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Movie-goers: the ultimate French guide

Speaking French: a passport to discover French cinema 

 

With about 270 films per year, French cinema is the second global exporter, after Hollywood. Speaking French is the best way to satisfy your film-thirst. But what sort of French is spoken on French screens?  

 

An Alumni in the French New Wave

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In "Breathless", Jean Seberg sells the "New York Herald Tribune" on the Champs Élysées when Jean-Paul Belmondo catches up with her. Patricia, the character portrayed by Jean Seberg, is an impersonation of you, dear alumni: a beautiful American student from La Sorbonne speaking French with a cute accent. And who better than the seductive teacher played by handsome "Bébel" could help her improve her linguistic skills?

Such ambassadors have made French cinema the second global film exporter after Hollywood. When he received the Lumières award in 2013, Quentin Tarantino spoke in a lyrical tone: "Cinema is my religion, and France my Vatican". Speaking French means accessing a film heritage that records a high number of followers and a few chapters.

 

The "Gouaille", a specific art of insolence 

But what sort of French is spoken on French screens? A category of characters can specifically be distinguished: those who use the French cockiness "gouaille" with delicacy. Like Arletty in "Children of Paradise" (Les Enfants du paradis) or Gabin in "Grisbi" (Touchez pas au grisbi), they come from working class backgrounds and live in an ambiguous underworld. With an unsurpassed art in witty replies and colourful words, a slightly slacking accent typical from the suburbs of Paris, they impose a cheeky and laid-back attitude in the face of high-class codes.

 

With an accent, from Pagnol to Guédiguian 

The art of quick replies is also a trait of the characters created by Marcel Pagnol, or his "heir" Robert Guédiguian. Both filmmakers are particularly fond of characters speaking in Southern French loquacity: in "Marius", Pagnol transforms a card game in a funny demonstration of the power of language. When language is spoken with virtuosity and tinted with an accent from Marseille, it becomes the brilliant art of conning.

 

Jacques Demy's "en-chanted" French 

Filmmaker Jacques Demy, deceased in 1990, shot films of absolute peculiarity: on jazzy tunes, characters of "The umbrellas of Cherbourg" (Parapluies de Cherbourg) promise each other eternal love or... ask for gas at the local station. Behind the apparent laid-back tone, themes are much more serious: the sufferings of the war in Algeria, the crumbling of teenage passions. In Demy's language, French is "en-chanted" (a term he invented to qualify his work) and never forgets the small and big disappointments of life.