Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ten French films, and other roads to recovery.

I really am very touched by everyone's kind words and thoughts, and am feeling considerably better. I no longer feel as if I've been run over, and my hairbrush has stopped being a hob-nail boot across my scalp. Unfortunately, I still can't manage my 6 a.m. starts, I need the sleep too much, and that's really my best time for blogging, when I feel calmest and clearest and most focused. The trip to Rennes has been postponed; it's quite a long way in our old jalopy, and would be a waste if I wasn't feeling bright enought for it, and will probably be even nicer when the days are longer and we can take in the jardin du Thabor when the trees are leafing and flowering and so on, and we'll try to go to the Chinese later in the week.

I have been quite enjoying the kind of things you can only really get away with with a clear conscience when you're ill: catching up with reading, as avus suggested, and watching movies during the day. I'm slightly relieved that I can still immerse myself in a novel; I've noticed since I've been doing this that I've less time or interest for reading them, though I find I've been reading more poetry, both on- and off-line, than I have for a long time, which is good. I've read Jhumpa Lahiri's 'The Namesake', and quite a few of the stories out of ' The Interpreter of Maladies'. I liked them, they were clear and dry without being lightweight, but I began to feel saddened after a while by the sense of loss and dislocation in them, and that self-definition and freedom so often seem to require betrayal for her characters. Now I'm stuck into Isabel Allende's 'The House of the Spirits', which I've not read before. I once had an English teacher who said he could only really become absorbed in Dickens when he was ill and confined to bed, there was something about that rather seething, slightly grotesque, over-peopled world that suited convalescence, you could get lost in it then. 'The House of the Spirits' is like that and then some. It can be somewhat stomach-turning in places, but it's fascinating.

I also curled up on Sunday afternoon and watched 'Tuesdays with Morrie' on the telly, which was a very nice spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Jack Lemmon was so luminously alive, the treacle didn't seem to matter too much. Anyway, I was ill, a little of what you fancy... I brushed my teeth afterwards.

Talking of sweet, rr was a bit disparaging about the taste of mead, which many people don't much care for. I actually like mead, which is something of a specialite de la region here, and known as chouchenn. But then I have limited tolerance of gall and wormwood and can down quite large amounts of syrupy beverages, especially alcoholic ones; jars and bottles here are forever in commission for not only the ever-present sloe-gin ( we do keep this relatively dry), but also blackberry whisky, raspberry and strawberry vodka, and various other steeped liqueurs and ratafias, including some with rose petals and cardomon from recipes on the very interesting Danish Schnapps website, which go well after curry. Or before. Or during. When the ginger wine ran out, which is a difficult thing to get hold of here, I located the bottle of mead, and suggested mixing it with the whisky in the manner of the whisky-macs I'd been drinking. However Tom opined that this would be a chronic waste of both ingredients, so I carried on drinking the whisky with a spoonful of honey, a squeeze of lemon and hot water, and the mead separately. It's all much more fun than antibiotics anyway.

During the phase of home-winemaking that most men in my family seem to need to go through ( until my brother-in-law took him to one side, saying that while he too had experimented with parsnips, dandelions, plums and tomatoes, in the end you had to ask yourself why was it the French always stuck to grapes?), Tom made some mead. While the honey was heating the house was entered by several disoriented bees, and in the final product it was impossible to stop all the sugar fermenting to alcohol, which resulted in an almost entirely clear, dry liquid more reminiscent of fino sherry with an aroma of honey than mead as we knew it. It was interesting and quite strong, but not what we expected.

Another project has come my way to pass the time of my indisposition, thanks to Jonathan at Connaissances, his excellent Paris-based blog which is an intriguing combination of geology, poetry, observation and comment. Mistaking me for some kind of highbrow, he has tagged me with a meme to nominate my ten favourite French films. He says he feels I should be equal to this task because I like the film 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', which is true. I like it, and also ' Being John Malkovich', because I love the way they play with ideas about consciousness, asking who is looking out from behind the eyes and do we really know them, who is in control, to what extent are we the sum of our memories, how much do we create each other, what would we do if we could get into another's, or indeed our own, head? And they deal with authors' and artists' relationships with and manipulation of fictional and non-fictional characters, and much more. Not unrelated to these matters, I also love them because Charlie Kaufman who wrote the screenplays has, like me, a passion for the story of Abelard and Heloise, to which he openly alludes in both films.

However, this does not make me a connoisseur of French cinema! My first reaction was one of panic as I rather doubted I could remember having seen ten French films, and if I had, I probably couldn't remember their titles and certainly couldn't pretend to call them favourites. I had one or two unwatched in the DVD collection, perhaps if I made haste to watch those while on my bed of ill-health I could just about rustle up a respectable ten? On reflection, I can just about bring together a list of ten French films I have enjoyed over the years, but I regret they will be largely very predictable and unoriginal ones, but here goes:

1) L'equipier. (The Light)

Not only because it's Brittany, and despite having infidelity as a main theme, which, like Zhoen, I'm rather averse to, but for it's windswept and ruggedly beautiful setting on the island of Ouessant (or Ushant, as in 'from Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues'), and because it's the Jument lighthouse which is really the star of the show, and I'm something of a lighthouse fan. But the acting is good too, and there's a somewhat shocking little twist about one of the characters toward the end which stops it from being as predictable as it seems. To me, the subtitles, in French at least, are necessary, since the protagonists are mostly surly and monosyllabic Bretons with their teeth permanently set against the inclement weather which makes the dialogue hard to follow.
I haven't yet been to Ouessant; a young student of mine whose family collect Breton islands, says it's one of her favourites, a wild and westerly place still full of otherness. She told me of how, the day they were leaving, they had to run to catch their boat through a tempestuous storm. One boat had already run aground that day, and as they approached the quay, a coffin was being carried from their boat through the wind and the rain by dour, black-clad bearers, an exile returning at last.
It is a source of some chagrin to me that my DVD copy of this film has gone astray. I can't think who I've lent it to, and no one remembers having it. I'll replace it some time, but I keep thinking it will show up...

2) Le Peuple Migrateur ( Winged Migration )

Admittedly the soundtrack is rather naff in places, but if you love birds, as I do, it's a must, and the sheer technical achievement of filming it and all that went before, ensuring the birds imprinted without making them vulnerable and no longer wild, etc is simply remarkable. The grief and longing of the farmyard geese as the wild ones fly over is a real teary moment!

3) Amelie

Everyone's favourite, of course, what more to say? And the music is a delight too.

4) Les Enfants du Paradis ( Children of the Gods )

Predictably again. I studied Prevert, with rather mixed feelings, at A level, and went to see this over two nights at University film club. That we sat enraptured over eight hours (?) altogether in an uncomfortable lecture theatre watching a grainy black and white movie not in English gives the lie to the notion that one is less patient in one's youth. We later had it on video and never got around to watching it, even in the comfort of home.
Much of it's aura lies in the stories told about the making of it - that it was made in secret from the occupying Germans ( not actually true, they encouraged it, but were kept in ignorance of its true length and content ), that members of the cast were frequently AWOL form filming because they were running missions for the Resistance, that poor old Arletty, who as Garance was a symbol of the free and beautiful spirit of France, not to be possessed ignobly or against her will, was actually having an affair with a German officer, and missed the film's eventual release as she was standing trial as a collaborator.
Whatever, it's just one of those things you really should see!

5)& 6) Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources

Look, I told you there wouldn't be many surprises...
But just drink in that golden, lavender-scented Provencal atmosphere, weep as the good but hapless hunchback is brought low, cheer as his fey but crafty daughter eats her dish of revenge cold, but with lashings of good olive oil no doubt. Try not to have murderous thoughts about Peter Mayall, just relax and enjoy!

7) Diva

I suppose this was the French film to see when I was a student, cool, cool, cool. In fact I seem to recall it all takes place in a cool blue, almost monochrome, underwater world. Mopeds in the metro, that very French combination of whimsy and violence, and I like the way the enigmatic, loft-dwelling controlling figure spends the whole time doing a jigsaw of an enormous blue wave and a seagull, and leaves the seagull until the very last. That's the kind of thing Tom does with jigsaws.

8)L'Auberge espagnole ( Pot Luck, or The Spanish Apartment )

An engaging little ode to the joy of pan-Europeanism. The central character's love interests are singularly uninteresting, so much so that I completely failed to register that one of them was Audrey Tautou, but the general, rub-along, multilingualism, and the views of Barcelona are fun, and the chase scene culminating in Kevin Bishop's act of hilairious self-humiliation to save his sister's honour makes it all worthwhile.

10) Une hirondelle a fait le printemps ( The girl from Paris )

Nothing fancy, nothing dramatic, just a nice little film. The scene near the beginning, when the girl is arguing with her mother about wanting to go and be a farmer reminded me of nothing so much as that Monty Python spoof of the DH Lawrence-type scenario where the northern father in shirt sleeves and cloth cap is deriding his son's fancy notions about going off and being a coal miner instead of doing real work writing novels. Vegetarians and other sensitive souls be warned, some of the grislier aspects of life on the land are not glossed over.

So, there they are. Some of the younger members of my family would doubtless bemoan the absence of Belleville Rendezvous from this list, but frankly, apart from the opening musical bit, I don't really like it, though I know it's very clever. The frog eating is too gross, and I have the feeling there are too many French in-jokes I'm not understanding.

I haven't looked at anyone else's ten, lest I be discouraged, and I won't tag anyone else directly. I'm sure some of my bright, cultured and enthusiastic readers - you may not be numerous but it's quality that counts! - could come up with a few French films they've enjoyed, or else a cogent argument as to why they can't stand French cinema at any price. Over to you, my place or yours!


Avus said...

"blackberry whisky, raspberry and strawberry vodka" - Oh you temptress, you Jezebel! They sound absolutely magnificent.

If you are still in need of an obscure , yet delightful film whilst convalescing try to get hold of "The Story of the Weeping Camel" (Amazon has it in stock) - delightful.

herhimnbryn said...

Glad to hear you are feeling a little better.
Thankyou for the list. I thought initially, that I would not know ANY french films! But was pleased to see that I had seen 4 of your list.
Your writing is lovley L.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you've been ill, but happy that you found enjoyment in reading and movie watching - guilty pleasures, I know! I'm going to look for some of these films, most of which I seem to have missed - thanks for the list.

Fire Bird said...

...yes, I keep meaning to read House of the Spirits...enjoy your relaxed recovery...I've only seen four of your 10. It was fun to remember Diva which I adored and saw twice at least.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Lucy, I stopped here to discover who left that thoughtful and individualistic comment on my blog, and I discovered scents and sights of the French countryside, a template exactly like mine, and photographs infinitely better than mine. Glad to know you.

Lesley said...

I was going to include Diva in my list too. I think I saw it in the Edinburgh Film House when I was a student, but I'm damned if I can remember as single scene.
I have never heard of l'Equipier but will try to see it at the first opportunity as I'm rather keen on "wild and westerly places full of otherness".

Lucy said...

A - thank you! glad you like the sound of our elixirs! I've made a note of the film
Hhb- thanks as ever, dear one.
ML-thanks,they are guilty pleasures aren't they? Silly really.
TG-thanks, I probably saw Diva with you!
Richard - I'm very honoured by your visit; I noticed we shared the same template but thought perhaps that was a rather shallow observation :~) - like noticing the colour of cars rather than the model! I feel I reacted somewhat peremptorily to your story, but it seemed to provoke strong and extraordinarily diverse responses in those who read it. I was interested, and pleased, that your feelings as you developed the character were somewhat mirrored by mine as I read it -. Whatever, I am delighted to have discovered your blog and your work, thank you.
Lesley- Hello and welcome! I look forward to reading yours, but where's that fellow Jonathan who put us to all this trouble?! Diva was all rather style over content wasn't it - I couldn't remember much about the story such as it was.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Hello Lucy.

I see you have been wondering where I disappeared to...

I have been back in the UK at my father-in-law's 70th birthday bash. Hence out of web contact.

This is an interesting post. A number of films sound good, notably Les Enfants du Paradis and Diva. I am a fan of Prevert's poetry - which is so accessible and enjoyable.

I like funny films so I guess the Belleville Rendezvous would suit me as well. I remembered another fun film which I really enjoyed watching which was Les Visiteurs. Looks like I will have to do a second french film list soon.

Granny J said...

So long, long ago I saw my first French film -- Mr. Hulot's Holiday. I was in the Big City (Chicago) fresh and happy to be away from the South. I think that most of the French films I have seen were b&w and grainy, but that certainly didn't matter at the time. While my favorite of all time was Les Enfants Terrible -- it was more than somewhat evocative of an affair at the time -- I was also rather glad to have seen a genuine French gangster film with Jean Gabin. But that was so long ago! I have seen no more than a handful of films of any kind in later years, partly because I HATEthe sound systems in the modern American omniplexes.

Zhoen said...

Our movie tastes overlap a bit, but not completely.
Other French movies:
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. But so odd.

There was one translated as A Week's Vacation, but I've never seen or head of it since. A quiet character piece.

And Somebody* Martin, Photographique (sp), French Canadian, an itinerant turn of the century photographer, and the year his wife insisted on coming with him. *Can't remember his name, so I can't find the movie.

Nothing like a Museum theater to bring the out of the mainstream in.

Hope you are feeling much better by now.