La Grande Accident: 4 French Films in 2 Weeks

Poster slices from: A Slightly Pregnant Man, PlayTime, The Phantom of Liberty, Breathless
Out of the blue I took a trip to 1960ish Paris over the past two weeks. Who knew Paris in March was so brilliant? Of course my means of travel wasn't a flux-capacitated delorean or Rufus loaned phone booth, but Blu-ray and DVD. Completely without design I watch four films over since FWOAC 109 hit the web and it has been the best coincidence of my film watching life. With varying levels of greatness, over the last 16 days I've watched:

  1. A Slightly Pregnant Man (Jacques Demy)
  2. PlayTime (Jacques Tati)
  3. The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Bunuel)
  4. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard)
Now Jaocb and I rundown a biweekly film adventure segment on the podcast, but these films are too unique and masterfully made to give each only 30 seconds on the show, so I had to post. Without question this run of films has been the best sequence of films I have watched completely uninitiated. Before dropping the digital need on each, I knew nothing about plots or theme of any of the four except for seeing a few stills and reputation.

First, A Slightly Pregnant Man. Jacob and I give this film the Criteri-What?!? treatment on FWOAC 110, so I'll skip it here. Although I will say is one of the more calmly delivered spoofs I've seen in a while. Looking forward to checking out more from Jacques Demy in the near future...

Second, Playtime. After enrolling in a trial Netflix DVD subscription I decided my first film should be something fun, ineffable, and something that always intrigued me due to its production rep. In college I took a screenwriting course and I still remember Professor Zimmerman talking about the necessity of plot and story arc, "that is unless you're Jacques Tati and you're making Playtime." Having never seen it on a Family Video shelf, I had to check it out tout suite. Allow me to drop my thoughts from my Letterboxd review.
"This film is without question a comedic masterpiece. What seems so forgotten in modern comedy is alive in spades here; style and production. The mise-en-scène of practically every shot and beat in PlayTime are unparalleled in my viewing experience. The performances, while quite good, are almost an afterthought next to the sheer impossibility of the staging, timing, direction, cinematography, and ballet like choreography and elegance of this film. After a few more viewings -on much larger screens- this might end up being my favorite film of all time."
Next, The Phantom of Liberty. Imagine "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" without the slapstick spoofery. That's Luis Bunuel's Phantom.

Is Phantom a great film? Maybe not, but certainly is something interesting and a unique storytelling approach. The thing is Bunuel is a historically great filmmaker, won Oscars for his films, and as you can tell from watching Phantom he didn't back down from interesting ways to tell films.

Finally, the first film from French New-Wave filmmaking legend Jean-Luc Godard, Breathless. I won't post a trailer because if you don't know the story, I think you're better suited viewing the film with only trace knowledge. I will however post the full score as it has immediately become my all-time favorite.

Beyond the score, I will say Breathless has one of my favorite one-liners of all time. When the female lead Patricia (played by Marshalltown, Iowa's own Jean Seberg) asks an author (played by Jean-Pierre Melville!) what his greatest ambition is his response is the profound "To become immortal, then die." If you do wish to know more, I did write a rather lengthy entry on Breathless over on Letterboxd.

As you can tell I'm finally making good on my resolution to watch more classic cinema and foreign films. It just so happens I've started my cinematic adventures with a sojourn in France, and my trip Parisian respite has two films to go. Waiting for me at home are two more French classics, Le Rififi and Le Samurai. I doubt I'll write up a long post about my affection for these classics, but you never know...

Patrick Boberg is an avid film fan, a part time film director and co-founder of FWOAC. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.