Hey, they’re French

by Brad Nelson5/15/16

I was watching yet another awful French movie the other day. (There is something decidedly wrong with the French.) But it is often in foreign films that you can find something worth watching outside of the Hollywood cesspool of unoriginality and juvenile tastes. One takes one’s chances in doing so though.

The Artist and the Model (a thoroughly French film) is about an artist and a model. He’s an aging artist suffering from writer’s block (carver’s block?). He can drop names like Matisse and others. He’s connected and obviously an important, but second-tier, sculptor. And he even knows a few good Nazis.

The movie is set in occupied France. His wife (a former model) finds an attractive girl sleeping in the street. She knows she’s the type her husband likes to sketch. Penniless, Mercè (played by Aida Foich) agrees to be his model if she can just sit still long enough. Ninety percent of the movie is her showing what Jerry Seinfeld might call good naked and the old artist dispensing art philosophy (some of it indeed interesting) to his model while trying to unblock his creative block.

And it’s a movie that comes this close to having a point. But it’s French. So, of course, when this model leaves near the end of the war to return to her home, the old guy — having completed his first rough sculpture of a mini-masterpiece — kills himself. Roll credits. The filmmakers were not going for a comedic ending, but I laughed myself silly. How predictably stupid and French. So don’t watch this one. The good naked just isn’t worth it.

Another French movie you can avoid is called Ridicule. It’s bad for different reasons. It sounds like a great premise. A good-hearted young man goes to court in the time of King Louis XVI looking for a grant to drain the swamps that are killing the local peasants.

But much like today’s vapid politics, logic, brains, or even charm is not the currency. In the court of Louis it is wit that decides whether you gain a reputation and thus are invited to all the right parties (including gaining an audience with the king).

Okay, so you suppose that this is a chance for the do-gooder country engineer, Grégoire Ponceludon de Malavoy, who has shown he has a natural biting tongue, to really let loose on the French court, having at it with the pumped-up, pampered, and powdered French aristocracy, especially in a good cause.

Alas, his wit is fairly flacid. There is little bite in anyone’s tongue. Why they would make a movie like this and not write some good dialogue is beyond me, although maybe the French, being French, are easily amused. But at least he doesn’t kill himself in the end, which is how many French filmmakers get out of the conundrum of having nothing to say. But this is certainly better than The Artist and the Model.

On another note, season three of Call the Midwife was exceptional, the series having hit its stride. Yes, in this series there are an awful lot of women giving painful birth. But the characters are good, and (finally) in season three, the stories are much more fully developed and interesting. You should watch this. And the good news is that it’s English, not French.


Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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14 Responses to Hey, they’re French

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I believe the number of French films I can recall ever seeing can be counted on the toes of one hand. Plenty of films set in France, of course. One nice one involving art is The Art of Love, a comedy with Dick Van Dyke (as the artist) and James Garner. Still, the French aren’t totally bad; they tend to be fans of H. P. Lovecraft and Jerry Lewis, and I would agree with both (though perhaps not to the same degree).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Once in a while, Timothy, I go on safari in the thickets of foreign films. But I risk being too smug (a little smug is okay) and ethnocentric unless I admit that those outside of Hollywood must look at us Americans and wonder just how dumb and juvenile a human being could ever become.

      What French films have going for them is pretension wrapped up in nihilism. And because of the various shared secular conceits, even relative garbage is considered to be “serious.” “Serious” means “bleak and pointless.” That’s why I laughed at the ending of “The Artist and the Model.” It was so typically French.

      I’m Googling for “Best French films” to see if I can come up with some that I’ve seen. I was hard-pressed to find many on those lists that came up. I was even harder-pressed to find ones that I liked. I thought “Diva” was okay for what it was which shows up as #12 on this list.

      But I don’t think I’ve seen a whole lot of French films, so maybe there are some good ones on the list. But, generally speaking, I do much much better with Scandinavian films. Yes, the worst of the worst are every bit as flakey as French films. But what is surprising is that even many modern Scandinavian films are not as politically correct as American ones. Scandinavian countries are more steeped in socialism and far more suicidal regarding their embrace of Islamic “refugees” then we are. They are more godless and cynically nihilistic.

      But damned if you can’t still find some very thoughtful Scandinavian movies.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The foreign film most familiar to me is Allegro non Troppo, an Italian take on the concept behind Fantasia, which has its comedic aspects in the outer story (“It seems somebody has already done this — an American named Prismey”).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I was looking around for “the best foreign films of all time” and it’s surprisingly difficult to find people of good taste. This list, for example, includes two truly over-rated and horrendous films: Pan’s Labyrinth and Let the Right One In.

          Offhand, this looks like a better list. It includes the “City of God,” a few well-chosen Japanese films (I tend to forget what is what, but there are some good ones), and Das Boot. But it still seems fairly light. I’ve seen a great number of truly good foreign films and it might be difficult to put together a list. I don’t always remember the titles.

          Too often these lists are solidly populated by pretension, of the films that have gained reputations quote apart from cinematic interest. (Hint: If Fellini’s “8-1/2” is on your list, you are amongst the pretentious.) But I rate them by how good they are, as objectively as possible, regardless of what anyone else thinks or whether it is a well-known film.

          But I’ll have to make that a long-term project and see if I can find a resource whereby I can put together my list of “Best Foreign Films that I Have Watched So Far.” I’m sure there are people who are looking for something different and yet want to steer clear of the kind of pretentious silliness and conceit so typical of many highly-touted foreign films. There are some very warm, low-key, and entertaining films that have flown under the radar of those who rate such things.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Most, perhaps all, of the films on the lists were unfamiliar to me. (I’ve certainly heard of Das Boot and probably some others, but not seen them.) I think I’ve seen some portions of Japanese monster movies, but I don’t know if I’ve seen any of them in full.

            I did see the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, which I suppose qualify as foreign as well as in quality (though they’re hardly Eastwood’s best — such as The Outlaw Josey Wales or The Eiger Sanction or the Dirty Harry movies). And I just thought of a French movie I saw once at FOSFA — Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            I saw this film about forty years ago, while I was working in Switzerland. It is in Russian and I didn’t understand a word. But it left such a strong impression on me that I have never forgotten it. It is the best “Hamlet” I have ever seen.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp5Rz0LqUSM

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamlet_%281964_film%29

            I don’t recall that there were any subtitles in the version I saw. The actor, whose name I did not know until I checked today, was fantastic.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            This list, for example, includes two truly over-rated and horrendous films: Pan’s Labyrinth and Let the Right One In.

            The list looks like it was compiled by someone born between 1985 and 1990, i.e. there is no history of film before “I the writer” was born. OK, there are one or two, but I think these were to deflect from the mentality I mention. But this list is, mostly, pretentious.

            I have to admit that I have only seen parts of "Life is Beautiful" and "The Bicycle Thief". I haven't even heard of most of the others.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            You will interested to know that the last living cast member of “Casablanca”, Madeleine LeBeau, has died at the age of 92.

            By coincidence, she also acted in Fellini’s “8 1/2”.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Adieu to the beautiful and moving actress, Madeleine LeBeau. May she play it again somewhere higher.

              Just Testing

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I don’t know wear else to put this.

                Alan Young of “Mr. Ed” fame died yesterday.

                It wasn’t high art, but I enjoyed the series as a child. I have seen a few episodes over the last few years and they wear well. Mr. Ed was a beautiful and sardonic horse, Young, as Wilbur, was an amiable underachiever and his wife was a babe.

                What a difference fifty years makes. We might as well be on another planet.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I saw some episodes of Mr. Ed on weekday afternoons after we got back from Greece in 1964, and enjoyed it. But that was near the end of its run.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I haven’t watch Mr. Ed in probably 30 years. It was certainly popular with us kids. The guy who voiced the horse was hilarious. And as Mr. Kung said, what a difference fifty years made. We laughed at, and with, a talking horse and his often frazzled owner. Now no doubt there would be bestiality jokes and it would either be Ms. Ed or something weird or vulgar. I can hear it now:

                A horse is a horse, you’d think, you’d think

                A no one can blame you for seeing pink

                This is, you wink, a little kink, the transgendered Edwina.

      • Rosalys says:

        I was going to offer up Babette’s Feast, but a quick search shows it to be Danish.

        The Return of Martin Guerre was pretty good.

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