My trips to France have been vicarious: words written by others, pictures created by others. For the most part, what I know -- or think I know -- about France has been gathered and presented to me by filmmakers. Moreover, a good part of what I know -- or think I know -- about good movies has been shaped by countless hours spent watching French films.
Like many baby boomers who grew up loving movies, once I discovered foreign films the French New Wave films exerted a big influence on me. So, for me, the memories of Paris that were stirred up by the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13, 2015, weren't based on times I actually spent there, soaking up the milieu.
Instead, films I've loved have been brought to mind. Today, Nov. 14, 2015, my five favorite French feature films are as follows:
“The 400 Blows” (1959): B&W. Directed by François Truffaut. Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy. Note: This story’s deft portrayal of a brave boy’s yearning for dignity in an indifferent world kicked in the door for the New Wave’s filmmakers.
"Breathless" (1960): B&W. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg. Note: An opportunistic thief on the lam becomes irresistible to a pretty American journalism student in Paris. Uh-oh, the guy is dangerous. How long can it last?
"Day for Night" (1973): Color. Directed by François Truffaut. Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, François Truffaut. Note: An engaging look at the process of making of a movie, with the private lives of the cast and crew intermingling with the production.
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972): Color. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Cast: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig. Note: Probably prankster Buñuel’s most accessible film, this dream within a joke, within a dream, sparkles with its dry wit.
“Lacombe, Lucien” (1974): Color. Directed by Louis Malle. Cast: Pierre Blaise, Auroe Clement, Holger Lowenadler. Note: How does a naive, nihilistic teenager in France, just looking for a way to fit in, end up running with the Nazi invaders? Hey, why not?
That list of sweet flicks includes only feature-length movies. But today I just can't resist mentioning two of my favorite short films that happen to be French:
“La Jetée” (1962): B&W. Directed by Chris Marker. Cast: Davos Hanich, Hélène Chatelain, Jen Négroni. Note: A stunning example of how less can be way more. This short New Wave classic about memory, imagination, longing and time is unforgettable.
“The Red Balloon” (1956): Color. Directed by Albert Lamorisse. Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Sabine Lamorisse, Georges Sellier. Note: Using little dialogue, this utterly charming 34-minute French fantasy follows a boy and his balloon friend along the streets of Paris.
|From 'The Red Balloon'|
To wind up, allow me to quote Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart), the protagonist in "Casablanca" (1942). Speaking to Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Bergman), Rick says: "We'll always have Paris."