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Posts Tagged ‘France’

Like every other francophile and film buff in town I’m getting excited in the run up to the UK release of Jacques Audiard’s new film, Un prophète (A Prophet).

To my mind – and many others – Audiard is France’s best filmmaker in modern times. His work first came to my attention when I was at school. We were studying the Nazi occupation of France and our teacher made us watch Un héros très discret (A Self  Made Hero).

Audiard’s screenplay about a nobody who passes himself off as a WWII Resistance hero had me captivated all the way to the tense end. His cinematography taught me that cinema truly was le septième art and that it was an art form that didn’t necessarily need a titanic budget (it was Leo and Kate’s love story that dominated screens that year) to impress.

Later I was spellbound by his De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (The Beat that My Heart Skipped), a thriller about a musical prodigy who gets caught up in the murky world of real estate. It was one of those films that stayed with you a long time after leaving the cinema. Certain images were etched in my mind but above all I couldn’t stop thinking about the main character.

It is Audiard’s heroes – or, I should say, anti-heroes – that make his films so compelling. Yes, his films are stylishly shot. Yes, the plot grabs you and doesn’t let you go. But it is as psychological portraits that his films become masterpieces.

Perhaps it is because Audiard is both screenwriter and director that he is able to create such powerful characters. Taking up the mantle of director/auteur from Truffaut and the rest of the Nouvelle Vague, he brings together visual and script to explore the identity of someone on the edge of society, an outsider whose inner flaws will bring about their own downfall.

Telling the story of an illiterate young arab’s transformation in a tough French prison, A Prophet promises to be equally hard-hitting and equally memorable. It’s won a bucket of awards (including a Grand Prix at Cannes and Best Film at the London Film Festival) and huge amounts of praise from the critics. (It’s got an amazing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

I’m hoping to catch an advance preview this Wednesday at the BFI (I think there’s still tickets), where it’s being screened as part of an Audiard and French thriller season this month.  I’ll let you know if it lives up to expectations.

Also on show as part of the season are A Self Made Hero (January 15) and The Beat that My Heart Skipped (January 11 & 20), which I thoroughly recommend. For a full list of the BFI’s programme click here.

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Graffiti protest in the 2007 French elections

Graffiti protest in the 2007 French elections

Infamous leader of the French far right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has predicted that Griffin’s appearance on Question Time will boost the Brit’s popularity. Certainly Le Pen’s own performance on a similar French chat show proved a great boon for him.

Before he appeared on the prime-time show L’Heure de Vérité in 1984, his Front National had seen little press coverage and was polling at 3.5 %. Afterwards, they went on to score 11% in the European elections that year.

No wonder Le Pen called his TV stint “the hour that changed everything” and said the BNP “could now enjoy a surge in support” in an interview with the Evening Standard this week.

And his heure de vérité in 1984 was only the start. Le Pen went on to shock the French nation by coming second in the French presidential race in 2002, beating the former prime minister Lionel Jospin.

So far, so bad. But if we’re truly to understand the impact that Griffin’s Question Time performance might have, we need to look at what happened after Le Pen’s first round success in the 2002 elections.

Le Pen was totally trounced in the second round, winning 18% of the vote to Jacques Chirac’s 82%. Determined to stop the nightmare scenario of Le Pen Le Président, even voters who despised Chirac were prepared to, as the slogan ran: “Vote for the criminal, not the fascist.” (Chirac was suspected of corruption at that time).

More interesting was the “Le Pen effect” in the 2007 elections. There was an exceptional turnout of 84%, with 8 million more people voting than in 2002.  As a French friend of mine explained at the time:

I’m not particularly enamoured with either Sarko or Ségo but I’m determined to exercise my right to vote. We can’t have another embarrassment like 2002.

Success can be a double-edged sword for extreme parties. More people voting for them – or perceived to be voting for them – will lead more moderate voters who had been wavering to cast their ballots against them.

In Le Pen’s case 2002 also proved to be his peak. A million fewer people voted for him in 2007  and he came fourth in the first round. He’s now back on the fringes where he belongs.

So perhaps we can hope that the BNP’s success in the recent European elections and Griffin’s raised profile thanks to Question Time will actually be his downfall in the long term. Perhaps the spectre of an emboldened BNP will push more of us to vote than the mere 61% who turn out last time.

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French shops could soon open on Sundays for the first time if Sarkozy gets his way

A controversial and complicated debate is raging across France this week after the French parliament’s lower house voted on Wednesday by a narrow majority – 282 to 238 – to loosen restrictions on Sunday trading.

If ratified, the bill would allow shops to open on Sunday in 500 tourist areas and cities with more than a million inhabitants. Previously Sunday was designated a day of “repos”. All commercial activity in France was banned, although there were certain exceptions including markets and grocers.

But the bill is yet to be ratified. It still has to get through the Senate and even if the upper house approves it, it could still be blocked. The Socialist Party, which voted against the law has threatened to go to the Conseil Constitutionnel, arguing that the law would be unconstitutional. They maintain it would create inequality among workers, forcing some to work on Sunday, allowing others to keep this traditional day of rest.

In Britain, we’ve long taken for granted that shops should be open at our convenience but the issue of whether to keep dimanche sacré is dividing France. A poll for Libération revealed that 55 per cent of French people were opposed to allowing more Sunday trading.

The divide is not totally along left-right lines – even within Sarkozy’s UMP, despite pressure from the top, 10 mps voted against the law and 15 abstained. Rather the debate centres on the question of whether to move towards a more free market Anglo-Saxon model.

The law’s critics claim allowing more large discount stores and supermarkets to trade on Sundays would lead to smaller traditional shops going out of business. Its supporters say the changes would boost public spending and the economy.

So, as Guillaume Perrault declares in Le Figaro, despite the bill passing through the lower house:

« La bataille du travail le dimanche n’est pas encore achevée »

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Want to do something really French this Bastille day?

The artists behind En attendant Godard – a film being made in homage/challenge to the most radical director of the France’s Nouvelle Vague – invite you to take part in /sabotage filming that’s taking place in London and Paris in the next week.

Members of the public are welcome to come dressed in character or as themselves to be interviewed about Jean-Luc Godard. Or if you’re feeling particularly counter-cultural simply set yourself the challenge of being in the background: The director, Will Brown, dares you to do what you wish, no matter how off-beat, in a bid to catch the attention of his cameraman. Brown says:

“The challenge is to shoot a multiple location, transnational fiction film for no money whatsoever. Aesthetically I want to ground the film in Godard’s work but I want to prove him wrong when he says that cinema is dead.”

Filming is scheduled at:

Southbank, London 13 & 14 July from 5pm

Alimentation Générale, 64, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, Paris 18 July from 9pm

Bois de Boulogne, Paris 19 July from 6pm

For more information contact:  wjrcbrown@googlemail.com

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Cannes Film Festival 2009     

Cannes Film Festival 2009

We’re half way through that stellar event on any film buff’s calendar – the Festival de Cannes – and you might be, like me, disappointed about the minimal coverage it gets in the English-speaking press. So here’s five French language blogs on the festival I’d like to share with you:

Don’t be fooled by the English sounding titles, Because We Cannes Cannes Cannes and In The Mood For Cannes are two great blogs en français. The first, from the Film de Culte webzine team (who you can also follow on Twitter), mixes up longer features, focusing for example on the president of this year’s film jury Isabelle Huppert,with picture posts and overview lists. The second is written by screenwriter and film critic Sandra Mézière, who takes us on a more personal journey through the festival.  

If the côté “people” (as the French like to call celebrities) is more your thing, try the AlloCiné Cannes blog for photos and Le Buzz and Pure People for gossip, videos and more.

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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.

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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.

 

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