Lost in Translation: A Pseudo-Review of 2 French Films

To prepare ourselves for Paris, we decided to watch as many French movies as we could in the span of 2 weeks.

I don’t know much about French films so I googled “Best French Films” and got a hundred hits – or a million more like.  There were lists of the Best French Films of all Time100 Best French Films50 Great French Films, etc.

After perusing a few sites, I noticed certain titles popping up repeatedly:  8 FemmesLe Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain (otherwise known as Amelie), Des Hommes et Deus DieuxLa Vie en Rose, etc.  Most of the films are award-winners, notably at the Cannes Film Festival.

I am by no means a film critic – I know nothing about film critiques and even less about French films.  I do enjoy  watching foreign films (with subtitles of course), but my main reason for watching French films this time around is to familiarize myself with French spoken naturally (versus slow French spoken for learning purposes).

Having looked at different lists, I decided to just click at different titles randomly – being all award-winning films, how could I really go wrong?

The first film we saw was Luc Besson’s 2010 hit Les Adventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec(The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec).  We really didn’t know anything about the film, except that its screenplay was written by Luc Besson – the genius behind The Fifth Element.  That was good enough for me.

Les Adventures, set in Paris pre-WWI, turned out to be a fantasy/sci-fi film about a famous journalist, Adele Blanc-Sec who gets herself into the strangest of situations.  A little reminiscent of The Mummy, Adele travels to Egypt to uncover a mummy who may have the power to bring the dead back to life – the “dead” being Adele’s sister who recently suffered a tragic accident.  In search of individuals with the power to raise the dead, Adele encounters many strange people along the way, including mummies, strange botanists, and a live pterodactyl (petradactyl?).

The title heroine of Les Adenvtures is played by French actress Louise Bourgoin, who I know nothing about except that she is beautiful and, I heard, popular for playing more risqué and sexy roles.

I recently learned that Les Adventures is actually based on a 1976 French comic book which follows the life and incredible adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec.

Les Adventures is a light, funny movie, and if you liked The Mummy or Night at the Museum or Indiana-Jones-type movies with subtitles, make sure to check this out.

Our second movie was La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher), released in 2001 and directed by Austrian filmmaker, Michael Haneke.  La Pianist, set in modern-day Vienna is about a piano professor, Erika Kohut.  La Pianist is based on the novel Die Klavierspielerin by Austrian Nobel Prize winner, Elfriede Jelinek.

The two main characters played by Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel won best actress and actor at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, with La Pianiste winning the Grand Prix.

In La Pianiste, Erika is a gifted piano teacher in late 30s still living with her mother in an apartment.  Though highly gifted in music, Erika exhibits strange sexual preferences such as sadomasochism, voyeurism and genital mutilation.

In the film, Erika meets and eventually mentors a cocky 17-year-old boy who has recently become obsessed with her.  Erika, being equally attracted to 17-year-old Walter writes him a long and detailed letter about what she would like him to do to her sexually (the list including being tied up and slapped around).  Not knowing what to really make of the list – and of Erika, Walter is torn between feelings of lust, love and disgust.

Throughout the film we see Erika struggling with her repressed sexual feelings and with her relationships with those around her, including her dominating mother, Walter and her piano students.

La Pianiste fits more my idea of a French/European film than Les Adventures.  It is a (more or less) “slice of life” film, albeit a strange life, and ends quite abruptly, leaving the audience to wonder about the fate of Erika.  It is a raw film with themes and imagery that are hard to grasp.

English subtitles are not enough to truly understand and appreciate this movie.

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6 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: A Pseudo-Review of 2 French Films

  1. Very interesting that You interested in French movies. I am not critic and in many cases I do not understand why they are praising some movie which I find dull. Well, we people see our world in so different way.

    For me in those lists, I did not find Taxi-movies, there are three of them. Also movies by Louis de Funs were not presented, only the name mentioned.

    Every time when I visit Paris, I try to see newest French movies.

    BTW, I love Amelié.

    Happy blogging!

    • Thanks for commenting! Yeah, I guess the list is based on movies which have won awards like in the Cannes Film Festival. I really don’t know much about what they consider the “best” French movies. The two I wrote about were ok…very different but entertaining enough.

      I will be watching Amelie next..hopefully tonight!

  2. I enjoyed La Pianiste and I’d like to read the book. Jelinek is very timid for a writer who has bold plots. She’s too timid (or agoraphobic?) to even grace the awarding ceremonies of the Nobel Prizes.

    I’d like to recommend Entres le murs (The Class). It won the Palme d’Or last 2008. There’s a lot of talking in the film (and maybe French in various accents), so this could prove to be good training material for your upcoming French tour.

    And oh, I was just reminded of the French Film Fest at Shang a few months ago. Were you able to catch it?

    • Thanks for the recommendation, I will check it out! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to catch the French Film Fest at Shang. I can never go to those because of their odd hours. I think I was only able to watch one free film at the Shang during a French Festival once, years ago and the movie wasn’t even really french. It was “Perfume.” Good movie though and equally good book!

      La Pianiste was…strange. I have seen other films since: Swimming Pool and Une Hirondelle…(A GIrl from Paris) which I liked more than La Pianiste.

      • I know! I was only able to watch the last film, The Tree of Life. Yes, it’s not French, but owing to its acclaim as this year’s recipient of Palme d’Or, they showed it. That one was a crazy ride. Good, strong stuff.

        I just remember Les Roseaux sauvages now. It’s also a nice French film, listed in that 1001 movies list. Not too heavy, but not bad. It’s a coming of age film set during the Algerian war.

      • I’ve heard of The Tree of Life and I am planning to watch it. I’ve also heard of Les Roseaux Sauvages. You’ll be glad to know that I now have a copy of Entres Les Murs which I will watch soon…hopefully.

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