Cheer The Fuck Up: A Critique of French Cinema

Formula for French cinema: chain smoke ciggies, gaze longingly out the window and look constantly narked. Rinse. Repeat. Simple this film lark.
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Last weekend, I watched a lot of French movies. As I usually only watch Dannii Minogue: Style Queen while eating Dairylea Lunchables, I can’t think what came over me.

Maybe I was just being a ponce. Because unless you’re actually French, giving your pseudo intellectualism an airing is one of the main reasons why anyone watches French films. Are you a tedious goatee-bearded tosspot out on a Guardian Soulmates date? Watch a French movie. Are you a sexually predatory university lecturer wishing to impress a nubile foreign exchange student? Watch a French movie. Are you a Belle and Sebastian fan who is crushingly, crushingly alone? French movie.

My conclusion after watching these films was that French people need to cheer the fuck up. Also, I realised that although French films enjoy an elevated reputation as ‘arthouse’, they’re usually about as ‘arty’ as a Thomas Kinkade painting of cottage by moonlight. Also, they are full of clichés. Regardez.

1. Je Suis Smoking un fag

To star in a French film, you must be smoking a cigarette at all times, even when you’re in the bath, in hospital, or wandering through a warehouse full of dynamite. In I’ve Loved You So Long, the quite patently British Kristen Scott-Thomas smokes more fags in 2 hours than Bill Hicks did in his entire life. And she has a right bloody gob on as well.

2. Je Suis staring out of the fenetre

Run out of ideas? In French films it is entirely acceptable to substitute dialogue and action for long periods of gazing out of the window. Nathalie Baye in Jean Luc Godard’s Slow Motion looks out of the window for what seems like days. Who knows what she’s thinking? Actually, she’s probably thinking: ‘I’d better nip down to the Monoprix for 200 fags and a Yoplait’.

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3. Je Suis Une kooky pain dans le derriere

The French love a bit of far fetched magical realism and they spread it on thicker than Bonne Maman. Cue an endless parade of girlish free spirits with no grip on reality, fateful chance meetings on Le Metro, dropped passport photographs, and all manner of twinkling and winking that makes you want to be sick in the Seine. If I saw that Amelie down the pub I’d totally slap her quirky face in.

4. J’ai une face comme un arse

Although there are a fair few French actors I wouldn’t chuck out of my bed for farting the theme tune to Jeux Sans Frontiers, for male French stars, being good looking is not a requirement. Better that you look like an aged, post coital rhino who has been rutting in a swamp all night, or if you have a nose like a deformed butternut squash. In L’Homme Du Train, Johnny Halliday is meant to be sexy, despite looking like a crocodile handbag with a wig on. Add Serge Gainsbourg, Gerard Depardieu and Jean Reno into the mix and you’ve got yourself a great big buffet of ugly quiche.

5. Je Suis dans le buff

Nudity and rambunctious shagging in French films is compulsory by law. If there isn’t a nipple by the 12th minute, the entire cast and crew are arrested by les gendarmes and thrown into the Bastille where they’re forced to listen to Carla Bruni albums. Of course, the French always say that nudity is integral to the plot. (Even if that plot is usually all about Emmanuelle Beart’s muff.)

6. Pardonnez ma ‘eavy ‘anded metaphor

While American films like to whack audiences over the head with explosions and car chases, French movies prefer to tie some unwieldy metaphors around your ankles and drop you into a consomme of half-baked poetic symbolism. Your lead character is a fisherman? It’s a metaphor for dissatisfaction. He meets an ageing prostitute? She is a metaphor for death. They have a baguette? A metaphor for sex. What-EVA. In a French movie, you can’t go for a shite without it being a comment on the great existential void.

Et voila. I’m sure there are loads more, but I couldn’t be arsed to read the subtitles properly. If you’re going to see a French movie this weekend, I suggest you bring a bottle of Burgundy into the cinema and take a swig every time someone shags, smokes or nothing happens. Me? I’m off to watch Sandra Bullock in Armed and Fabulous on ITV7.