My French movie addiction tends to be a lonely habit. For years, I could hardly get pals to go to with me to films that would turn out, predictably, to feature long conversations about aspects of love, lots of talking heads bobbing around dining tables bigger than are common in New York. The heads were pretty and handsome, and talked intelligently en français, the better for me to concentrate on my French language comprehension. I frowned on subtitles – that, I pointed out to anyone who did dare accompany me, too often were unfaithfully translated, sabotaging the conversation and making the whole thing pointless (unless you were there to work on your French comprehension).
Nowadays, pals decline my French movie invitations because the films are too violent (I’m folle, crazy, for Chabrol) and/or too heart-rending. With the promise (ultimately unfulfilled) of a picnic, however, I managed to lure a good pal to Riverside Park to see Tell No One (French title, Ne le dit à personne). The 2008 (U.S.) release was free, after all – merci bien, Films on the Green Festival, the terrific Cultural Services of the French Embassy program that was in its fifth summer in New York City parks, and if it turned out to be too bloody, well, open air is easy to exit.
The open air was delicious, Hudson River breezes cooling us as we occupied our green plastic armchairs early, to ensure we’d get seats. And in fact, by 8:30, every seat was filled, as was the concrete “floor” space between the first row and the screen. A win-win for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and for Cultural Services. (Tip: if you do want to picnic, the concrete-spread blanket approach seemed to work fine for many moviegoers.) Investigation revealed a three-to-one ratio of Anglophones to Francophones.
Tell No One was made by a French director — Guillaume Canet — based on a novel by bestselling U.S. author Harlan Coben, but Canet sensibly set the action to Paris. The movie opens with one of those familiar conversations around a massive dinner table, but without delay, we’re off, careening around Paris (and environs) in a sometimes confusing but always entertaining love-cum-mystery story. First-rate subtitles, except when they were hard to make out against a pale background. And we needed our subtitles, because the French was as fast, furious and occasionally obscure, as the plot. My good pal, ever the diplomat, thanked me for a great evening, even though the movie was not exactly her dish of tea. She’s more the My Afternoons with Marguerite (La Tête en friche) French-movie type.
In “Marguerite,” the drama is non-violent, its talking heads arresting, and its interactions often touching. But for poignancy, no one would expect “Marguerite” to equal another film that brought to tears many in the audience when I saw it on New York opening night (summer 2011). Sarah’s Key (Elle s’appelait Sarah), a drama with flashbacks to horrific events of the Nazi occupation of Paris, strongly attracted NYC moviegoers – as would, about a year, later,The Roundup (La Rafle) about the same dark era in Paris.
First published on FrenchCultureGuide