Category Archives: Film

French Film Competition 2015

Rust-bone-whale-tank

posted by Kate Rees and Will McKenzie

As in recent years, the Oxford University Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages is organising a French Film Competition, run with the help and generosity of Routes into Languages and the Sir Robert Taylor Society.

The Competition has been a successful and entertaining way of getting young people interested in France and French culture. The challenge of the competition is to re-write the ending of a film in no more than 1500 words. It is open to all students of secondary-school age, from years 7-13. This year we’re also encouraging Youtube submissions for a new filmed entry category, so please feel free to re-imagine the endings of the chosen films in as creative a way as you can.

There is a choice of films in each age category, Le Petit Nicolas (2009, directed by Laurent Tirard) or Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (2008, directed by Dany Boon), for years 7-11. Both are comedies: Le Petit Nicolas offers a glimpse into the mindset of a young French schoolboy confronted with the prospect of a new baby sibling, while Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis humorously explores misunderstandings about life in the north of France.

Le_Petit_Nicolas_soundtrackchtis

 

Students in years 12-13 can opt to re-write the ending of either Dans la maison (2012, directed by François Ozon) or De Rouille et d’os (2012, directed by Jacques Audiard). The first is a study of the twists in a relationship between a teacher and his student. The second focuses on the relationship between a boxer and a young woman badly injured after an accident at a marine park.

downloadrust-bone1

 

We very much enjoy judging the competition and are always impressed by the imagination and wit of the submissions. Entries should be submitted by email to french.essay@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk by noon on 27th March 2015.

A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning student in each category, with runner-up prizes of £25. For further details about entering the competition (including the points in each film where we’d like you to take up the story), please see the link below, which offers more details about how to enter. It’s great fun and an excellent exercise in creativity! So please do enter!

http://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/film_comp

 

The trailers for all four films are below:

Bookshelf Film Club: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie) by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

 

posted by Simon Kemp

If you haven’t seen it, you’ve surely heard of it. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 rom-com was a world-wide hit, and is now one of the most successful French films ever made.

Amélie is a waitress in a café in the Montmartre district of Paris (a real café, as it happens, that now makes a tidy living out of serving expensive coffee to Amélie fans). Her solitary life is transformed when she discovers a talent for secretly changing people’s lives for the better. She sets about fixing her friends, neighbours and co-workers, matching up lovebirds, avenging the downtrodden, comforting the lonely, all without anyone realizing that Amélie is behind it. But can the incurably shy young woman find the courage to fix her own life? (Spoiler: yes.)

It’s quirky and surreal, an unrealistic fairy-tale of a story set in an unrealistic picture-postcard Paris. Some people complain that it is too whimsical, twee, and sentimental, but those people have withered hearts and do mean things to kittens for fun, so we can dismiss their opinion. Amélie is a lovely film. Put your cynicism aside for a couple of hours, and bask in it.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s a scene from the film, in which Amélie decides to teach the bullying local greengrocer a lesson:

Bookshelf Film Club: La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) by Jean Renoir

 

posted by Simon Kemp

Since we’re doing the classics, let’s have a classic of French cinema. Rated among the top four greatest movies of all time by the British Film Institute, and thoroughly deserving of its reputation, is Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. It’s an upstairs-downstairs story of aristos and servants in a country manor, and if it seems a little familiar when you watch it, that will be because it was Julian Fellowes’s inspiration for his Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, but miles better than either of them. Part bed-hopping farce, part looming tragedy, it is, if you will, a fargedy. Renoir based the film on an old French comedy, but filmed it in 1939, as the approach of the Second World War became ever more inevitable. He described it as his attempt to film a society dancing on a volcano, and there is a palpable sense of doom behind the increasingly frenetic comedy among  a group of people whose way of life is about to be swept away forever.

If you’ve never watched a classic film like this before, then you’ll have to make a few allowances for its age. It’s black and white, and while a remastered edition exists, image and sound are obviously not going to be as sharp as in a modern film. It also requires a bit more concentration at the start to get to grips with the cast than you might expect in a more recent movie. As in Downton Abbey, there’s a large number of characters above and below stairs. At the centre are Robert, the philandering Marquis de la Chesnaye, and his wife, Christine. Robert is having an affair with Geneviève, but wants to break off the affair to give his relationship with Christine another try. Christine is not actually having an affair with her friend André the aviator, but everyone thinks she must be, after he declares his feelings for her on national radio in the first scene of the film. When Robert and Christine invite their friends, lovers, would-be lovers and hangers-on to a lavish hunting-party at their country estate, tensions are already simmering between many of the characters. And that’s before Christine’s maid, Lisette, wife of the trigger-happy game-keeper, takes a shine to the roguish poacher, Marceau (you’ll like him), whom Robert rashly offers a job among the servants.

After the shooting party, there is champagne and dancing, but the music is getting faster, events are spinning out of control, and someone in the ballroom has a gun. Things are definitely not going to end well…

 

 

One other thing: look out for André’s friend Octave, chief among the hangers-on, who knows everyone and sees everything, while always staying on the outside. (As a character, he’s a little like Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby.) He’s the one giving the little speech about the ‘rules’ in the trailer above. It’s worth noting that he’s played by the director, Jean Renoir himself.

 

Film Competition Results!

posted by Kate Rees and Will McKenzie

This year, the University of Oxford’s third French film essay competition was also opened up to younger students (from year 7 onwards) and even offered entrants the chance to write, direct and submit their own mini-film via YouTube. An amazing total of 222 entries were received, from across 42 schools.

The judges were deeply impressed by the range and richness of responses to the two set films: Le Hérisson (years 7-11) and L’Auberge EspagnoleEntrants re-wrote the closing chapter, picking up narrative threads left hanging by each film’s ambiguous ending. So rich were the responses that, in addition to the winner and runner-up in each category, a selection of further entries were offered special commendation.

The winners in each age group were India Gaer, Marlborough College (Years 7-11) and Eleanor Palmer, St George’s Weybridge (Years 12-13).

The rewritings of the ending of Le Hérisson often proved dramatic, in keeping with the shock ending of the film itself: fire destroyed the apartment block in a number of entries. In many cases, Paloma went on to fulfil her plan to commit suicide while Renée and Kakuro were left to grieve; some saw her taking the pills but waking up in hospital reunited with her family. Others saw her opting instead to find her way out of her goldfish bowl by destroying her parents and sister in various imaginative ways. In certain versions, Kakuro Ozu was seen as a potential murderer whose relationship with Renée was more threatening to her than any laundry truck. Those who preferred a happier ending often chose to install Paloma as the adopted daughter of Renée and Kakuro, in some cases sending the trio to Japan to enjoy their future together.  Entrants also opted to recount events through the eyes of different characters, sometimes switching between the perspectives of Paloma and Renée, or opting for the viewpoint of a more minor character such as Paloma’s sister Colombe. Several entries incorporated creative references to Tolstoy, in keeping with the film’s references to the epigraph to Anna Karenina; a number picked up on the metaphor of the goldfish bowl.

Dramatic endings were also dealt out to characters in Barcelona in L’Auberge espagnole, with Xavier rushed to hospital following a car accident in several scripts, perhaps to be met by Jean-Michel refusing to treat him. Entrants variously decided to send Xavier back to Paris, and reunite him with Martine; or have him settle down with Anne-Sophie in Spain. Others focused on recreating dialogue between the flatmates; the character of Will proved popular, with a number of entrants choosing to incorporate him in a series of lively exchanges. Certain motifs of the film, such as the overflowing shared fridge or the shots of the aeroplane featuring Xavier’s voiceover were picked up and explored further. Some enjoyed reflecting the mix of languages reflected in the film; others proved creative in the attention given to music and visuals in their rewritten endings.

The judges and co-organisers of the competition are very grateful for the support and assistance of Routes into Languages and the Robert Taylor Society, and look forward to an equally creative response to the films next year.

Bookshelf Film Club: Panique au village (A Town Called Panic)

Perhaps not destined for immortality alongside the films of Renoir, Truffaut and Godard (we’ll get around to them later), Panique au village (2010) is nevertheless one of the most striking and original French-language films this decade. I mention it now because, as The Lego Movie sweeps the planet with wild enthusiasm for manic silliness, delirious inventiveness and non-stop action performed by small plastic children’s toys, it’s a good moment to hunt out that film’s spiritual godfather. In fact, if the makers of The Lego Movie didn’t watch A Town Called Panic while they were coming up with their ideas, then there’s a surprising coincidence of tone between the two films.

The main characters of A Town Called Panic are a house-sharing group of three friends, one of whom happens to be a small plastic cowboy, one of whom is a small plastic Indian, and the third a small plastic horse. All three of them live in a perpetual state of frenetic excitement, speak very fast, and have a tendency to panic. If they seem familiar, it may be because they also starred in adverts for Cravendale milk on British TV a few years ago. The story begins when Cowboy and Indian plan to build a barbecue for Horse’s birthday party, but accidentally order over the internet a billion times more bricks than they require to build it. The resulting delivery destroys their house, but each time they try to rebuild it, someone steals the walls during the night. They discover the thieves to be a group of sea-monsters, who…

Actually, that’s as far as I can really get with summarizing the plot, which seemed to make sense when I watched the film, but now just leaves me confused and giggling. Let me just say that it’s very funny, and if you liked Emmet, Wyldstyle and Unikitty, you’ll like these too. Here’s a flavour of it from the trailer:

French Film Competition

auberge

As in the previous few years, the Oxford University Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages is organising a French Film Competition, run with the help and generosity of Routes into Languages and the Sir Robert Taylor Society.

The Competition has been a really successful and fun way of getting young people interested in France and French culture. And this year we have opened it up to younger students: all UK students of secondary-school age – from years 7 to 13 – can take part. The challenge of the competition is to re-write the ending of a film in no more than 1500 words.

The films for this year –  Le Hérisson (The Hedgehog) directed by Mona Achache (2009, for Years 7-11) and L’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck), directed by Cédric Klapisch (2002, for years 12-13) have been chosen because they talk about reaching out to strange or foreign people. The first film sees a young girl forming an unlikely friendship with a prickly, hedgehog-like caretaker; in the second, a young Frenchman flatshares with eccentric students from different countries on his Erasmus Year Abroad – a situation many language undergraduates have to deal with!

Judging the competition is often a lot of fun and we are always impressed by the imagination and wit of the entries. There are no restrictions as to the form the entry might take: screen-play, play-script, prose, prose with illustrations… and this year, you can even upload a YouTube video or audio file! Entries should be submitted by email to french.essay@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk by noon on Monday 31 March 2014.

A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning student in each age group, with runner-up prizes of £25. For further details about entering the competition (including the points in each film where we’d like you to take up the story), please see the link below, which offers more details about how to enter. It’s great fun and an excellent exercise in creativity! So please do enter!

http://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/film_comp_2014

posted by Will McKenzie

Bookshelf Film Club: The Class (Entre les murs)

Entre-les-murs_portrait_w858

François Bégaudeau was a young teacher of French language and literature at a school in north-east Paris, in an area that had been designated a ‘zone d’éducation prioritaire’ due to its social problems and low-achieving students. He then wrote a novel about his experiences, called Entre les murs (Within the walls). He then, with the director Laurent Cantet, adapted his novel into a screenplay for a film. He then played the starring role in Cantet’s film as ‘François’, a young teacher of French language and literature at a school in north-east Paris, in a… well, you get the idea. The film was a huge success, and won the 2008 Palme d’or at the Cannes film festival, and it’s easy to see why. Bégaudeau clearly knows what he’s talking about, and it’s rare to see a film set in a school that rings as true as this one. Bégaudeau’s teacher shows a passion for bringing out his students’ potential, but also shows the frustrations involved in having to teach French versification or the use of the imperfect subjunctive to a bunch of not always interested and often rowdy teenagers. He’s also not afraid to show his character making mistakes. The film’s turning point comes after the class’s delegates to School Council, Louise and Esmerelda, have giggled and whispered their way through a staff meeting, then promptly relayed all the sensitive information discussed by the teachers to the rest of the class, including all the grades people are due to receive at the end of the term, and the fact that François described one pupil in particular as ‘limited’ intellectually. The following day, as the class grows increasingly hostile towards him, François loses his cool and inappropriately accuses the two delegates of having behaved like ‘pétasses’, a word which makes the whole class erupt and will have consequences through the rest of the film.

I use this scene from the film in my fourth-year Advanced Translation seminars, where we always spend a good few minutes merrily discussing what exactly the teacher has called his students. When he is forced to defend himself later in the film, he claims that a ‘pétasse’ is ‘une fille pas maligne qui ricane bêtement’ (‘a girl who’s not too bright and giggles stupidly’). His students insist that it means a prostitute. I shall leave you to discover how the dispute is resolved. The word obviously causes trouble for the people doing the subtitles too, who have to come up with a term in English that can fit both meanings. The UK DVD release opts for ‘slut’, which strikes me as being rather more offensive and less ambiguous than the original. Or at least it did, until I discovered recently that for some people in this country it simply means ‘someone who doesn’t clean behind their fridge’.

The performances in the film are extraordinary – especially from the teenagers who play the pupils, who never once look like they’re acting a part – and the film is hilarious, gripping and moving. Sean Penn called it a ‘perfect movie’ when he awarded it the Palme d’or, and I notice that it also received a five-star review from Heat magazine. When the Cannes film festival and Heat agree on a film, it surely must be something special.  I recommend you see it straight away. (It’s available here, or to rent on Lovefilm, Netflix and the like.) Also, it offers good ammunition should you later find yourself at university required to learn the forms and usage of the imperfect subjunctive. The French kids have never heard of it either.

 

posted by Simon Kemp