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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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Many thanks to my friend Ali for showing me this clip. It made my day. Maybe it will make yours.

I’m guessing if you’re reading my blog you’ve got an interest in France. You may be interested in learning the French language.

Forget textbooks – or at least don’t rely on them alone. The best way to buff up your language skills is to watch as much telly or film en français as you can. Listen to French radio and download French music.

If you’re looking for French songs where the lyrics are easy to understand try Carla Bruni. France’s first lady isn’t just a hot fashionista. She’s a singer-song writer with a penchant for singing about her sex-life. And she sings slowly and clearly enough that you can grasp most of what she’s saying, even with G.C.S.E French.

Many French television stations put their programmes online. My personal favourite is TV5 – it’s got an international focus and normally has a cultural bit at the end. TV5’s site also has a weekly news round-up in video clips and specialised news video sections for science, the economy and Africa

Getting hold of as much of this media as you can will make all the difference to your French. When I was teaching at a French Lycée, the pupil who spoke the best English was the one who was so obsessed with One Tree Hill that she couldn’t wait for it be translated into French. She learnt English (with an American accent) downloading the series off the net.

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On French television a couple of days ago Sarkozy declared France would not commit the same economic errors as Britain, saying:

 «Les Anglais ont fait le choix d’une relance par la consommation avec, notamment, une baisse de la TVA, dont on voit bien que ça n’a amené absolument aucun progrès.»

[ “The English chose to boost [the economy] through consumer spending by lowering VAT, which, we’ve seen, has led to absolutely no progress.”]

Downing Street responded in that most typical British fashion – it resorted to irony, telling reporters:

“The Elysee have been in contact this morning to assure us that these remarks were not meant as a critique of UK economic policy – which is nice.”

Less than a year ago on a state visit to England, the French premier had promised that an “entente formidable” would develop between the two countries.

It should be no surprise that this beautiful promise didn’t come to fruition. From William the Conqueror to more modern times when De Gaulle said non to Britain joining the ECC, the Anglo-French entente has always been something of a love-hate relationship.

That Sweet Enemy by Robert and Isabelle Tombs is a brilliant book documenting this relationship from the time of the Sun King to the present. I would definitely recommend it. It’s humorous, insightful and well worth the read. Although at nearly 800 pages, it is perhaps too long, so you might want to just dip in and out of chapters.

For something far less time-consuming, see the YouTube clip below. Before you do, I just want to say I absolument don’t agree with the politics behind the video but it is funny nonetheless.

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