Lost in Translation: A pseudo-review of 2 French Films

To prepare ourselves for Paris, we decided to watch as many French movies as we could in the span of 2 weeks.

I don’t know much about French films so I googled “Best French Films” and got a hundred hits – or a million more like.  There are lists of the Best French Films of all Time, 100 Best French Films, 50 Great French Films, etc.

After perusing a few sites, I noticed certain titles popping up repeatedly:  8 Femmes, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain (otherwise known as Amelie), Des Hommes et Deus Dieux, La Vie en Rose, etc.  Most of the films are award-winners, notably at the Cannes Film Festival.

I am by no means a film critic, and know even less about French movies.  I do enjoy  watching foreign films (with subtitles of course), but my main reason for watching French films this time around is to familiarize myself with French spoken naturally (versus slow French spoken for learning purposes).

Having looked at different lists, I decided to just click at different titles randomly – being all award-winning films, how could I really go wrong?

The first film we saw was Luc Besson’s 2010 hit Les Aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec).  We really didn’t know anything about the film, except that its screenplay was written by Luc Besson – the genius behind The Fifth Element.  That was good enough for me.

Les Adventures, set in Paris pre-WWI, turned out to be a fantasy/sci-fi film about a famous journalist, Adele Blanc-Sec who gets herself into the strangest of situations.  A little reminiscent of The Mummy, Adele travels to Egypt to uncover a mummy who may have the power to bring the dead back to life – the “dead” being Adele’s sister who recently suffered a tragic accident.  In search of individuals with the power to raise the dead, Adele encounters many strange people along the way, including mummies, strange botanists, and a live pterodactyl (petradactyl?).

The title heroine of Les Adenvtures is played by French actress Louise Bourgoin, who I know nothing about except that she is beautiful and, I heard,  is popular for playing more risqué and sexy roles.

I recently learned that Les Adventures is actually based on a 1976 French comic book which follows the life and incredible adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec.

Les Adventures is a light, funny movie, and if you liked the Mummy or Night at the Museum or Indiana-Jones-Type movies with subtitles, make sure to check this out.

Our second movie was La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher), released in 2001 and directed by Austrian filmmaker, Michael HanekeLa Pianist, set in modern-day Vienna is about a piano professor, Erika Kohut.  La Pianist is based on the novel Die Klavierspielerin by Austrian Nobel Prize winner, Elfriede Jelinek.  The two main characters played by Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel won best actress and actor at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, with La Pianiste winning the Grand Prix.

In La Pianiste, Erika is a gifted piano teacher in late 30s still living with her mother in an apartment.  Though highly gifted in music, Erika exhibits strange sexual preferences such as sadomasochism, voyeurism and genital mutilation.

In the film, Erika meets and eventually mentors a cocky 17-year-old boy who has recently become obsessed with her.  Erika, being equally attracted to 17-year-old Walter writes him a long and detailed letter about what she would like him to do to her sexually (the list including being tied up and slapped around).  Not knowing what to really make of the list – and of Erika, Walter is torn between feelings of lust, love and disgust.

Throughout the film we see Erika struggling with her repressed sexual feelings and her relationships with those around her, including her dominating mother, Walter and her piano students.

La Pianiste fits more my idea of a French/European film than Les Adventures.  It is a (more or less) “slice of life” film, albeit a strange life, and ends quite abruptly, leaving the audience to wonder about the fate of Erika.  It is a raw film with themes and imagery that are hard to grasp.

English subtitles are not enough to truly understand and appreciate this movie.

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