If you’re anything like I am, the words “French” and “film” in conjunction summon either one of two images: first, the bright reds and sweet accordion melodies of “Amélie,” or, following the universal image of French film, the dark, smoky eyes of Juliet Binoche lounging in a room that is also dark and smoky.(Note: to view that scene, check out any film in which Ms. Binoche stars — with the exception of “Dan in Real Life.”)
While there are plenty of French films that don’t fit either of these molds, I still expect nudity and psychological complexity every time I sit down to watch one.
After viewing the first installment of the Tournées Film Festival last Friday evening, I can happily report that “Paris, je t’aime” contained neither but was full of lovely surprises.
This is the second year that Lawrence has hosted the month-long Tournées Film Festival. Like last year, five films (all with English subtitles) will be shown throughout January, each three times that week.
The national film festival began in 1995 with the goal of giving college students access to new French films that are normally only shown in major cities. This is fortunate, because Appleton doesn’t make that cut.
It is also fortunate that Lawrence was awarded a grant to host the festival through the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the French Ministry of Culture. Yes, there is such a thing as a ministry of culture — a fine idea for an institution, I’d say.
“Paris, je t’aime” (“Paris, I Love You”) portrays Paris through 18 short films by different directors, each less than five minutes long. The shorts take place in famous (and some not-so-famous) places ranging from Montmartres (known by some as the hill setting of “Amélie”), to the Pre Lachaise cemetery, to the Latin Quarter. The Eiffel Tower makes an appearance, but thankfully does not overshadow the less glamorous locations.
The film presents interesting foreign perspectives of a legendary city, seen through the relationships of its inhabitants, plus a few visitors.
The characters are as different as those who inhabit real life. There’s the man who falls in love with his terminally ill wife; the mother (Juliet Binoche, also known as the definition of ageless) who grieves for her dead son; the two mimes who fall in love; the American actress (Natalie Portman, still so gosh darn adorable) who finds herself a blind Parisian fellow; and so on in a similar, unconnected fashion.
The stories are strikingly different and at times uncomfortably short, so that the viewer must rebound quickly and be ready for anything – like, say, Elijah Wood turning into a vampire. (Huuuh?)
If the steady stream of nervous laughter in the audience was any indicator, the vampire segment was the unanimous winner of Most Bizarre Short.
People didn’t know quite what to make of the shiny blood that poured from Frodo’s — I mean the nameless American tourist’s — neck when he offered it up to the pretty lady vampire. The short ended with the new lovers feasting on each other’s necks in what appeared to be a passionate vampire embrace. Quite strange.
Marc Deheeger, a freshman who was born in that French city we love, was in the audience on Friday night. He liked that the film “showed diversity in places other than the United States.”
He noticed the different French accents and thought that while “the stories didn’t all fit with their surroundings,” the film “revealed the infinite interactions between people in Paris.”
The second installment of the Tournées Film Series, “La Moustache,” will be shown at 7 p.m. in the Wriston Auditorium January 17, 19, and 20 (note: no showing on Friday, Jan. 18). Admission is free for students, so bring your ID. And as always, beware of French vampires.