Friday, January 16, 2015

Theatre and Cinema in Paris

      During my time here in France I've seen two French movies and gone to the theater once. The first film was "La famille Bélier", the story of a deaf family with a daughter who can hear.

She manages interactions with the outside world but, because she has the chance to go to a prestigious singing school in Paris, she has to decide whether or not she can leave. This film, set in the country, gave me a small look into the life of French farmers, and non-Parisians. The movie was very enjoyable, both moving and funny. It showed me a lighter side of French cinema than I'd seen for any of my courses at MIT-- though perhaps less analyzable in a class setting.
     On Wednesday night I went to see the play "Six personnages en quête d'auteur" by Pirandello at Théâtre de la Ville. It's a piece of meta-theatre from the 1920s in which six characters appear at a play rehearsal and demand that their story be told. In the original play, "les personnages" are wearing thick plaster masks, emphasizing the otherness. In this production, "les personnages" were presented as fully human, confusing the real and the imagined.
     Also, during the intro speech by the director (it was opening night), he dedicated the play to those who died in the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and explained that the theatre would provide free copies of the magazine to their audience. He closed by espousing the values of "liberté, égalité, et surtout fraternité". It has been incredible to see the people of France standing in solidarity with each other in response to this attack.
     The other film I saw was "Loin des Hommes", which was loosely based on "l'Hôte" by Albert Camus, set in Algeria.

The scenery was striking to say the least and the whole film was very precisely constructed, with subtle music and good camera work. Viggo Mortensen played an ex-soldier turned school teacher who (in brief) helps a murderer get where he needs to be at the beginning of the Algerian war (1954). The complex relationships between the French (colonisateurs) and the "colonisés" was explored through the story of a Frenchman born in Algeria.
     In general, movies and plays seem to be very similar in the US and in France. One difference is that in Paris, you have to wait until right before the movie starts to enter the theater (my guess is there are less screens total for space efficiency). The movies also seem to be more busy on weeknights in comparison to moviegoing in the US. Going to a play in France was very similar to going to a play in the US, though there were lots more young people in the audience than you might see in the US. The biggest difference was (unsurprisingly) the language. It took a lot more effort to keep up with the plot, but I was surprised by my ability to follow without subtitles. Experiencing French movies and plays has experience (non-touristy) french culture and has made my stay more enjoyable overall.

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