Cheapskate's Guide to the Finer Things in Life
French film series offers the same thought-provoking confusion as corpse flowerand Inception
Anybody who’s standing in line for a mass attraction like that macabre corpse flower or a blockbuster Leonardo DiCaprio movieshouldn’t turn up his nose at the fine French film series going on at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, just because it’s in a foreign language.
OK, so this series includes two documentaries, which, I admit, aren’t universally popular in this country, even when they’re filmed in English and only use easy-to-understand words, spoken very slowly, like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
The case I’m making is that these four French films have the same crazy-making, cliffhanger ingredients that are pulling in huge crowds to see the corpse flower at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the blockbuster movie Inception at local theaters.
I’ve seen these elements play out in both Inception and Le combat dans l’ile, the first French film in the MFAH series: “Four French Films: The New Wave, Clouzot, and Romy.” It is important to disclose here that my command of spoken French is comparable to the English-speaking skills of Inspector Clouseau (the French detective, not the French director Clouzot) in the old Pink Panther films, which were broadly popular in America, and live on today in a host of Clouseau quotes.
I have found my French language limitations, and my recurring mental image of myself as Monsieur Clouseau’s American counterpart, to be tremendous assets when viewing French films and speaking to French people here or overseas. In other words, I don’t understand everything that is going on when I am in France, watching French films, or speaking to French people. And judging by their kindly, bemused expressions, the French people do not understand every word that is coming out of my mouth. But I am always enjoying my own confusion, which is one of the main reasons why I want to go to France, and see a French film, and talk to a French person, in the first place.
You see, the common element of the attraction in all these cases is a pleasantly crazy-making confusion. Those who prefer being tantalizingly confused in the comfort of their own home country simply patronize local attractions that are in their own language. With the French film series, all we are saying is give these a chance, just as I did when I went to see Inception, even though I normally prefer foreign and independent films.
I decided to see Inception because it’s billed as an “existentialist heist,” and I’m very fond of existentialist literature. Before I went to see the film, I booked up by rereading my old copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Nausee (Nausea), first published in 1938. Voila! Now you see the running thread, mes amis! We’re talking pre-Twilight Zone, multiple-dimension confusion here: self-nauseating, mind-bending, other-world-seeking confusion. It was Sartre who started all this years ago in France, with his boundary-breaking book.
So, to all you corpse-flower lovers waiting in line to see a uniquely baffling mystery of a flower, and all you who are waiting to see the marvelously wacky dream architecture of Inception, I say: Broaden your horizons and check out one of the three remaining French films in the MFAH series. This is the real thing, mesdames et messieurs: wonderfully intriguing films accented with an element of thought-provoking confusion, especially if you don’t know much French, don’t know a whole lot about the French, and don’t look at the subtitles.
Moi, I adored the first French film, Le combat dans l’ile (1962), which was riddled with mystery, violence, gunfire, explosions, desperate people on the run, and many other popular American film staples. Actually, I didn’t fully understand what I was watching until I read a review afterward which explained right-wing terrorist Clement’s childishly self-centered personality. Quelle film! Formidable! Magnifique!
The remaining French films are: L’enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot, a 2009 documentary about the attempts of legendary French director Clouzot to film a project called Inferno, running through Sunday; Godard’s fabulous-in-any-language Breathless (A bout de soufflé, 1960), starring the breathtakingly handsome Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, July 29-August 1; and the much-lauded 2009 documentary Two in the Wave (Deux de la vague), about the friendship between French New Wave filmmakers Godard and Truffaut, also July 29-August 1.
General admission is $7. MFAH members, senior adults and students with ID get a $1 discount, and special package discounts are available that are too confusing for me to explain in a nutshell. Just go, buy, and enjoy what you see. I’ll see vous there!