Feeds:
Posts
Comments

 

When it comes to lavish dramas in historical French settings, I’m easy to please. I have to reserve special praise though for Chéri, which I had the pleasure to indulge in at the British Film Institute last Thursday. This masterful adaptation of Colette’s Belle Époque novel sees the reunion of Dangerous Liaisons director-writer duo Stephen Frears and Christopher Hampton.

With the same skill they applied to Laclos’ tale of sex, love and deception, they draw out the best moments of badinage, tension and tenderness from Colette’s rich text. They magic the world of Chéri on to the big screen – the sumptuous art nouveau world of Paris before the First World War where ageing courtesan Léa (Michelle Pfeiffer) falls for Chéri (Rupert Friend), the 19-year old son of another courtesan.

The froth and frills Consolata Boyle’s set and costumes captivate but it is Pfieffer’s subtle portrayal of a beautiful woman who knows age is catching her up that makes this film so utterly charming.

I was equally charmed by Frears himself. His wit shone in the talk he gave after the show at the BFI on Thursday. No artistic bullshit for him. Asked, for example, why Colette was less frequently adapted than Jane Austen, he quipped: “Because she wrote in French.”

Well, good job that didn’t put him off. The Frears/Hampton/Pfeiffer team have become expert adaptors of French novels. Here’s hoping they try their hand at Balzac next.

 

I recently went to see Palme d’Or-winning French film The Class, or as it was called in the original, Entre Les Murs. The semi-autobiographical work is based on a book by former teacher François Bégaudeau, who plays himself in the film.

Over 120 minutes, we are shown a strikingly realistic depiction of Bégaudeau’s experiences of teaching at a high school in the 19e arrondissement in Paris. The film culminates in a pupil being expelled.

It was really interesting for me to see how this incident shows the French school system to be at once more liberal and more authoritarian than the English system.

Before the student is expelled he is invited to a tribunal where he can defend himself. The teachers then vote on whether he should stay or go. I cannot imagine this happening in England. Instead it would no doubt be a case of the headmaster laying down the law.

However, the chain of events which lead up to the student’s expulsion start with him disrespecting his teacher by tutoiying him i.e. using tu rather than the more polite vous. Would this have been looked upon so harshly in England?

This got me thinking about the differences between the French and English education systems. So I decided to interview French students at City University, London, who have gone through both systems, to see what they thought. See video clip below.

 

My language buddy Léa

My language buddy Léa

The best way to improve your spoken French is to actually speak it. But not living in France can make this tricky. Even if you do live in L’Hexagone, you might not get as much opportunity to practise French with a sympathetic listener as you would like.

I live in South Kensington, London’s quartière française but I barely get a chance to converser en français. Or at least I didn’t until a couple of weeks ago. Then I discovered the language swap section on Gumtree.

I’ve written about my experience in this week’s TimeOut London (see p.44, if you’ve got it) but let me tell you a little bit about it here.

Forget having to pay for lessons. Hundreds of people on the site are offering their native French for your English. Reply to a post, fix a date and find a quiet place to have a drink.

My Gumtree adventure led me to coffee with Florent, a French guy from Nantes who lived in Barcelona for three years and brunch with Léa – a fluent French speaker who refuses to call herself French. (She’s Corsican and proud.) We spoke in French before the meal, in English during and after.

You too can find yourself a language buddy wherever you are. Gumtree has sections for all the major cities in the UK including Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, Dublin and some smaller towns such as Oxford. There are also listings worldwide: throughout Europe, North America and the southern hemisphere as well as a link to Kijiji, France’s equivalent of Gumtree.

Having recently returned from a trip to Paris, I am determined not to stop enjoying good French patisseries. There are so many great places in London where you can get delicious macaronstartes aux framboises and éclairs.

Out of dedication to my stomach this blog, I decided to go back to a few of my favourites, sample their delicacies, take some photos and share these places with you through an audio slide show. I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour as much as I did:

For the addresses of the places I mention in the slide show – Macaron in Clapham Common, Ladureé in Piccadilly and at Harrods, and Maison Bertaux in Soho and Borough Market – please see the Google map below:

Sorry to do a bit of self-promotion but I thought you might be interested in a feature I wrote about Paris in the springtime for Tell! Magazine.

Here’s the intro to tempt you:

“As the old song goes, ‘I love Paris in the springtime’. And who doesn’t? But picking flowers under the Eiffel Tower and strolling along the banks of the Seine is just so done.

Here’s five ways to enjoy some of Paris’ more unusual offerings this spring… ”

Click on this link if you want to see the full article.

 

When I was in Paris last week my cousin introduced me to Books, a new literary magazine which comes out once a month in France. 

I was at first sceptical about a French magazine with an English title. Like many other English francophiles, I am a hypocrite: I delight in using French but find it a little irritating when the French use English words because they think it makes them look branchés.   

But I was won over by the editorial column on the first page, which declared:

Le magazine que vous avez entre les mains se propose d’éclairer les sujets du jour et la condition humaine en utilisant la lumière des livres.

And Books does just that. The magazine is not simply a collection of reviews and essays (although it does do these very well). Each month as well as covering regular topics such as politics, religion and the sciences, it also takes a different issue and examines it in depth. Last month it was “Inde: la démocratie miraculeuse”.

Books purposefully steps back and takes a long term view of things through the telescope of literature. Think Prospect crossed with a literary review in French.

The magazine is delivered all over the world, so you can become a subscriber no matter where you live. Or, get your French literary fix from its website, which has blogs from writers such as digital books expert  Jean Louis de Montesquiou and interesting features such as bestsellers, where lists of bestsellers from countries around the world are given.  

Happy reading.

 

The iconoclastic French cinematic movement known as La Nouvelle Vague turns 50 this year. To celebrate cinemas across the UK, working in partnership with the BFI, will screen the works of its directors, including François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard from mid-March until mid-May.

These titans of le 7eme art transformed French cinema and made it what it is today. For this alone their films would be worth seeing. But they are also very enjoyable to watch. If you want to swot up a bit before going to see a Nouvelle Vague film, read this post from La Plume et l’Image or if you prefer to read something in English try this post from Blue Grass Film Society.

The Nouvelle Vague festival kicks off with a two day conference this weekend at Ciné lumière in South Kensington. Tomorrow night, Bernadette Lafont, star of Truffaut’s court métrage, Les Mistons, is guest of honour and will hold a Q&A after the film screening. For more information about the talk see Ciné lumiere’s website.

Truffaut will take centre stage at Barbican with eight of his films shown there from April 10 to May 31. Meanwhile, BFI South Bank is showcasing a wide range of Nouvelle Vague oeuvres throughout April including Godard’s seminal À bout de souffle and lesser known films, such as Agnès Varda’s boldly experimental La Pointe courte.

The festival isn’t just confined to London. Audiences in Belfast, Bristol, Edinburg, Sheffield and Liverpool will be treated to screenings of Les Quatre cents Coups and Pierrot le fou. For more information see BFI New Wave.