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I'm an Irish guy living in France. I like music, books, creative writing, art, history, vegetarianism, people, and chocolate.

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Wednesday 11 November 2009

The French Connection #1

C'est décidé. I'm going to initiate myself to French culture—something I've managed to avoid for twenty years despite the fact that I've been living in the country for all that time.

But I don’t mean French high culture. I already enjoy French literature, French painting, French classical music, French kissing and French cancan. I mean French popular culture. It's something I've always snubbed.

I'm starting with cinema. I've always found modern French acting to be, well, frankly, terrible. And most of the French films I've seen (apart from a few exceptions) I didn't like, either because it wasn't my type of humour, either because they've been the kind of films with scenes where you see a close up of a man washing his hands in the sink for five minutes straight (as one friend from Norn Iron once put it). But I decided to give it another chance. I thought I'd start with the nouvelle vague, an influential movement in cinema which started in France in the 1960s.

So last week I watched Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 film Alphaville. I thought it would be an easy start, since it's science fiction: I wasn't disappointed. It was brilliant. It wasn't like the American sci-fi B-movies of the time. No airships, no spacesuits, nothing extra-terrestrial; the setting was a French city in a not too distant fascist future. (Everything was shot in real locations in Paris.) There were a lot of themes apparently inspired from 1984 and Brave New World, but with a distinctive French touch. It was exciting, and fun to watch, but there were some very interesting shots, which had an experimental feel to them that hasn't been lost, even when being viewed today. And the acting... well, I was expecting bad, affected acting. But the actors were really talented, especially Anna Karina (pictured left), a sort of French Diana Rigg or Audrey Hepburn. (I actually found out afterwards that she was Danish-born, and that the lead male actor, Eddie Constantine, was born in LA, but I don't know if that has anything to do with the acting style).

Anyway I think I'm a convert, and I'm ready to see my next 1960s French movie... Probably Godard's Breathless. I'll keep you posted!

By the way, here's the most famous scene from Alphaville:

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