20 Reviews French films A critical eye on the latest ciné releases An Impossible Love
French Living I January 2019 Are you the foie gras correspondent? Chris Bockman, Matador, £13.99 ISBN: 978-1788034-654 THERE are plenty of books about Britons who have moved to France and done up a rural property – but while this one seems to be another one at first, it gives quite a different take. Bockman moved to set up a press agency in Toulouse, despite warnings that there would not be enough to write about. This is a memoir of a working life through the lens of quirky or dramatic tales that proved the naysayers wrong. He first thought there might be more to the area than met the eye when a visit to a local gendarmerie showed a ‘double homi-
cide’ on a map of recent crimes (though the duty officer ‘couldn’t remember’ if they had caught the killer). Many jobs ended up more ‘frivolous’, such as tracking down the holiday home of former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten to find his dogs which had become famous after he could not bring them back to the UK due to quarantine. Rugby and its links to local politics was also a fund of stories and we learn there is a Notre Dame de Rugby church in the Landes which features a stained glass window of the baby Jesus holding a rugby ball.
Other topics range from the ‘risky PR stunt’ of wine growers who dubbed their wine vin de merde, to shadowing the pretender to the throne or going to a remote farmhouse to interview a Briton released from jail for murdering his wife, whom the author photographed chopping food with a large knife – part of a chapter where he warns that the rural good life in isolated areas is not always what Britons expect. Interesting to dip into, though frequent jumping between personal memoir and verbatim reports from the time jars at first.
Books – The 20 minute review
We read recent releases with a link to France. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time
Catherine Corsini; 135 mins
The latest film from director Corsini is bigger in scope and ambition than anything she has made before and follows three generations of a family’s story from loved-up young mum to a grandmother. The story is based on the 2015 novel by Christine Angot, who also wrote Claire Denis’ superb Let the Sunshine In, and is often seen on TV chat shows being something of a controversial provocatrice. It begins in 1958, in Châteauroux, Indre where mid-twenties typist Rachel – a superb performance by Virginie Efira (normally a comic performer but whose serious acting skills get better with each film) falls for a dashing and intellectual young man, Philippe (Niels Schneider) that she meets in the work canteen. She falls pregnant and a daughter, Chantal (Estelle Lescure), is born. However, Philippe will not marry Rachel or allow Chantal to take his surname, which for the times is unsettling and bodes badly. Over time, despite his manipulative nature, narcissism and absence, Rachel still holds a torch for him, while the now teenage Chantal gets ever closer to her father. Yet his increasingly dubious behaviour is never far from the surface. A word of praise for the superbly naturalistic ageing make-up work on both Rachel and Philippe – they look very convincing as grandparents.
Also out: Sink or Swim
A disparate (and sometimes desperate) gaggle of 30-50-something men make a life change for the unexpected – by joining a synchronised swimming team. Cue a blend of farce and philosophy à la piscine!
Conflicts of Interest Terry Stiastny, John Murray £8.99 ISBN: 978-1-444-79439-7 THIS novel by a former BBC news journalist is – at least partly – set in rural southern France, where the main character, a has-been TV journalist has moved after his marriage and career ended. His life is turned upside down by the arrival of an old friend on a cycling tour, a PR man who moves in Westminster circles and is on the verge of a peerage, whose seemingly perfect life seems to contrast with his. The opening sets the scene in a sleepy village before the aging former war correspondent finds himself hiding under his café table at the sound of guns being fired – but it is just hunters firing into the air as part of a traditional festival. The descriptions of the setting in Provence are well-observed and evocative and French references and characters pepper the book. But it is just the start of a story that is going to become much more complicated and eventually drag Lawrence back towards his old life. At a house party Lawrence meets Martin’s mistress, a doctor involved in a charity in Africa, and he ends up being persuaded to go back to the Congo, a place that holds bad memories for him, to film for the charity. Ably-written, the plot twists and turns, revealing past traumas and new ones, themes of media and politics and the titular ‘conflicts of interest’.
A Taste of Paris, David Downie, St. Martin’s Press, $26.99 ISBN: 978-1-250-08293-0 FROM the opening lines it is clear we are in the hands of someone who knows his subject and loves it as he describes how his ‘treasure hunt’ through Parisian gastronomy started in the 1980s as he moved into a chambre de bonne on the seventh floor (with no lift) near the Arc de Triomphe and sought to understand the city’s ‘gastronomic topography’ and how dining there had evolved over the centuries since Roman times. To his younger self the place “exuded an attainable past, a flavourful, redolent history to be studied and consumed”. The fruit of these decades is the topic of this fascinating book, written by an American writer who has lived in the city ever since. His enthusiasm and meaty prose make you want to gobble up the book with its titbits of foodie facts as it goes beneath the surface with plenty of tales about its eateries, food shops and inhabitants’ dining habits. You will learn how, for example, the Romans of Paris loved foie gras from geese fattened with figs (the word foie came from the Latin for ‘fig’, Downie says) or how the first French gastronomic critic, Grimod de la Reynière, used to offer his guests 52 courses with 15 wines, three coffees and 17 liqueurs. Every page has surprising information, such as the fact that, according to 17th century socialite Mme de Sévigné, the royals at Versailles were obsessed with eating peas, then a novelty. She wrote: “The impatience felt waiting to eat them, to have eaten them, and the pleasure of eating them are the three topics on our princes’ tongues.” This is not a conventional guide to eating out – in fact only the last pages specifically concern the modern city, but throughout there are references to famous institutions which still exist, or links made between fashionable food Meccas of the past and modern ones. However, despite fears of restaurants heating up ready-meals (he notes that the fait maison logo is not well-policed and is best used as an ‘icebreaker’ to discuss the cooking with the waiter or chef) he concludes that reports of the death of French cuisine have been greatly exaggerated – you just need to know where to shop and eat, he says.
Maigret’s Anger, Georges Simenon / William Hobson Penguin Classics £7.99 ISBN: 978-0-241-30401-3
LIKE Hergé, Brel, or Poirot, Simenon was a francophone Belgian often wrongly assumed to have been French. However, his creation le commissaire Jules Maigret, one of the great literary detectives, is French, a senior officer in Paris’s police judiciaire which investigates complex or organised crime. This episode, originally from 1963, is part of a plan to produce new translations of all 75 novels about the character. Maigret, a bon vivant known for his pipe smoking, is often found following up leads in the city’s bistrots and brasseries, which is where we find him at the start of this book. Simenon fans love his simple language and attention to detail and the story of this book, which opens with an investigation into a murder, in mysterious circumstances, of a strip club owner from the seedy Pigalle entertainment district, gets straight to the point without literary flourishes. The anger of the title comes after a lack of clues and progress which puts Maigret’s reputation on the line. Worth checking out if you enjoy well put-together police mysteries though the dialogue-led, plot-focused style also means the book is not very introspective or psychological, so you may sometimes feel a little detached from the character.
The enduring linguistic legacy of the Gauls Language notes
iven that the losers never get to write history, it is hardly surprising that there are so few words still used in the French language with origins dating back to the vanquished Gauls. Add to this the fact that the Druids of the time preferred the spoken to written word, and the clutch of 150 or so words in use is small, if perfectly formed. Within 400 years the language was largely redundant. But to which commonly used words do we owe the Gauls a tip of the hat? Naturebased words have stood the test of time... The oak tree and its evergreen lodger mistletoe were sacred to the Druids, and the word chêne is derived from casnus then cassanos, which means twisted or gnarled. (The word Druid itself has origins in the Greek word for oak – dru.)
Naturebased words have stood the test of time
The French word for little stones or pebbles (as used to describe beaches, for instance) is cailloux, which stems from the Gaulois word caljo meaning stone. As do galets (also pebbles) from the Gaulois gallos. The French word for sheep – mouton – resisted the Roman incarnation of the species ovis to survive until today. It comes from the Gaulois word multo. A very pretty sounding Gaulois remnant, so memorably heard in song, is alouette (lark) from alauda. Caesar is said to have recruited some Alpine Gaulois soldiers in 50BC and gave their legion the name ‘Alauda’, which prolonged the word’s resistance to any Latin successor. Finally, a few dirty words – literally. La boue in French means mud, and it can be traced to the Gaulois bawa, which itself stemmed from baw, meaning dirt. Glaise, meaning clay, comes from the Celtic gliso, while suie (soot) has its origins in the Gallo-Roman word suda.
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