French Films and Montreal

There is really no specific connection for me between Montreal and French films. I am here on business. And over the past two weeks at home I have watched another two humanist French films which, not so coincidentally I think, have much in common.

Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud won Cesars for best director and best actor, so its pedigree is sound. It's about a young woman played by a nuanced, and gently beautiful, Emmanuelle Beart who takes a job as an assistant to a retired judge and businessman writing a novel based on his life. Pierre Arnaud (Michel Serrault) is what all men (at least me anyway) hope they will be in their 60s . . . charming, mannered, cultured, gallant, perfectly dressed and, for the most part, gentle.

Needless to say, Pierre quietly and without outward signs falls for Nelly (who is about 30 years his junior). Although Nelly at first has a brief affair with Pierre's editor after divorcing her futile husband, it is evident by the end that she shares his attraction. The stare with which she follows Pierre as he leaves on an extended holiday reveals a depth of feeling that you just know will never be requited.

The ending to the much different La Promesse shares something of the wistfulness of Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud, even though the relationship at its heart is between a 15-year old petty thief and a poor black immigrant woman and her baby. La Promesse (actually a Belgian film) is a gritty, bleak look at a young boy coming of age in industrial Liege. Although the drabness is unrelieved, and there is no love between the boy and the woman, the film ends with the same sense of deep connection between the characters.

The connection between people is, for me, what gives many European films their heart.

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