initially noticed due to her beauty but is profoundly powerful and substantive due to her intellect and character.
And whether or not she remains with her husband (who isn’t perfect) or explores her attraction to Jacques, played by Arnaud Viard (who also isn’t perfect or ideal either) shouldn’t be needed for a happy ending. What the happy ending is is liberation for Anne who hears the reminder from Jacques to share her talents with her husband (and perhaps the world if she so chooses), and to savor the pleasures of everyday moments and food without rushing to Paris.
8. My Old Lady
The third and last American film, based in Paris, My Old Lady is film involving love, unexpected treasures and a renewal of life. Kevin Kline stars in the directorial debut of Israel Horovitz. Upon arriving from New York, Kline’s character is set to liquidate his estranged father’s Parisian property, but discovers a refined old lady as the tenant. While waiting to determine how he can acquire his asset, he comes to learn that the old lady (played by Maggie Smith), was his father’s lover for 50 years, as well as meeting and becoming smitten with the old lady’s daughter played by Kristin Scott Thomas.
Queen to Play is the most recent French film to be shared as a Petit Plaisir, and you may remember it was reviewed in episode #242. Kevin Kline also stars in this film, and while a much smaller role, it is his first role in a French film. Released in 2011, Sandrine Bonnaire stars as Héléne, a wife and mother who is a housemaid not only at a luxury hotel in Corsica, but also for Kevin Kline's character's home in the country.
Héléne becomes curious about the game of chess after watching a couple flirtatiously play a game in the hotel where she works. In hopes of bringing sparks to her own marriage, she discovers she has quite the talent for the game with the help of Kline giving her practice sessions.
“Did it meet your expectations even if you have felt at times uncomfortable or lonely? You’re still in time to choose, in the future, a more comfortable and protected solution – maybe more suitable to the needs of a family. It is well, to keep in mind, however, the happiness and well-being and strictly personal concepts. For some people, the sense of freedom and adventure is an essential part of the experience. Trust your instinct. This is your journey. The route to take is up to you. Have a safe journey.” –A Five Star Life
Upon watching the foreign film A Five Star Life, the ending will be an untraditional jolt to an American audience as it will deign to allow the heroine to journey into the credits in absolute contentment with her own company. The quote above is stated by Irene just as this last scene unfolds, and as I was collecting all of my sources for today’s post, I couldn’t help but realize with certainty that Irene is indeed the epitomization of self-actualization.
Why? You may ask. Does one have to journey through life alone in order to be self-actualized? Absolutely not. But what Irene exhibits is the knowledge of herself and the world around her. She is not limited by what society purports to define as a “happy life”, but rather investigates and discovers what happiness is indeed for her while accepting that others may, and many do, have a different definition.
While the language is Italian (with English subtitles), based on the trailer and the story line, and the premise that “real luxury is the pleasure of real life. Lived to the fullest, full of imperfections”. It aligns quite nicely with living simply luxuriously, non?
11. Le Chef
Now I am going to make your mouth water and your appetite perk up with the last two films of recommendation.
Haute-cuisine and France, a beautiful pairing indeed, come together for a light-hearted comedy starring Jean Reno and Michaël Youn in Le Chef. Written and directed by Daniel Cohen, a young self-taught chef played by Youn is far from lucky in his pursuit of professional success and happens on a star chef (Reno) who is in danger of losing his reputation and his restaurant. The two come together to help themselves, but end up helping each other along the way.
The story is based on the real-life case of Danièle Delpeuch, a lesser-known provincial chef and restaurant-owner who in the late 1980s was summoned by President François Mitterrand to be his personal cook at his official residence, the Elysée Palace. Catherine Frot stars as Hortense, the chef chosen by the French president and Jean d'Ormesson plays Mitterrand. An interesting point to share is that Jean d'Ormesson, not an actor, will be instantly recognized by French audiences as he was a writer and journalist and during Mitterrand's career, was one of his toughest adversaries.
Back to the film, based on Mitterrand's choice for his chef - The President prefers the traditional cuisine from his childhood and finds Hortense to be the chef he is looking for to the chagrin of the rest of the cooking staff.
Come with a full stomach otherwise your tastebuds will be tempted throughout. Or perhaps come with an appetite and make sure you have reservations at a delectable French restaurant afterwards.
Oh, my. I do hope you have discovered a film that tickles your curiosity, or perhaps one that you would like to watch again.
There is something about watching a film that enables you to slip away virtually to another part of the world that truly offers a respite from whatever is going on in your life. And then when we add the necessary requisite of paying attention to the subtitles, our full attention is captured.
Before long, if you are like me, you will begin to hear the language more than you knew you could and not look at the subtitles as often.
Wishing you happy viewing and bonne journée!
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