1 January 2021.
As French-speaking Switzerland is right next to France, I thought I would salute our neighbors with a few of their many superb films. After all, it was the Lumière brothers of nearby Lyon who gave us the beginnings of cinema way back in December 1895!
And film has continued to be a highly respected art form in France – where it is called “le septième art”.
French cinema is far too rich and the creators and actors far too varied to be limited to a few examples. Here are just a few excellent ones, off the top of my head….
JOYEUX NOËL (2005)
This very moving and timely film is actually a French/German/British collaboration, and rightly so, for it is about the famous Christmas Eve truce during WWI when the exhausted, shell-shocked soldiers from those three countries came together to share a holy night with their “enemies” through music, exchange of photos and drink, and even an impromptu football game.
With top actors of the three different nationalities – Guillaume Canet and Dany Boon for the French, Benno Fürmann, Daniel Bruhl and Diane Kruger for the Germans, and character actor Gary Lewis in the Scottish trenches, this film by French director Christian Carion brings a tremendously human aspect to the awful uselessness of war.
Google it and check out where you can view it – essential for now.
LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937)
Another war film, this masterful black & white classic by Jean Renoir tells of a group of French prisoners of war planning their escape. Starring the renowned Jean Gabin on the French side, and Erich von Stroheim as the German officer, it delves into the psychological aspects of class and rank.
UNE LIAISON PORNOGRAPHIC (1999)
And then we jump to a completely different theme, which is certainly close to the French character – sexuality. Despite its sensationalist title, it’s actually anything but pornographic. It’s about a woman (Natalie Baye) putting an ad in a newspaper for a partner to share her sexual fantasies.
She wants nothing to do with the emotional side of love, just the physical pleasure. Things become complicated when the man she chooses (Sergi Lopez) begins to fall in love with her. Beautifully acted and moody, more French than this, you cannot get.
And just in the past year:
LE MEILLEUR RESTE À VENIR (2019)
Fabrice Luchini and Patrick Bruel play two very close friends from childhood who are actually complete opposites in character. This dramatic comedy depicts their dilemma when one finds out the other is dying of cancer, but does not want to tell him. He just wants to give his friend the best moments of his life before the end, but the best laid plans can go awry.
This convoluted story beautifully balances camaraderie and honesty. Great acting from two of France’s top actors makes this an unforgettable film.
LA BELLE ÉPOQUE (2019)
By the very talented writer and director Nicolas Bedos, this inventive time-warp journey is about a frustrated man (Daniel Auteuil) who accepts an experiment in time travel to relive the happier moments when he first met his wife, played by Fanny Ardent. The man who controls the experiment is played by Guillaume Canet, who is experiencing his own love complications.
And so follow events that are both amusing and moving. Wonderfully written and conceived, with an excellent feel for its different eras, this is the perfect film for romantics.
And then there are the grand French actors known as “les monstres sacrés”, among them Jean Gabin, Gérard Depardieu and Alain Delon. These men have created an incredible body of work through the years. Let’s take the latter two:
Gérard Depardieu first gained notoriety in 1974 in the joyful, shocking road film by Bertrand Blier “Les Valseuses”. He went on to star in another daring Blier film with his previous co-star Patrick Dewaere, “Préparez vos mouchoirs”, once again a comedy about sexual hangups. He then moved on to more serious films like “Jean de Florette” in 1986, “Camille Claudel” in 1987, the superb “Tous les matins du Monde” and the touching “La tête en friche”. He’s done joyous comedies like “Potiche”, and was delightful as Obelix in the blockbuster Asterix series, especially in the hilarious “Mission Cléopatre”. He has portrayed giant characters such as Balzac, Rodin, D’Artagnan and Alexandre Dumas, and of course the unforgettable “Cyrano de Bergerac”. And let’s not forget him as a singer on the decline in the moving “Quand j’étais chanteur”, or the very successful American film “Green Card”. I would consider him the French Marlon Brando. Working constantly and picking up countless awards, he has been in more than 237 films and TV series. A “Monstre Sacré” indeed.
And then there is the heartthrob, Alain Delon. With a beautiful physique and fine acting talent, he has also been the most international of French stars. His films: The socially-conscious Italian “Rocco and his Brothers” by Luchino Visconti and the mesmerising “Plein Soleil”, both in 1960; Antonioni’s existential “Eclipse” in 1962, the grand “The Leopard” from Visconti with Burt Lancaster, the charming international “The Yellow Rolls Royce” in 1964, the dark “Samurai” by Jean-Pierre Melville in 1967; “The Sicilian Clan” with Gabin (his frequent co-star), and the glorious, sensual “La Piscine” with his old love, Romy Schneider, both in 1969. Then the American thriller “Scorpio”, once again with Lancaster, or the amusing, swashbuckling “Zorro”. And once again in 1973 with Gabin in the tragic “Deux Hommes dans la Ville”. The list goes on and on, but start with any of these gems. Another “Monstre Sacré” indeed!
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.