Paris in Cine-Motion
There’s a first time for everything. This was the first time to have gone to the cinema three nights in a row.
For those of you who are film addicts, this may not be at all unusual, but for someone who usually doesn’t find the time to see even one a month, it was a record. It wasn’t planned — it just happened that way.
You probably think that we have the U.S. to thank for the motion picture, but guess what fellow Americans, it was the Lumière Brothers of France who invented it. Their first films were two minute reels shown to paying audiences in Paris in 1895. Then at the turn of the 20th-century, Charles Pathé, together with his brother, Emile, under the name, Société Pathé Frères, virtually monopolized the industry having made so many films that he was ‘crowned’ the “Napoleon of Film” in France at that time.
Suffering from financial woes after World War I put a damper on the French film industry and French film production decreased. Meanwhile, the U.S. film industry prospered by selling their films cheaply in Europe. To protect their own industry, European countries began to set quotas for imported films — for every seven foreign films imported to France, one French film was to be produced and shown in French cinemas.
This led to a “Nouvelle Vague” (new wave) of young French filmmakers in the late 1950s and 1960s who soon became known as the ‘pioneers’ of French cinema — François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette who laid groundwork for a new surge of concepts coined as “La politique des auteurs” (“The policy of authors”).
The French are avid movie-goers. 2008 was a record year for French cinema abroad, attracting close to 80 million spectators. French film production reached an all-time high last year, and movie attendance rose by 16% against 2007. In 2007, 177.5 million French bought tickets to see a film, but U.S. films took 60% of the market share.
There is no shortage of cinemas in Paris that show “VO” (“Version Original”) films — films in their original language with French subtitles. I can remember during our first months here settling into a seat at the large Pathé Wepler cinema at Place de Clichy being shocked when Lestat de Lioncourt in “Interview with a Vampire” opened his mouth in French, not even realizing there was such a thing as a dubbed film. How naive is that? We quickly left and they were nice enough to refund our money for the tickets.
Since then I’ve learned to ensure the
film is VO before entering and now I read the French subtitles for curiosity. You’d be surprised at how often a ‘positive’ statement in English is coupled with a translation in French that is ‘negative’ — a perfect example of how this culture sees the glass half empty vs half full. For example, a receptionist may say: in English — “Hold on please.” The French translation — “Ne quittez pas, s’il vous plait.”
Most of the theaters that show VO films are in the central parts of the city in major cinema chains. You can count on the UGC, Gaumont and MK2 cinemas on the Champse-Elysées, at Montparnasse, Odéon, Bastille, Les Halles and Opéra to show American-made films in English. Some theaters are decidedly better than others and I often wish I had made a critical review of which have the best seats, best view, easiest box office, best refreshment stand…etc.
After standing in line for 15 minutes to get an “Orangina,” the inefficiency of the refreshment stand system was making itself more obvious by the moment. When returning to my seat, now after the pre-film advertising was well underway, my American friend, even after living here more than 30 years, remarked without encouragement, “I know. The inefficiency makes you crazy, right? Wouldn’t you just love to teach them how to do it better, faster?”
But they don’t seem to care. The seats are all filled. The French don’t seem to think the habit of turning up the lights then lowering them again between the advertising and the film starting is anything unusual while our Americans pupil dilation is going haywire. No one talks during the advertising or the film (isn’t that refreshing?). At the end of the film, if they’ve enjoyed it, they applaud.
So, you want to know what films I saw, three nights in a row?
1. Gran Torino at the UGC Normandie on the Champs-Elysées,
2. Harvey Milk at the Majestic Bastille,
3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at the Gaumont Opéra.
And my opinion?…
1. Clint Eastwood’s best performance ever (took him long enough!), cushy theater with bad refreshment stand and overpriced — typical Champs-Elysées inflated prices, but exit down dark corridor out onto back street so you don’t have a clue where you are.2. Sean Penn brilliant as a gay man, reminding me of openly gay Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë (with a manor like a cousin who lives in San Francisco), best theater ever (except for chaos upon entering) with a large curved screen and very steep seating so there’s not a single bad seat in the house (plus now there’s a Planet Sushi just next door).3. Curious and bordering on ridiculous, especially when young/old decrepit Brad Pitt turns into Mr. Stud on his motorcycle in Ray Bans, but loved scenes of New Orleans Garden District, theater under renovation so chaotic and disorganized, too.
Do I go to French films? Hey — I’m lucky I got to see these!
Editor, Parler Paris
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