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Parlez-vous français ?

French version

The Alliance Française French Film Festival is back! This year it turns 28, and with 45 films being screened over 3 weeks in 6 cinemas around Melbourne it has proved itself as one of the best of the foreign film festivals that take over the Australian cultural capital.

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However each year you’ve got the same problem: how to choose which films to see? 

Why not try and base your film selection around your level of French, as the festival provides a perfect opportunity to discover the diversity of the French language. At least you always have the subtitles to fall back on! Here are some tips to help you choose your film:

Beginners: Keeper

In this story about two young high school students who go through the experience of parenthood, you are able to discover the language of French ‘young people’ of today. The syntax is reduced to its simplest form and only when they can be bothered to conjugate the verb. It can’t get any simpler in terms of comprehension given that, these kids can repeat the same sentence 3 times in a row in order to get across their exact sentiments. What’s more, the absence of language through eye contact, body language, and silences can often say a lot more than language itself. You’ll just have to excuse the occasional mumbling which is so common among this generation.

Acclaimed by the critics as soon as it came out, the film is surprising in its ability to draw us into the story and allow us to believe that two minors are perfectly capable of parenting a child. That is, without taking into account the role of their parents, who are always there to ruin their plans…

Catch phrase to listen out for: 

« Qu’est-ce que t’en sais toi ? Qu’est-ce que t’en sais toi ?! J’m’en fous j’le garde ! J’m’en fous j’le garde »

Translation: “What would you know? What would you know?! I don’t care I’m keeping him! I don’t care I’m keeping him!”

Intermediate: A Woman’s Life (Une Vie)

An ideal film for students of the Alliance Française de Melbourne: an adaption of one of the great classics of French literature, the dialogue of A Woman’s Life (Une Vie) is constructed in the purest tradition of the French language which is easily accessible and pronounced with clarity and whose meaning is crystal clear. There aren’t (too) many expressions, verbal sayings, double meanings, spoonerisms or puns. What’s more the characters aren’t particularly chatty, which makes it even easier! A great way for you to realise how accessible the French language is and how far you have progressed! What’s more, if you want to know what life was like for a young female aristocrat in provincial France during the second half of the 19th century, this is the film for you! At least, you’ll see to what extent women’s lives have improved since this period…

Catchphrase to listen out for:

« En tout cas, moi, il me plaît ! Je le trouve trèèès… »

“Well anyway I fancy him! I find him veryyyy…

Advanced : It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde)

A little more complicated this time. It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde) is an adaption from a successful play, written in the 90s by one of the most emblematic playwrights of his generation: Jean-Luc Lagarce. The film, directed by Canadian wild child of cinema, Xavier Dolan stays true to the play with a mix of familiar, conversational language as well as theatrical dialogue whose meaning is often hidden under the surface and not necessarily what we believe it to mean. The narrative is without doubt autobiographical, as it tells the story of a successful playwright, who after more than 10 years of absence, comes back to his family for a day to announce his imminent death. Uniting the finest of French cinema across various generations, It’s Only the End of the World reveals the scope of talent of Gaspard Ulliel, Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye and Vincent Cassel. It is a rare occasion to find these glamourous actors doing their dirty washing together as a family.

Catchphrase to listen out for : « Juste un déjeuner en famille. C’est pas la fin du monde ! »

Translation: “It’s just lunch with the family. Not the end of the world !

Music and lyrics

The French language possesses an endless number of accents. Sometimes they are difficult to pick up as a second language speaker. The French Film Festival is a perfect opportunity to listen to these different intonations, so long as you let yourself be taken away by the music of the words. If you are a novice, the easiest accents to identify are those of other foreigners speaking French. Here are some examples:

In Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la Reine), one can still pick up the slightest touch of a German accent by the wonderful Diane Kruger, which works perfectly in this film where she plays the queen of France, Marie-Antoinette, who was born in Austria. Take the chance to contrast Léa Seydoux’s smooth, rounded manner of speaking with the dry, (nearly rude), guttural speech (with the letter R in particular) of the German actress.  

Catchphrase to listen out for : « Mais qu'avez-vous à vous gratter comme ça ? »
Translation: What's making itch so much?

We find this same way of speaking and these Germanic intonations coming out of the mouth of the Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, star of the TV series Borgen, and heroine of Emmanuelle Bercot’s film 150 Milligrams. The film tells the story of a French doctor who is now famous because of her role in uncovering a scandal involving one of the barons of the French pharmaceutical industry. The irony is that the role of the doctor was offered to a non-French actress whose accent certainly does not hide her native Danish origins. It is in this way that we see the art of French cinema where foreign accents are not a matter of importance as long as the actor is good. On the other hand, in Hollywood, such a casting choice just would not happen. An actor with a slight foreign accent would never play the role of an American. What’s more, when a character is from another country, Hollywood producers prefer to call on an American actor who is supposedly good at doing the accent in question, in which case only the rightful owners of said accent can pick up the inaccuracy. What comes as a result is not dissimilar to seeing a film dubbed into another language: quite ridiculous. Have you tried watching Marlon Brando dubbed into French in a scene from The Godfather? Give it a go.

Of all the foreign accents, the Quebecois accent is without doubt one of the most extreme. French as it is spoken today in Quebec is said to be similar to the French language as it was spoken in the 17th century and that it was in France that the way of speaking evolved over time. Whether this is true or false, A Kid (Le Fils de Jean) offers a perfect example of this contrast. In this poignant story where a young Frenchman discovers that he is related to a Quebecois family and travels to Canada to meet them, you will quickly pick up the difference between the two cultures and understand what encompasses the term ‘Francophonie’.

Many other accents can be heard in the dialogues of the films that are on the bill for this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival. Certain accents may only be detectable by those with a trained ear, but that’s a whole other story that you don’t need to worry about until you reach an academic level. If you’re not there yet, Nathalie Portman’s impeccable French in Planétarium is proof that practicing a foreign language, and more specifically the French language, is open to anyone!

Bon festival!

PS. If you would like to test your knowledge of Polish, go and see the fascinating film, The Innocents (Les Innocentes)!

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By Michel Richard
Translated by Ilaria O'Brien