Sunday, 4 December 2011

French films, part 1


Today's post was written by Betsy, and is one of two discussing her favourite French films. Today's post deals with the thorny issue of what becomes of French cinema once Hollywood get their mitts on it. I think you can probably guess, if you don't already know.

Thanks to Betsy!

I am by no means a movie connoisseur, but I do love a French film. I have quite a collection of French films on DVD, and although I’ve given up trying to persuade my other half to watch them with me (because he is deaf and relies on lipreading a lot, so trying to lipread a language he doesn’t speak is understandable problematic) I do go through phases of watching them myself. The thing I love about French films is the same thing as I love about French music. It’s just fundamentally different, they’re made from a perspective different from mine (British) and different from the one I’m used to from most of the films I’ve seen in my lifetime (American), but they have a sense of humour and an attitude that I really, really enjoy.
So here are a few reviews of a few French films that I particularly enjoy, that star some of my favourite actors, and that remind me of a particular time or a particular place.

Taxi (and Taxi 2, and Taxi 3) (1998, 2000 and 2003)

Forget about the Hollywood remake of this, which starred Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon. I haven’t seen it, and I’ve no intention of doing so, for the cast list has already told me all I need to know. This will be a true Hollywood Remake, and in trying to make it commercial I can’t believe they won’t have stripped away the charm and humour of the original, replacing it with all the charm and humour of a rabid elephant.

The original film was written by Luc Besson, the genius behind some of my favourite films, including The Fifth Element, Godzilla (the Matthew Broderick version) and Nikita. Samy Naceri plays Daniel, taxi driver and boy racer, who gets roped into crime-fighting adventures by Émilien, played by Frédéric Diefenthal, a police detective whose disastrous attempts at passing his driving test are demonstrated to the viewer often. Daniel is a bad boy but he has no intent to harm anyone (unlike Samy Naceri himself who has spent time in jail for attacking a man with an ashtray, stabbing another, a road rage attack and the assault of two security guards while he was being treated for a drug overdose). Émilien is a good boy who wishes he could be bad, or at least brave enough to talk to his German (in nationality) Amazonian (in stature) goddess of a colleague, Petra (played by Emma Wiklund, who is actually Swedish).
Taxi is a comedy action movie. There is quite a bit of slapstick, but the way it’s done is very subtle - there’s no accidentally hitting people with a plank or and nobody falls down stairs, but Émilien does hide in the boot of a car at one point and there is a scene with a shockingly unlucky pair of car thieves.

The thing I love the most about Taxi is the French. It’s set in Marseille so it was my first experience of hearing French spoken in an accent that sounds, to my ears, very Italian. The cast is generally very young (there are a lot of pizza delivery boys who Daniel worked with before getting his taxi licence) so there’s a cheeky, carefree atmosphere to a lot of the film. There are lots of driving scenes on long, straight roads running along the coast, everyone has a tan and the ladies wear beautiful summer dresses and they’re all so very, very French.
The sequels are based on similar lines (Daniel and Émilien getting each other into trouble and hauling each other back out again) and, although I haven’t seen Taxi 4, I’d heartily recommend watching these films if you get the chance.

Le Dîner de Cons (roughly translates as Dinner for Fools) (1998)

Le Dîner de Cons is another wonderful French film remade by Hollywood and completely massacred from top to bottom and start to finish. For one thing they renamed it Dinner for Schmucks which is just the harshest, cruellest, most unnecessary rewrite of the concept with a single word that I have ever seen. Because this film is not about schmucks, it’s not about cretins, it’s not about us laughing at people who we think are stupid, it’s about people who (wrongly) believe themselves to be perfect laughing at those who they consider to be beneath them.
This is a surprisingly sweet film, in which a group of successful businessmen decide that they will have a regular dinner, each inviting one special guest each time, primarily so that they can laugh at him or her for being a bit daft, and at the end of the night crown one guest as the Champion Idiot. This film is about the night that Pierre invites François.

The main character’s wife thinks it’s a cruel thing to do and refuses to attend the dinner, leaving the house shortly before François arrives. François is a cheerful sort, a simple civil servant who enjoys making miniature landmarks out of matchsticks. Pierre finds himself in a tight spot and ends up relying on François to help him out, all the while mocking him and treating him like a servant, as François, eager to help a fellow human being, runs himself ragged to help out. I found myself feeling bad for François, not because he felt bad, but because he didn’t. Apparently choosing to believe the best of everyone, he lets the insults and the demands fly over his head, which just makes him more and more the fool that Pierre was looking for all along.

The thing about this film is that you come to realise that while Pierre feels superior to François in every way, Pierre lives his life so destructively and with such deception, that you end up hoping for his downfall, and yet François won’t allow it, constantly trying to shield the man he considers a friend from his wife, his mistress, his former best friend turned nemesis and the tax man.

Le Dîner de Cons is somewhat of a comedy of errors, but it is a sweet one. As the man who planned to entertain himself by mocking another finds his life falling apart, the man who only ever aims to please finds himself indispensable to someone he admires and respects, without expecting the same in return. This film, which was originally a play, is sweet and gentle and subtle and the characters evolve throughout it.

The Hollywood version is a sledgehammer in which the ‘bad guy’ was bullied into it and everyone will be OK in the end. Turning this film into a modern day Bedlam, making the “schmuck” into an actual weirdo (Steve Carell, quelle surprise, plays a man who makes little theatrical scenes with the corpses of dead mice), encouraging filmgoers to laugh and poke at the simpletons and their stupid, selfless ways completely misses the point and I don’t care whether there’s the big “oh, now I see why what I did was wrong, can you ever forgive me?” scene at the end, although you totally know there will be, because Hollywood is nothing if not predictable.
This is a large part of the reason why, whenever Hollywood remakes a French film, I’d rather just watch the original.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Betsy, on behalf of my country I am very, very sorry for the shitty Le Dîner de Cons remake.

I promise we'll never do it again (to that particular movie).

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