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Five French Films To Savor
by Denise DuVernay

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An evening stroll through Paris . . .

An evening stroll through Paris . . .
I'm happy to give you a special treat this time: a guest column written by Margaret Mercer, my good friend of 17 years. She is a teacher, traveler, reader, great cook, killer Scrabble player, and, as you might guess, a Francophile. I have asked her to share her top five (give or take) French films with us. (Confession: I have some homework to do-- I've only seen three of her picks!) So, without further ado, here is Peggy's column:

Dreaming of Paris: Five French Films to Savor

It's April in Paris. I'm not there, but until my next trip, when I can immerse myself in French culture, French food, and the French language, I can watch these five French films again and dream. In the dream there will be love, sex, and friendship. There will be that kind of comedy peculiar to the French. There will even be a mime! Dream along with me and check out these movies.


1. CHILDREN OF PARADISE (Les Enfants du Paradis) 1945
This is one of numerous French films that seem to be vehicles for the filmmakers to purge their souls' angst over World War II and the occupation of France. Marcel Carné's visually stunning work is planted even in my faulty memory banks. The film was written by French poet Jacques Prévert (Il a mis le café / Dans la tasse / Il a mis le lait / Dans la tasse de café..."Déjeuner du Matin"--- my favorite!) who was nominated for an Oscar for this screenplay. Okay, it's
Poet Jacques Prévert

Poet Jacques Prévert
visually dated, but it's also quite magical, so suspend your disbelief and wallow in the film's poetic beauty.

2. GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS (Préparez Vos Mouchoirs) 1978

I remember this movie because it's all about sex, and sex between a grown woman, Solange, and a 13-year-old boy, Christian, at that! Christian is precocious and desperate to learn (well, to learn about sex). He pursues Solange, who resists, then relents. Her husband Raoul, played by Gérard Depardieu, is out in the cold, having failed where Christian has succeeded in fulfilling Solange's dreams. The movie won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. No handkerchiefs necessary, unless you laugh so hard it brings tears to your eyes.

3. BOYFRIENDS AND GIRLFRIENDS (L'ami de Mon Amie) 1987

No one was ever going to give this movie an Oscar, but I still adore this sixth film in director Eric Rohmer's series he called "Comédies et Proverbes." You could have a little Eric Rohmer festival and watch them in order, but I digress. Blanche is new to the suburbs of Paris; she has no boyfriend. She meets Léa, who has men falling at her feet. In this slice-of-life film, the two young women slowly figure out what they really want, and then go after it. Subtlety over effects rules in this film -- colors play a particularly symbolic role and there is no soundtrack (which I didn't even notice at first) only the sounds of nature and the
Audrey Tautou as Amelie

Audrey Tautou as Amelie
city that one would hear every day. You'll find yourself pondering the question: Do you believe it's a no-no to sleep with your best friend's ex?

4. AMELIE (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain) 2001

Paint the city of Paris in fantastic bright colors and photograph it through a film of gauze to make it look like a city of dreams . . . In this milieu, magical realism can flourish, as it does in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's AMELIE. We are introduced to Audrey Tautou who, as Amélie Poulain, decides to try to help others to be happy, thereby finding her own happy ending. I thought garden gnomes were an English fetish, but Amélie's dad has one that means the world to him. Amélie contrives to have the gnome become a world-traveler, which changes Papa's life. Amélie is the catalyst for many changes in the lives of her friends and neighbors, although she works her magic mostly in secret. The film was first recommended to me by my Parisian friend Nicole, who usually prefers American movies, but who thought AMELIE was a breath of fresh air in the French cinema. It's another Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language film. Maybe Ebeneezer Scrooge (pre-ghostly visitations) wouldn't enjoy this movie, but I sure hope you do.

5. THE CLOSET (Le Placard) 2001 vs. MY BEST FRIEND (Mon Meilleur Ami) 2006

It's Daniel Auteuil versus Daniel Auteuil, and I can't decide which of these films
Daniel Auteuil

Daniel Auteuil
(starring Daniel Auteuil) I want to choose for my fifth and final pick!

THE CLOSET is sillier (and funnier). Daniel plays François, who works in a condom factory. Poor François is in trouble: his wife has divorced him; his son ignores him; and he is about to lose his job. He sinks into despair and despondency, until his (gay) neighbor suggests he portray himself as gay in order to accuse his boss of firing him because he's gay. Unwilling to face a suit for workplace discrimination, his boss (played by Gérard Depardieu) rehires François, who is suddenly cool and interesting to his colleagues. His new status changes every aspect of his life (and a few other lives, as well). I really loved this movie, despite some scenes that were a bit disturbing (but the French are less squeamish than I).

MY BEST FRIEND is deeper and a surprisingly lovely tale about real friendship. Daniel plays (can you guess?) François, an antique dealer who has no friends, and everyone knows it. He acquires an antique Greek vase using company money. When his business partner finds out, she agrees to let François keep it IF he can produce a "best friend." François meets a cab driver who attracts people and friendship without apparent effort, so he begs Bruno to teach him how it's done. Perhaps you've already figured out who becomes best friends with whom, but the movie is not that simple, and turns out to be a delightful and touching story.

-Peggy Mercer

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Movie Addict
Apr 26, 2009 10:38 AM
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As many French films as I watch, I have not seen any of these. They are immediately added to my queue. I think I will have a French Week inspired by these, and watch French films all week.

Mary
Apr 28, 2009 6:43 PM
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I've viewed many films with my friend Peggy in Uptown Minneapolis. She's a great source for anything French, especially French film. Keep inspiring us Peggy. I do need to add however, that I think "Rules of the Game" by Jean Renior deserves an honorable mention.
Peggy
Apr 29, 2009 8:07 PM
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Hi, Mary, and thank you! I agree about "Les Regles du Jeu", which I haven't seen in YEARS! It's heavy, though, so prepare yourself!

Movie Addict
May 4, 2009 7:25 PM
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Watching GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS now; only have CHILDREN OF PARADISE to go.



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Take Your Queue From Du
Every other Sunday

Semi-wholesome Midwestern girl and certified Geek Magnet offers her suggestions - often new, sometimes classic - for DVDs that are definitely queue-worthy.


Other Columns
Other columns by Denise DuVernay:

Goodbye, Du

Du Chats Movies With Comics Author Lonnie Millsap

Du Reviews ALPOCALYPSE by "Weird Al" Yankovic

Another Piece Praising BRIDESMAIDS

Friendship Films and DVD Picks for May 17

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Denise DuVernay
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