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Fretts on Film Goes to France!

March 27, 2013

I recently spent four days in Paris, the birthplace of cinema and the former stamping grounds of Jean Luc-Godard and Jacques Tati. And what did I find there? Gigantic posters everywhere for Jack, Le Chasseur de Géants and G.I. Joe: Conspiration. On the cover of the esteemed journal Cahiers du Cinéma? Harmony Korine’s soft-pornsploitation romp Spring Breakers. Clearly, the French’s appetite for cheesy movies rivals their appetite for cheese.

There was one film playing in theaters that I considered seeing: Möbius, which appears to be a Gallic-American version of Crash in which lives intersect in meaningful ways. The cast intrigued me: Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Cecile de France (Hereafter), Tim Roth, Friday Night Lights‘ Brad Leland, The Wire‘s Wendell Pierce and Rescue Me‘s John Scurti. But based on the trailer, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow the scenes that weren’t in English. And frankly, it looks like the kind of movie that will open in a handful of theaters in the States a year from now, then disappear forever.

I wisely decided to spend my time visiting art museums instead: the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, the Rodin Museum, L’Orangerie and Le Centre Pompidou. At the last of these, the lines to get into the museum were so long—probably because it’s currently featuring a Salvador Dali exhibit—that I opted to buy a ticket to a French-language documentary (with English subtitles—I checked!) that was showing there as part of a film festival instead. That movie was Kelly, a fascinating if static portrait of a young Peruvian woman determined to emigrate to France and reunite with her mother. Most of the scenes are simply Kelly sitting on a bed in a shabby apartment in Tangiers, recounting her story. Intercut are shots of random people she can see from her window. Kelly works as a prostitute to try and earn money for her trip, and to take care of her unseen brothers. And no matter how many times she makes it to French North Africa, she can’t seem to make it across the border to France.

Director Stéphanie Regnier

Director Stéphanie Regnier

It’s a shattering, depressing, and brief (67 minute) film, and one that sadly will probably never be seen in the U.S. I wish I had understood the Q&A with the director, Stéphanie Régnier, but it was all in French. I did get a dirty look from one of the lesbians sitting next to me for snapping a photo of the filmmaker—I guess that’s considered gauche in Paris. C’est la vie!

Finally, I decided I’d spend my seven-hour plus flight home from Paris binging on French films (with English subtitles!) that I had noticed were offered on the way over on Air France. But as I boarded the plane, the gate-check attendant informed me that the video screen in front of my seat was not working. Channeling my inner Alec Baldwin, I let the flight attendants know in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable—I needed to be able to watch films for my job. They assured me the flight was full but if a single passenger was a no-show, their seat would be mine.

And—sacre bleu!—someone didn’t show up in business class, so I flew home in luxury, sipping champagne and watching no fewer than four French films that have yet to open in the United States.

images-1The quality was mixed: The first was among the best, On the Other Side of the Tracks, a cop comedy starring The Intouchables‘ hugely likable Omar Sy that’s heavily influenced by Beverly Hills Cop (Harold Faltermeyer’s theme even plays as his character’s ringtone). He’s a former street kid from the rough suburbs outside Paris who teams up with a horny but ambitious homicide detective (Laurent Lafitte) to solve the murder of a businessman’s wife. I wouldn’t be surprised if it finds just as wide an audience stateside as The Intouchables did when the Weinstein Company releases it here.

Sy plays a much smaller role in the next film I viewed, the markedly inferior crime comedy FBI: Frog Butthead Investigators. The title should give you some idea of the level of humor here. Even the most ardent Jerry Lewis admirer would find this film wanting for laughs.

images-2The third film I watched, David and Madame Hansen, features a magnifique performance by the still-radiant Isabelle Adjani (who was nominated for an Oscar for playing Rodin’s muse in Camille Claudel as well as for her title role in 1975’s The Story of Adele H.). She stars as a traumatized woman who has been institutionalized for unknown reasons. A kindly attendant at the asylum (Alexandre Astier) takes her out shoe shopping one day, which leads to an enlightening and invigorating adventure. Should this movie make it across the pond, I wouldn’t be surprised if Adjani earned her third Academy Award nod.

She may have competition from Catherine Frot, the star of the final film I devoured, Haute Cuisine, which has also been acquired by The Weinstein Co. She stars in the true story of a simple French country chef chosen to become prime minister Francois Mitterand’s private cook. It’s a delicious little dramedy—food porn crossed with Francophilia—and served as a fitting dessert for my belated French-movie feast.

Are you a fan of French films? What are your faves? Post a comment!

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One Comment
  1. Omar Sy was so cute and winning in The Intouchables I never understood why his name wasn’t on an award short lists.

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