Yes, it’s been forever since I posted a film review, but in all fairness I’ve been writing my own movie. It took a little while – the better part of two years really – but who’s making excuses? It’s done now (well, as ‘done’ as any writing project gets, which means ‘never’), and the script is making the rounds of competitions, none of which I’ll hear about until September. So in the meantime, I’m outlining the next one – and a novel, because who doesn’t feel like that’s a good thing to do in their spare time? – and feeling the need to catch this blog up with where I am…which at the moment is deep in the heart of the French countryside – virtually speaking – with 150+ cyclists, 1000+ journalists, 6 daily “Versus” broadcasts and 1 bike-crazy husband.
Film 37: “Jet Lag” (2002)
So in honor of Le Tour, we watched a French romantic comedy last night. What? “The French don’t laugh,” you say. “Ah, mais oui.” Jerry Lewis, n’est pas? Well, okay, him – and the kind of complete psychological and physical breakdown that 24 hours of travel without sleep will bring you.
Well, not you you. Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno – probably the two French stars most recognizable to American audiences – thanks to Reno’s “The Professional” and Binoche’s turns in everything from the uber-arty ‘Colors’ films (“Blue,” “White,” and “Red”) to epic-smash “The English Patient” to frothy-sweet “Dan in Real Life.” I’ve enjoyed all these films, but was dubious that Binoche had left any original roles left to perform, being one of the busiest actresses of her time.
Then Nancy Fisk (yay, Nancy!) told me I’d missed a big one with this flick, and she was absolutely right. Turns out the French do know something about romance after all, even if Kelly Clarkson doesn’t sing the title track.
Now, to enjoy a French romantic comedy, you must remember a few important pointers:
1) Slapstick is out. Intense dialogue is in.
2) A happy ending is far, far from assured.
3) Romance itself is less assured – and much less obvious – than #2.
4) The food and wine will be taken as seriously as any of the other relationships.
5) Juliette Binoche will probably get naked somewhere along the line.
See? Something for everyone.
The real joy of this film for me wasn’t caused by any of the above (all of which were true). It was more about a relaxed happiness which settled over me from the beginning, as intelligent, modern dialogue and unobtrusive but thoughtful direction gave two great actors the space to engage my emotions and charm my pants off. I loved every moment of Binoche’s tacky, downtrodden hairdresser Rose, especially as she sparred with Reno’s prickly, corporate sell-out Felix.
Happiness is not something I readily associate with French film, so you can see how pleasantly surprised I was. Depth, yes. Greatness, on occasion. Depression – de rigueur. So when I tell you that one of the most uplifting moments involves Rose and Felix drowning their sorrows in great cuisine and crying over a father’s lost love, you won’t be surprised. But I think you will smile.
After all, the great charm of that strange but beautiful nation lies somewhere in the aphorism, “No one hates the French more than they do.” And in the end, no one else can unmask their cynicism and reveal their shaky, but enduring, faith in love better than they can.
Vive la France!
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