Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Amélie, pinot gris, Bastille Day

Amélie, pinot gris, Bastille. It has a rhythm to it, hasn't it, like the insulting doggerel the slow-witted character Lucien recites to relieve his feelings about his abusive boss -- "Collignon, down the john," the subtitles say -- in the movie Amélie.

In my house we celebrate Bastille Day in a very small way each year by re-watching this wonderful movie, now already -- can it be? -- eleven years old. I like its full French title, Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain. I like to watch it for its weird, busily self-absorbed but enchanting characters, for all the brilliant colors used indoors and out -- Amélie's red apartment! Paris in summer, all blue sky and green trees! -- and of course for its convoluted but still light-as-air comic plot. Will Amélie discover exactly what is going on with the mystery man taking his own picture again and again in public photo booths? Where will the garden gnome vacation next? And then there's l'amour ....

I watched it last night while nibbling a plate of supermarket salsa-and-cilantro herbed cheese and sipping something new: a 2011 King Estate Luminous pinot gris, another rosé for summer. ("Pas mal." Not bad.) Amélie, pinot gris. It's a foodie film, in a way. Amélie fixes nice meals for herself, alone in her apartment. So does her elderly neighbor, the "glass man," whose days are otherwise given over to repainting Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party.  Would solitary characters in an American film be seen to bother about that? (Do solitary Americans bother about that?) Much of the movie takes place in the café where Amélie works, and so we see people enjoying their kirs and coffees, and we see the egg-topped sandwich bouncing on the grill to the rhythm of Georgette and Joseph's vigorous and spontaneous activities in the WC. The Café des 2 Moulins (the Two Windmills) is a real place and, according to the site Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, to this day serves a crème brûlée named for Amélie.

Although of course the French language in the film comes far too fast for me to understand and I rely on subtitles, still I was rather proud of myself last night for actually catching an untranslated foodie phrase. (Each time I watch the film, I grasp something new, even about the light-as-air plot.) Remember when we learned the term sot-l'y-laisse? It literally means "a fool leaves it there" -- in English, we are talking about the oysters of a chicken, the two small nuggets of delicious tender meat nestled into two small depressions of a fowl's lower backbone. The term surfaces in Amélie when the narrator describes the man who roasts a chicken every Sunday, carving it up and savoring especially the sot-l'y-laisse. Upon hearing the words pronounced I might have yelled "Hey, I understood that!" but I controlled myself because the outburst might in turn have startled my  viewing companion. He is sixteen and was already a bit startled by some of what goes on in Amélie's fabuleux imagination.    

Shall we, in honor of Bastille Day and all things French, make a list of more French films we must see? I have my eye on half a dozen, all fairly recent and all taken from Mireille Guiliano's website. She is the lady who leaped from being spokeswoman for Veuve Clicquot and President and CEO of Clicquot, Inc. (LVMH -- Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennessey -- think luxury fashion, wine and spirits, perfume, jewelry, and so on), to being the writer of the 270-page gold mine, French Women Don't Get Fat (first published in 2004). Ah, the cottage industry, or rather no -- make it the hundred-room mansion industry -- of French fantasy-lifestyle self-help books aimed at American women. Yes, we too can be happy, fulfilled, thin, beautiful, relaxed, wise, confident, and utterly scrumptious down to our very souls, if we just learn -- oh -- I don't know what. Je ne sais quoi ... if we learn to dress better, stop counting calories, cook more, stop martyring ourselves hauling the kids to soccer practice and instead shop for the right glass buttons for our vintage silk blouses and then visit the "eccentric" Musée de la Serrure ... the lock museum. No kidding. This last is not from our Mireille but from from Debra Ollivier's Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding her Inner French Girl (2003). She too lives in rooms in the French lifestyle marketing mansion.   

But we had our eye on some more movies. Here they are, to enjoy with your next glass of wine and plate of supermarket cheese. All the thumbnail reviews are from Mireille.
  • Coco avant Chanel, starring Amélie's Audrey Tautou
  •  La graine et le mullet (The Secret of the Grain) "a long film on unusual subject matter that speaks to my generation. It’s about France becoming a melting pot--something most French do not accept well. The many subtle insights resonated with me as I grew up witnessing much of this process. The best part of this film is its women, food and sensuality. You will crave for a great couscous after seeing how the real stuff is prepared. The terrific Hafsia Herzi (Rym) has great potential as an actress and her belly dancing, along with the suspense of the last thirty minutes shows the depth of the filmmaker’s humanism. ...will allow foreigners to get a deeper understanding of French life."
  • Un coeur simple -- "the touching story of a young peasant girl in Normandy who is all kindness and love in spite of all the miseries she endures. Goodness wins over evil any day anywhere. So refreshing." 
  • Le renard et l’enfant (The Fox and the Child) -- "a modest film wherein a fox, a child, and beautiful scenery make for a charming film that is about the unique communication between a female fox and a young human. The child is played by a most stunning ten-year-old girl with freckles, an old-fashioned hairdo, and the voice of an angel."
  • Tous les soleils --  "a romantic comedy which takes place in Alsace especially in delightful Strasbourg with its cinematic canals and lovely gardens. A mix of French and Italian culture with a super actor Stefano Accorsi with the themes of the good life from friendship, affection, music, altruism, family and fantasy and a lovely ending. Only the French can do this and the sensibility of the producer and actors are terrific. A must see."
  • Caramel-- "it's a delightful romantic comedy for any woman."    

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