Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
As many of the boldest, most original films are French I propose a French movie night at home for the devoted followers of my blog. Wine* is allowed, as is pizza (the French are very fond of pizza), but all popcorn, sweets and fizzy drinks** are banned, as are all electronic devices, especially mobiles.
*Not from Australia
**Orangina is permitted
Here is my highly subjective, thoroughly opinionated top five French movies. Please note that I am not trying to impress anybody so I have not included any films featuring scheming peasants, self-harming piano teachers or postmen obsessed with opera singers. Nor have I included any films by Truffaut or Godard.
1. Intouchables, 2011
Based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo (former director of Pommery Champagne), this is the tale of the blossoming friendship between a hard-living black immigrant (turned carer) and his quadriplegic multimillionaire employer (played by François Cluzet). Omar Sy won a César for best actor (the French equivalent of a Bafta) for his scene stealing depiction of the carer. Brilliantly written and acted (the cameos are all terrific), it’s packed with memorable and witty moments and succeeds in being touching without ever being soppy. I’m giving it cinq étoiles and sending Omar Sy a virtual kiss just for his dancing. I read somewhere that Harvey Weinstein is working on a Hollywood remake. Why is that so depressing?
2. Les Femmes du 6ème Etage, 2010
This light as a soufflé film is piled high with clichés – paella-loving Spanish maids with hearts of gold, bourgeois couple trapped in loveless marriage – but somehow gets away with it. It’s set in 1960s Paris and there’s a gloriously silly opening scene featuring the maids cha-cha-ing while they work to the strains of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. I won’t give away the story but soon the top floor, where the maids live in merry poverty, starts to exert a magnetic pull. The film stars the superb Fabrice Luchini who I happen to be rather in love with in a platonic sort of way.
3. Belle de Jour, 1967
I watched this Buñuel masterpiece recently for the first time in 20 years and was amazed to find it still shocking. Catherine Deneuve is glacial and mesmerising as Séverine, a beautiful bourgeois housewife. Married to a handsome but terminally dull doctor called Pierre (lots of scenes of them in their PJs in twin single beds), Séverine takes a day job as a prostitute only to spark the jealous passion of a dangerous gangster. The film is peppered with the doe-eyed heroine’s masochistic fantasies generally signalled by meows or bells (this is Buñuel land, remember?). The costume department kitted out Deneuve in one Saint Laurent outfit after another but I’m awarding five stars to Hair & Makeup. Bouffant hair has never looked so good.
4. Les Bronzés font du Ski, 1979
I once spent an evening in Bodrum discussing this comedy classic with a Bermuda-shorted French hotel manager called Jules who knew the entire film by heart. Pure slapstick, it’s the tale of a group of mismatched friends who go on a disastrous ski holiday to the Val d’Isère. There’s the eternally optimistic bachelor who never scores, the cash-strapped ski instructor who jumps from bed to bed, the bickering married couple and more. It’s not at all sophisticated but it’s wonderfully funny. We may think ourselves more humorous and witty than the French but the French do comedy brilliantly.
5. Trop Belle pour Toi, 1989
My brother says I’m making a terrible mistake excluding Cyrano de Bergerac but I have a soft spot for this sensitively acted Depardieu film, made 25 years ago, in which a lonely businessman cheats on his glamorous wife (played by former Chanel model Carole Bouquet) with his dumpy secretary (Josiane Balasko). I can only remember one scene – in which Balasko powders her nose nervously while waiting in a restaurant for Depardieu to arrive – but it’s stayed with me for a quarter of a century.