Cheese, Champagne & A Fabulous French Film
Francophiles stand and be counted ... Let’s celebrate Bastille Day with a few classic French films that you can enjoy without pulling out the passport to take an expensive trip abroad. I love French cinema and embrace any excuse to be whisked away to the city of lights, if only in my dreams or via le television.
For a great heist movie look no further than Jules Dassin’s “Rififi” (1955). This was set to be the perfectly executed crime, technically speaking, but the element of human emotions gets in the way. Although the whole movie is fun and intriguing, this has one particular scene that stands out and it has to be experienced to be believed. In it, while the bank heist is underway and everyone is playing their part, the at least seven minute scene takes place sans music or dialogue. That’s right, we’re talking seven minutes of silence, heavy breathing and close up shots of criminals under a time crunch. Sound boring? It’s anything but. You’re holding your breath and on the edge of your seat the whole time.
Anything from the French New Wave era - a cinematic movement of the 50s and 60s, headed up by the legendary Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Goddard, that forever changed how films were made and watched:
If a dramatic family saga is more your style, then “Jean de Florette” (1986) and its follow-up companion movie, “Manon of the Spring” will enthrall. This is an intriguing family drama sprawling over a couple of generations pertaining to land, class, love and vindication as a greedy landowner and his “slow” nephew block the only water supply to a neighbor. The cast is stellar headed up by the late great Yves Montand, Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil in his debut. Jean de Florette’s follow-up, “Mannon of the Spring” (1986) features a debut performance by a captivating Emmanuelle Beart. This is where they juicy revenge comes in.
For a more contemporary selection, Michael Haneke’s “Cache” (2005) is a gripping thriller mystery showcasing dirctor Haneke at his best. Set in the household of a respected literary power couple, played by two of France’s most extraordinary actors, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, they start receiving video tapes with odd and disturbing messaging in their mail. The husband takes matters into his own hands to solve the source of the scare tactics unfolding a thread to his childhood that challenges perception and memory while threatening his mindset, marriage and life as he knows it. There is nothing straight forward or easy about this. In fact, plan to watch this at least 2-3 times in order to absorb everything, which is a nice way of saying you'll never get it in one viewing.
On a light note, the 2011 dramady, The “Intouchables” is a story of an unlikely friendship without the cliches or sappiness of most other such films. Based on a true story of an affluent quadriplegic who hires an unemployed, gregarious troubled young immigrant as his caregiver, “The Intouchables” is imbued with charm and interlaced with subtle humor. As an added bonus, the use of music by Earth Wind and Fire is fantastic. I wouldn’t qualify this as great filmmaking or complex storytelling, it is solidly well-written, undeniably enjoyable and absolutely uplifting as personalities collide but an endearing friendship persists, changing both their lives forever. No doubt, in the hands of most American directors, this would have been a recipe for cheesiness and predictability, but thanks to writers/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano and their European sensibility, it’s anything but. Let’s see if I’m proven wrong on this last count when the American/English version starring Robert De Niro and Kevin Hart comes out soon.
So, open up a little Champagne accompanied by a bit of Brie on a baguette while watching any of my humble, yet delicious movie selections from above and ... bon appetite!