Archives For French

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of watching a documentary about the work and career of early French filmmaker, Georges Méliès.

His work is the sort of early silent film many of us have seen without realizing who the names behind the work were. He is the creator and mind behind the A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la Lune):Y’know that one… the one Smashing Pumpkins appropriated as a concept for their 1996 video Tonight, Tonight single?

Yeah, THAT one.

Méliès began his professional life as a stage magician in Paris and in 1895, after a demonstration of Lumière brothers’ camera, became fascinated with film. Within two years, he had established his own film studio and was creating elaborate films. In the eighteen years before his company went bankrupt, he directed over five hundred films.

Here is an amazing piece from 1903, Le Mélomane— a marvel of multi-exposures:

Le Mélomane, 1903


Le Cake-walk infernal, 1903

Lately, I’ve been on a French film kick. Ever the Francophile, it has been a nice change of pace to come home and listen to the soothing sounds of a language I know and love, acted beautifully as is so rarely seen these days. Recent favorites have been Port of Shadows (Le Quai des Brumes) and La Grande Illusion, both starring Jean Gabin and both made within a few years of one another (~1936-38, give or take).

PortofShadows
Whenever I bump into friends and neighbors these days, conversation inevitably turns to what one another has been up to lately. And for me, it is generally what work I have on my desk at home and what movies I have watched recently. Often times, my most recent movie viewings comprise of an odd assortment of detective stories and oldies but goodies from a bygone era. And very often the lion’s share of the movies I mention are a complete MYSTERY to my friends and neighbors. As such, perhaps it is time that I start sharing the movies I come across with you, dear readers, so that you may enjoy the benefit of a richer movie night.

And so tonight, I recommend you consider adding Port of Shadows and Grand Illusion to your list of must-see movies. Both are available on Netflix, so there’s no excuse. Not a Netflix subscriber? I could write a whole blog post on the merits of Netflix, but I’ll spare you– their service is fast, convenient and economical and they even have free trials, so give it a whirl.

GrandIllusion
What’s so great about old, obscure, black and white French movies from the 1930s, you ask? They tell simple, beautiful stories which are acted by people who capture the tender humanity that is so often MISSING from contemporary cinema. This is not to say that there are not good movies coming out today, but the stories directors and actors told in decades past, like the 1930s, were different for myriad reasons than the ones we tell today.

Still need a reason to check out these films? Grand Illusion is one of the first prison-break movies and considered a genre classic, if you were moved at the end of The Great Escape, you should see this movie. Port of Shadows, like Grand Illusion is an excellent example of poetic realism and follows a single man’s journey through the lonely fog of destiny; rent it!

Images: The Criterion Collection