Saturday, March 12, 2011

French on the Fly

I'm passing time in the Singapore airport en route to Indonesia, where I'll be on the program at a conference of the International Association for Court Administration in Bogor, which is about an hour away from Jakarta and has possibly the world's finest botanical garden. There are lots of magnificent banyan trees and thatweird plant from Sumatra that flowers every however many years and is the biggest flower (and possibly smelliest) in the world.

But on my flight, which stopped in Seoul, where the ultramodern airport is at Inchon, which seems flat with mountains in the distance, which I assume is how it seemed almost 60 years ago when MacArthur staged the famous landing there in the Korean War, I happened to see a terrific movie. It's French and called Potiche, and stars two vets of the French cinema, Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. Not only has Deneuve aged magnificently--from someone who recalls seeing Belle de Jour when it first opened--but she is the ultimate representation of that fabulous French character, une femme d'un certaine age.

Depardieu remains an equally fine actor but unless he just put on plenty of avoirdupois for the picture, he's become quite huge. It's not a highly original plot--the spoiled factory boss's wife and the Communist mayor--but the way they play it and the several interesting plot twists make it to me a small, delightful, cinematic gem. It was made last year, did well at the Venice film fest, and was wel-reviewed in Britain. A friend in D.C. saw it at a film club showing recently so I suspect it may be soon appearing in U.S. distribution channels.

As well it should. Let's face it, we get to see so few foreign films in the U.S. these days that a treasure as this one is should become popular as the Amelie pic did a few years ago. To me, this is the ultimate response to an industry that in the U.S. feels that stars must be geared to teenaged audiences only. If Deneuve and Depardieu can't make a wonderful film click at the U.S. box office--at least by the relatively low standards set for foreign films--no one can.

Unlike almost all the movie reviewers I read--usually with the marvelous exception of Roger Ebert--I shan't give the plot away except to say that the picture does play to lots of wonderful French cultural references, including politics and sex and the general tenor of life in a country that still sets the standard for knowing how to live. It's also about something I've had occasion to learn about over the years--industrial relations--but don't let that scare you. Nor need you fret if you don't pick up everything. I'm sure I didn't. But it does help to know things like George Marchais having been the postwar Communist Party leader in France or that the CGT is the largest--and Communist--labor federation. This kind of thing just fills in the background--the picture is perfectly cast and succeeds even if you know very little about France. Last note: the title is apparently the French term for "trophy wife" which apparently has quite a different meaning there.

The flight also reminded me, since I have been travelling a lot this year within the U.S. but only occasionally overseas, that flying can still be pleasant, when, unlike in the U.S., the flight personnel are not barking at you every second not to congregate outside the lavatories (which is something that after a 13-hour flight takes a stronger resistance to smell than I possess) or do anything that might conceivably or inconceivably be treated as the slightest interference with their dictatorial (blaming the U.S. government, which does bear some of the responsibility for inculcating the sense of fear you see in too much of America) attitude toward passengers, who once held the higher status of customers.

Anyway, this picture erased all that for a few hours--as did the flight, which of course featured better-than-edible meals and attentive service even in the back of the plane. I admit to a true indulgence: following up the French pic by watching the old movie musical from the '50s--High Society, which was Cole Porter's musicalization of the Philip Barry play and movie, Philadelphia Story. Not his best musical but much fun is had by Crosby, Sinatra, Celeste Holm, and Louis Calhern, with the always superb Sidney Blackmer in a truly supporting role. Somehow he's always menacing even when there's no such element in the plot. But this picture will make you recall how fine an actress Grace Kelly was in her prime--well, her career until her royal wedding. Not only was she beautiful but she could do it all in terms of acting. And if you don't enjoy Bing and Frank doing Well, Did You Evah, there's little else to add. A real treat.

No comments:

Post a Comment