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Capturing a life as colourful as Coco Chanel’s in 1 hour and 50 minutes was never going to be easy. The revolutionary designer who cut up corsets to allow women the freedom of more masculine clothes was a bag of contradiction. As The Independent points out, “despite her vaunted pride and independence, she was not so proud or independent to refrain from sponging off men.”

So it was perhaps inevitable that Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel would receive mixed reviews. When the film came out in France in April, critics attacked Fontaine for getting too bogged down in biographical detail and failing to fully explore Chanel’s complex character.

Libération’s critic complained:

[Le film] manque l’essentiel : le (sale ?) caractère d’une femme qui réussit à monter sa propre marque… à une époque où  les femmes qui voulaient s’affranchir de leur foyer avaient le choix entre bonne ou prostitué.” [The film missed out on the most important aspect: the (dirty) character of a women who launched her own fashion label in an era when women wanting to escape home life had two options: to be a servant or a prostitute.]

Le Nouvel Observateur derisively summed up Coco Before Chanel’s plot as follows:

Quand Coco s’amuse, et ce n’est pas souvent, Coco contente. Quand Coco s’ennuie, la plupart du temps, Coco pas contente.” [When Coco has fun – which isn’t often – she’s happy. When Coco is bored –most of the time – Coco isn’t happy.]

But most of the French critics reserved praise for Audrey Tautou, who, playing the title character, brought  depth which the film otherwise lacked.

Le Monde said:

Chanel aura pour première utilité de reléguer Amélie au musée. L’actrice n’élude aucun des travers: l’ambition forcenée, la mythomanie, l’absence de scrupules.” [Chanel has above all served to relegate Amelie [Poulain] to the dustbin. The actress doesn’t avoid any of her bad points: her crazed ambition, her pathological lying, her lack of scruples.]

British critics, who finally got a chance to see Coco Before Chanel when it was released in the UK this week, thought much the same. Chris Tookey in the Daily Mail, branded the film a “stodgy biopic”, while Wendy Ide in The Times said: “Rather staid in its approach, this film is nowhere near as fascinating and unpredictable as its subject.”

Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, not overly excited by this “tastefully furnished drama that rolls out pretty conservatively”, saw Coco Before Chanel as memorable for Tautou’s performance: “She can carry off a big role in a big movie, and portray a complex, creative personality. This is a world away from Amélie’s simpering ingenue.”

Next year, another Chanel film comes out. This time the focus is on Chanel’s relationship with the revolutionary composer, Igor Stravinsky. Will Chanel & Stravinsky better illuminate Chanel’s character? Will Anna Mouglalis, who plays mademoiselle do as well as Tautou?

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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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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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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:

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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.

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