Thursday, 6 March 2014

French Cinema I like

In this blog I have said a few things that aren't necessarily pleasant about certain films or filmmakers. I've voiced a few times that I don't like Jean-Luc Godard, and I may have also mentioned before that Jaques Tati's Playtime was a movie I found more excruciatingly long than funny, mainly because I felt its scenes didn't have much of a connection, the jokes were poorly timed, and everything seemed to just keep going on and on and on and on and on much longer than it needed to.

So as you can imagine I may have said a few things about French Cinema that haven't exactly been pleasant, but I'd like to make it clear that I've got nothing against French Cinema personally. I might not be overtly fond of the French New wave era and the work that resulted from it (especially Godard), but I have seen some good French movies, and so I thought that it might be good to write a little bit about some of these films to prove it.

So to start, I think I might bring up another movie I was required to watch for the same class in which I was subjected to Playtime and Tout va bien. This movie was released roughly a decade before the two aforementioned films, in 1956, and was set in a Nazi Prison during World War II. This was a movie called A Man Escaped.

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous going into this film, but I thought it was actually pretty well done. The plot centers around a young man named Fontaine, who was a member of the French resistance before being arrested and taken to a Nazi Prison. However, against all odds, Fontaine manages to systematically and carefully devise an elaborate plan to get out. Complications arise, though in particular a cellmate who he may or may not be able to trust.

I found the general step-by-step structure of the movie to be interesting. The whole story is confined to the knowledge of the protagonist, but that makes it all the more interesting when we see him finding creative ways to improvise the necessary components to find his way out as well as to keep the guards from figuring out what he's doing. Of course, in addition to that, there is also a sense of fear, as Fontaine knows he is taking some huge risks and the slightest mistake could cost him everything, especially given some of the daring things he has to do (which includes dismantling the door to his cell, it makes a bit more sense in context).

It all builds up to a tense climax when Fontaine finally carries out his plan, and the exceptional build up makes the ending all the more satisfying.

So next, I'll bring up a classic that often comes up whenever I find myself talking about French Cinema. This is an exceptional piece of comedy as well as a good example of French cinema at its finest. What we have here is a charming little film called Amélie.

Plot-wise, it's a fairly straightforward premise: a young waitress named Amélie Poulain has an experience that inspires her to try and bring happiness to everyone around her, and naturally comedic shenanigans ensue. The jokes are great and well-timed, and even the ones that go on longer manage to be humorous without wearing out their welcome.

Of course, part of what makes this movie so great is the world that it creates. Amélie herself is a very interesting and complex character. We see that she is intelligent, creative, and resourceful, has noble intentions and really puts her mind to her goals, but she also has her problems. She is very shy and has difficulty confronting strangers, especially the man she likes, which in turn interferes with her own happiness. However, there are a number of other great characters she interacts with over the course of the movie, each of whom have their own little stories that she manages to play into.

Finally, I'll bring up a more obscure movie titled The Big Blue. This film was technically shot in English, but made by a French director (who later went on to make several better-known movies, including among other things The Fifth Element). This is a more complicated film than the previous two in terms of story, but has something very interesting to offer. Admittedly it was one that I wanted to see so bad I had to resort to illegal downloading when I realized it was impossible to get on DVD where I live, but it was worth it.

The plot of this movie is a bit harder to explain. It's centered around two professional divers, one of whom is a little bit... too fond of it, to the point where he sometimes seems to be more like a dolphin than a human. Along the way a journalist from America played by Rosanna Arquette enters the picture and forms a close relationship to both men as they partake in various diving competitions.

The plot is exceptionally complicated and might not be easy to follow, but the interactions between the characters are solid (if at times a bit strange) and of course the underwater photography is just unbelievable.

So there you are: three great examples of French Cinema at its finest. This was originally going to be a review of Jaques Tati's Playtime, and I still stand by my thoughts on that along with Godard, but I decided I've said enough things for now against French Cinema and thought that instead perhaps it would be worthwhile to show some of its more positive aspects.

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