I won’t make the attempt to list every French language film that I love, but here are three of my especial favourites…
La fille sur le pont (The Girl on the Bridge), with Daniel Auteuil and Vanessa Paradis.
Adele is a woman with nothing to lose, standing on a bridge over the Seine, willing herself to jump. Instead, she meets Gabor (Daniel Auteuil, one of my favourite actors), a knife-thrower needing a new assistant. Hardly a safe choice, but far better than cold river water. It’s a strange partnership, but one that compels. (Also, for those that are into it, Daniel Auteuil has some very nice guyliner. Perhaps that’s partly why I like this movie so much! Yum!) The film is shot in black and white and the theme track is by Angelo Badalamenti, sung by Marianne Faithfull.
And that connection leads me to the next film, actually a mini-series. Directed by Josée Dayan, with the soundtrack by the aforementioned Angelo Badalamenti, Les liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) is based upon the novel, but brought forward into 1960s France. It features a diverse, all-star cast, including Catherine Deneuve, Rupert Everett, Nastassia Kinski and Leelee Sobieski. If you can, pick this one up in its 3-disc edition, as the 1-disc edition has been edited down (and I have yet to be convinced that the dialogue wasn’t overdubbed by other actors). This is by far my favourite adaptation of the novel. I’m not at all fond of the one starring John Malkovich. The film Valmont (with Colin Firth) is worth a look. But this version… it sizzles. Plus it has Catherine Deneuve, one of France’s premiere actresses.
And that brings me to the third film of this post, the very classic Belle de Jour. It’s probably Deneuve’s best known film, though it certainly wasn’t the first of hers I saw. (That honour goes to The Hunger, which also starred David Bowie and a young Susan Sarandon.) Severine is a young wife, bored and dissatisfied, and not physically intimate with her husband. She first satisfies herself with vivid, erotic fantasies, but takes those fantasies a step further when she becomes ‘Belle de jour’, a prostitute at a Parisian brothel.
Directed by surrealist master Luis Buñuel, Belle de Jour is a striking film, even if one is not very interested in slightly kinky sex and the BDSM tendencies of Severine’s erotic fantasies. Catherine Deneuve is a master of her art. I could watch her films for hours without complaint.
Next time you’re at the video store – oh, who are we kidding – you’re really looking on Netflix or something, since it is 2011 – check out one or all of these films. You won’t regret it.