30 October 2019

Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache's Intouchables | Untouchable (2011)

In spite of the profound differences between the two films, Intouchables (directed by Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache) kept reminding me of Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, and has at least a few similarities: something to do with a black villain turned good guy or something, I suppose. This film was inspired by a true story: the relationship between the tetraplegic Philippe Pozzo di Borgo (author of the book Le Second Souffle) and his home help Abdel Yasmin Sellou. Here, the rich Philippe (François Cluzet) and the improbable ex-con as home help Driss (Omar Sy) try to understand each other, although of course all the elements are set up here for two completely incompatible individuals just not getting on.

The reverse applies though, and both Philippe and Driss are due for an important education about other cultures and classes. At first overawed by his new situation in a house of a rich person and all the trappings that come with it, Driss takes a little time to adjust and accept the responsibility he now has, and it's not too difficult to imagine why it's been so popular in the US – black guy from the projects suddenly hoisted into an Upper East Side standard of living as a comparison, for instance.

It's not so much the cultural gap itself that's important here, but what two men from different cultures can learn from each other. Philippe comes to learn what the excitement of living on the edge can be, how soothing a few blasts from a spliff can be, how stimulating the world of popular music can be, in a word exactly how much this apparently no-hoper can teach him. And what does Driss learn, apart from the difficulties of paraplegics and how they too can enjoy a sex life, if much removed from the norm? Plus travel on a (private) plane and hang-gliding? Far, far more. At the end of his contract, Driss shows he knows what an alexandrine is, and at a glance can recognise a Dali painting, for example. Maybe on the surface not a lot, but then things can and no doubt will escalate.

Philippe and Driss are highly unusual friends, and of course the reality has been highly exaggerated. My version of the DVD has English subtitles I can't switch off, but maybe that's not such a bad thing: Georges Marchais, for instance, is mentioned in the original but his name is changed to a more recognisable (American) one in the subtitles, although I forget who. I know that when we read a book in French we're not at all reading the same book that people are reading in translation, but I'm reminded that subtitlers of films play a similar game.

Intouchables is a piece of fluff, full of completely unbelievable actions, with no pretensions to be a great film, but so what? It's still highly enjoyable cinema that doesn't insult anyone's intelligence.

29 October 2019

Agnès Varda's Sans toit ni loi | Vagabond (2008)

Agnès Varda's Sans toit ni loi – unsurprisingly – is abysmally translated into English as Vagabond. This film is based on truth in that it concerns a young woman who was sans toit ni loi – literally without a roof and without law, and an expression punning on the expression sans foi ni loi, roof replacing faith.

Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) is the principal character here, many of the others being non-professionals. This can't be called a documentary, nor even a biopic: very little is known of the dead young woman, other than that she drifted around places, walking or hitching, having sex with the odd person she came across, occasionally finding the odd job and mixing with marginals or agricultural workers, drinking, smoking pot, often acting contrary to the norms of mainstream society.

Not that she made specific criticisms of or actions against society – she said very little at all – but she was, dare I use the word, an outsider par excellence. Her roof was temporary, being her tent which she pitched – camping sauvage – in any place she found she found suitable, including a cemetery.

Death – the same one – begins and ends this story. And it's from here that Varda begins her story, which is inevitably false but with some truths, many culled from the people who knew her, in so far as it was possible to know her.

28 October 2019

Philippe Claudel's Il y a longtemps que je t'aime | I've loved you for so long (2008)

Philippe Claudel's first-directed film Il y a longtemps que je t'aime is translated literally as I've loved you for so long, but what's lost in translation is the fact that this is the first line of the chorus of a very well known nursery song. What else can I say about the film? That it's about a woman, medical doctor Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas), who's just been released from prison after a fifteen-year sentence, although we don't know why. Her sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) knows why, and she warmly greets Juliette into the home she shares with two adopted Asian children, her dumb father-in-law and her husband Luc (Serge Hazanavicius), who also knows why, and is initially cold to Juliette.

We come to learn what Juliette's crime is when she tells a potential employer that she murdered her six-year-old son. The man's reaction is to tell her to 'piss off', which is a reaction that was perhaps to be expected. The big question, of course, is why she killed her son, which certainly neither Léa nor Luc know, although Léa continues to encourage her coming back to life, and Luc very much warms to her as she loses her frosty exterior.

She finds a job as a secretary in a hospital, although her boss gently asks her to be a little less distanced from her work colleagues, although of course he understands. She calmly (but obviously in anger) asks him what exactly does he understand. And there we have the central problem: what, for that matter, does the viewer understand after he or she knows the truth?

Juliette's son Pierre had a fatal illness and she realised that he was increasingly in greater pain as the illness progressed: she felt compelled to end his misery, and so gave him a lethal injection: in other words she did the one thing a loving mother could only do under the circumstances. And she said nothing in court, nothing in her defence. Let's be honest: for this act of compassion, for this act of – yes, for this act of love – she tortures herself in prison for fifteen years, she is stripped of her doctoral qualifications, she causes tremendous anguish to her sister and her mother (now stricken by Alzheimer's), for what exactly? So Juliette can play at martyrdom, and in so doing hurt even more people?

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime is finely acted, it has some very moving moments, but I'm sure I'm not the only one to have felt mindlessly cheated by this melodramatic tear-jerker, this hopelessly unbelievable film which collapses so bizarrely in on itself. Charity shop fodder.

Jacque Chardonne: Les Varais (1929)

The novel Les Varais refers not to a family of that name but to a property in Charente, where the whole of this novel is set, and which is where Chardonne spent his childhood. He is the son of the writer Pierre-Henri Simon and was noted for his extreme right-wing views, although none of them appear in this early novel. Chardonne dedicates the novel to Maurice Delamain, also born in Barbezieux.

Les Varais was once buildings and vineyards but the owner Devermont turned the place into a dairy farm with bang up-to-date machinery. His son Frédéric is unmarried until he's about thirty, when he starts being interested in the elusive Marie who lives with her father not too far away, although she is very aloof and hardly seems interested in men. However, when she meets Frédéric she finds him different from other men she's encountered. So they marry and live happily in Les Varais, where Devermont is pleased that her father has a prosperous wine trade.

But years later things go drastically wrong: the manager Condé says the banker Ladvèze wants to see him, and his words are very strong. Les Varais is losing money fast, which the banker puts down to Devermont and all his new machinery, and says there's really no choice: unless Frédéric takes over the business it will collapse. Unfortunately, Devermont will not listen to this and Frédéric must continue to take more money from Marie's inheritance to make good the loss.

But it doesn't make good the loss and the dairy continues to lose huge amounts of money. The accountant's figures seem to make perfect sense from what Frédéric can tell. Unlike other people though he doesn't suspect Condé of stealing huge amounts from the farm. The result is that Frédéric becomes a morose, angry and almost mad man: not the shadow of the man she married. And the married couple wilt away.

27 October 2019

Guillaume Canet's Les Petits Mouchoirs (2010)

Unlike American cinema, the French movie world isn't exactly overrun by films de potes, or buddy movies. But then, Guillaume Canet did spend a little time in the States, he's obviously influenced by American directors, and there isn't a single background song that doesn't have English words. But this is still a very French film.

Friends Max (François Cluzet) and his wife Véronique (Valérie Bonneton), Ludo (Jean Dujardin), Marie (Marion Cotillard), Vincent (Benoît Magimel) and his wife Juliette (Anne Marivin), Eric (Gilles Lellouche) and others go every year for two weeks to rich Max's holiday home in Cap Ferrat. But this year a terrible accident has happened: on leaving a night club in the early hours of the morning Ludo went though a red light, a lorry hit him and he is now in intensive care. The friends discuss if it is morally justifiable to leave for a good time, with Marie (once a lover of Ludo's) being very dubious. But they take off all the same.

The title – which as usual doesn't quite hit the right spot in English translation – refers to the secrets we all keep hidden under wraps. Even before they leave though Vincent confesses to Max that he likes his hands, and even (although, er, he's not gay at all) that he's in love with him. Very bad move: Max is exaggeratedly homophobic, and this will lead to catastrophe.

Even though Ludo isn't there he is there in the minds of the friends, and sometimes anger rises to the surface, although of course we know that this may well be caused by the petits mouchoirs. Juliette keeps hers to herself, although he see her – obviously sexually frustrated – looking at the internet for sexual release. But they (sometimes guiltily of course) enjoy themselves a great deal, waterskiing, drinking endlessly, laughing at videos of themselves from previous years. Apart from the older Max, the friends are chronologically late thirties, early forties, but their behaviour verges on the adolescent. Apart, again, from the outsider of the group, neighbour Jean-Louis (Joel Dupuch) who is the non-professional actor who is a real-life oyster farmer.

The big fireworks come when Max's (whose behaviour is almost inevitably bad) more or less calls Vincent a pédé (queer), with the result that Vincent thumps he in the face, packs the family's bags and away they go.

The next day is Jean-Louis's big moment to yell at the assembled company: there they are acting like nothing is important, while he's phoned the hospital and discovered Ludo died that morning. Time for big sobs, time for guilt big time. This short summary doesn't do this brilliant psychological film much justice, but I tried.

Claude Sautet's Mado (1976)

Claude Sautet's Mado came out in 1976, at the end of Les Trente Glorieuses: from the rebuilding of Europe after the war, when French (along with most of Europe) had seen large economic growth, greater general wealth, and had an optimistic outlook. Then the oil crisis spelled a slowing down of the party, and this is seen in the unemployment in the film (Alex and Pierre at the beginning), girls feeling forced to prostitute themselves to survive (such as Mado (Ottavia Piccolo) herself), and a pessimistic outlook.

But the threatened failure of the property business of Simon (Michel Piccoli) is not due to the economic outlook of the time, but to his partner being duped by the crook Lépidon (Julien Guiomar) and putting a bullet through his head.

So now Simon has more problems than before: he's tried marriage twice, but being incapable of liking themself, how can he be suited to live with another woman? He is finishing his relationship with Hélène (Romy Schneider) but seems to be over-affectionate towards Mado, whom he uses for paid sex but would obviously prefer a lasting relationship. Mado too is friends with Alex and Pierre (who becomes Simon's chauffeur). And in fact it is Mado who will pull Simon out of the economic mess he's in, but at the expense of the life of Reynald Manecca (Charles Denner), the main man in Mado's life, whom she doesn't charge for sex, but who started out as a cleint.

In spite of the gloom everyone washes his or her sorrows in alcohol: Alex, Pierre and their friends in the local bar; at the beginning the property executives enjoying the highly expensive Château Margaux 1947; the generally frequent drinking. And at the end – in two bizarre and almost surreal sequences – everyone (apart from Lépidon's mob of course) takes refuge from the rain at a very alcoholic private party in a bar, and leaving it they take the wrong road, end up stuck in the mud and continue the celebrations with drink stashed in a boot of ones the cars, warming themselves over a makeshift fire. But the last scene is shot around Hélène apparently entering a detox clinic.

Patrice Leconte's La Fille sur le pont | The Girl on the Bridge (1999)

Starring Vanessa Paradis (as Adèle) and Daniel Auteuil (as Gabor), La Fille sur le pont is partly a thriller, partly a weird, very off-centre love story. Adèle is a troubled girl with a troubled history who is about to jump off a bridge. Gabor comes along and tries is save her, but she jumps anyway, he follows her and saves her anyway.

Gabor is a knife thrower, the man who throws knives at girls and whose skill means he misses: well, almost always. What has Adèle to lose but have knives thrown at her as they both make lots of money, visit different countries and live a life on the edge: the edge of a knife blade.

This is a very odd film, revealing a strange attraction in which Gabor's phallic blades must always miss, in which Adèle's fear seems to be mixed with the thrill – almost – of orgasm. Not that there's any sex between them though, although they seems jealous of each other when seen in an amorous act with another person.

This is a film of chance, winners and losers, a magic-filled fantasy in which the viewer too is on the edge. Eventually Adèle leaves a liner where they're performing, takes a lifeboat on a whim with a man she steals from his wife. And the wife continues the act on the boat as the woman Gabor throws knives at, until a knife pierces her leg.

And Gabor is washed up on the shore of his own existence, living in poverty until he is the one waiting to jump from the bridge. Until Adèle comes along that is. The wheel has come full circle.

26 October 2019

Raw Vision, Autumn 2019

This is the first time I've bought a copy of Raw Vision, and quite fascinating it is. Under the title is 'OUTSIDER ART BRUT': 'art brut' I''m happy with, although 'Outsider art' as an expression poses many problems, such as: What does it mean? Who is to be included and who excluded? Since Roger Cardinal coined the term in 1972 it seems increasingly meaningless as a translation of 'art brut'. But then I'm not at all happy with the word 'raw' as a translation of brut, which makes it sound like a piece of meat or a vegetable. All the same, the Anglophone world is used to the term 'outsider' in this context, so I guess it will still hang around for some time.

This autumn 2019 issue is devoted to, ahem, 'Women in Outsider Art' and includes a large section (including the front cover) on the work of Danielle Jacqui whose Maison de celle qui peint we were fortunate enough to visit in Roquevaire several months ago. Also included in separate articles are Marie Von Bruenchenhein, her husband Eugene's muse; Anne Marie Grgich and her painted books; Sister Gertrude Moragan's religious paintings; recently discovered embroideries of Madge Gill; Ody Saban and kus; Lee Godie and self-portraits (often with writing; Olga Frantskevich's rugs of war atrocities; and a paragraph (picture) of fifty women artists.

Art brut (Outsider Art) and associated:
Rémy Callot, Carvin (Nord)
Carine Fol (ed.): L'Art brut en question | Outsider Art in Question
Kevin Duffy, Ashton-in-Makerfield
The Art Brut of Léopold Truc, Cabrières d'Avignon (34)
Le Musée Extraordinaire de Georges Mazoyer, Ansouis (34)
Le Facteur Cheval's Palais Idéal, Hauterives (26)
The Little Chapel, Guernsey
Museum of Appalachia, Norris, Clinton, Tennessee
Ed Leedskalnin in Homestead, Florida
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Street Art City, Lurcy-Lévis, Allier (03)
The Outsider Art of Jean Linard, Neuvy-deux-Clochers (18)
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
The Art of Theodore Major
Edward Gorey's Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, MA
Marcel Vinsard in Pontcharra, Isère (38)
Carine Fol (ed.): Outsider Art in Question
Vincent Capt: Écrivainer : La langue morcelée de Samuel Daiber
The Amazing World of Danielle Jacqui, Roquevaire (13)
Alphonse Gurlie, Maisonneuve (07)
Univers du poète ferrailleur, Lizio, Morbihan
Les Rochers sculptés de L'Abbé Fouré, Rothéneuf, Saint-Malo
Robert Tatin in Cossé-le-Vivien, Mayenne
René Raoul's Jardin de pierre in Pléhédel, Côtes d'Armor
La Demeure du Chaos, Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d'Or, Rhône (69)
Emmanuel Arredondo in Varennes Vauzelles, Nièvre (58)
Musée de la Luna Rossa (revisited), Caen, Calvados (14)
La Fontaine de Château-Chinon, Nièvre (58)

23 October 2019

Francis Veber's Le Dîner de cons | The Dinner Game (1998)

François Pignon (or François Perrin) is a frequently changing character in a number of French films, and has been so on and off since the first cinematic one: Jacques Brel in L'Emmerdeur (1973).  The screenplay writer, Francis Veber, also directed Le Dîner de cons: coyly called The Diner Game in English to avoid the translation of con, which I'd translate as something similar to 'twat'. The film was initially a play, also starring the superb con Jacques Villeret as Pignon, and has been something of a cult film for many years: even Gauvin Sers mentions as one of his conditions for a future girlfriend that she isn't annoyed by him launching into quotations from the film. And there are certainly many quotable moments.

I'm not about to go into the plot, which is very convoluted, but I shall simply mention the basic idea and a few memorable moments. Pierre Brochant (Therry Lhermite) is a wealthy publisher and not an altogether pleasant individual to be honest:  how can he be when he's part of a Wednesday evening group of his friends who meet with a con who expounds on his passionate hobby, such as flying boomerangs or even (perhaps) collecting soup ladles? After this dîner de cons, the friends decide on who won by bringing the biggest con.

Pierre hasn't found a con for the week, although a chance encounter of a friend of his leads to the friend enthusing over a solid gold one: François Pignon builds models of famous buildings – such as the Tour Eiffel, San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, Le Pont de Tancarville and so on, with matchsticks, and he knows all about the exact angle they should be placed at.

One of the dialogues most treasured by devotees is where Pignon is encouraged to ring Juste Leblanc (Francis Huster) posing as a Belgian director wanting to set to the big screen the (very bad) novel he wrote with his ex-companion Christine (Alexandra Vandernoot), who ran off with Pierre and now appears to have run from Pierre (perhaps back to Juste), asking to speak to the co-author, meaning that he wants to speak to Christine. To repeat, Leblanc is 'Juste' Leblanc, by which the con understands 'just', meaning he hasn't a first name, but it takes a while for it to sink in: what do you expect from a con? Later, Pignon will have the same misunderstanding with Pierre's mistress, who is called Marlène Sasseur, although from 'Sasseur' Pignon understands 'sa soeur', Pierre's sister.

Eventually, after many more twists, Pignon manages to effect a probable reconciliation between Christine and Pierre, showing that's he's not quite the con we've been led to believe.... oh, or is he? A film that's very difficult not to love, even if it might not be the most politically correct ever made – but then was it part of the backlash?

22 October 2019

Patrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire (1989)

Patrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire is the second filmed version of George Simenon's Les Fiançailles de Monsieur Hire (1933), the first being Julien Duvivier's Panique (1946), although that film wasn't as faithful to the book as this is. To some, this movie – perhaps like most Leconte movies in general – might seem a little slow, a little encumbered by long shots, but that is how Leconte does it, lingering lovingly over the sensations of the characters, allowing the audience not only to favour the moments gently, but also to speculate on the psychology of the characters.

From the opening scenes we know that a girl in her early twenties has been murdered, although not the motive. We also know the Inspector (André Wilms) dealing with the case, and that he strongly suspects Monsieur Hire (not his real name, but a changed one) and wonders why Hire (Michel Blanc) is so detested. For detested he is: children bang on his door out of mischief, his neighbours stare at his behind his back, his gets flour bombs thrown at him, etc.

Monsieur Hire is also very odd: he not only dresses impeccably to go to his tailoring business, but he keeps rats in a cage and when one dies he wraps it up in scrap tailoring material and throws it in the river. To counteract his negative aspects, he has numerous tenpin bowling trophies, a sport at which he's recognised as a star, someone who can make a strike blindfolded.

But then again there's definitely something very creepy, very unsavoury about him because he spends hour after hour watching Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire), the girl in the opposite flat, watching her every movement, the way she irons, the way she undresses, the way she makes love to her boyfriend Émile (Éric Thuillier). She wants to marry Émile, and then notices Hire watching her, becomes obsessed by it.

But she appears not to dislike Hire's voyeurism, even seems to be enjoying it, she visits Hire, invites him out for a meal. She comes to learn of his voyeuristic habits, even learns that he is sick of paying for sex, that Hire loves her. Can she possibly be in love with Hire, this much older weird man, a man she discovers has seen Émile kill the young girl? Hire comes to believe it, and the signs she shows would suggest that too, the ecstatic (?) expressions (unseen by Hire) she makes when he touches her lovingly during public events. But surely this is just a mask, a make-believe, surely she is merely entrapping Hire?

As the net moves in closer on Hire he plans to go away with her, frees his rats, packs his bag at waits at the station. But she doesn't come and he returns home to find the Inspector with Alice: the murdered girl's bag has been found in his wardrobe – all the time Alice was playing a double game and her planting of the bag seals the frame-up and the bizarre Hire must be guilty. Hire escapes via the rooftops but falls to his death. Only afterwards does the Inspector discover that all along Hire had been innocent – he has left the proof in a locker.

Monsieur Hire is not only a thriller, not only a crime story, but a festival of the senses and proof of what an amazing film maker Patrice Leconte is.

Patrice Leconte's L'Homme du train | The Man on the Train (2002)

Patrice Leconte's L'Homme du train has only two characters of note: Manesquier (Jean Rochefort) and Milan (Johnny Hallyday). On the surface they couldn't be more different from each other – Manesquier is a taciturn, scarcely educated bank robber with brusque manners, whereas Milan is a retired French school teacher interested in poetry and playing the piano.

But from these highly improbable details stems a brief but hugely powerful bromance. Manesquier enters town (in reality Annonay, although it isn't mentioned) in the evening when everywhere's shutting down and he buys some aspirins for his headache. Milan is just leaving the shop and knows that no hotels are open that time of year, so puts Manesquier up for the night, and has lunch with him the next day and so on for a few days.

Milan knows that Manesquier has come to raid the bank, but far from being annoyed is exited. When Manesquier isn't there he tries on his leather, fringed jacket, trying out Western expressions, and is well aware that his guest has guns with him. His wish is to try using a gun himself, try to knock tin cans down, and in the budding relationship Manesquier is only too willing to allow him to do so. In effect he is trying on the role of the man he would like to have been.

Meanwhile a similar transformation is taking place in Manesquier too: on hearing Milan give a young boy a private lesson, which is on Paul-Jean Toulet's poem 'En Arles', when the boy has left, he asks why the poet says 'Prends garde à douceur des choses', which he finds an odd expression. And later he asks about a line of poetry he knows: 'Sur le Pont Neuf j'ai rencontré', which is in fact the first line of a poem by Aragon, and Milan continues it for him. Even more tellingly, Milan isn't in when his private lesson pupil calls so Manesquier holds the book in question, which is Balzac's Eugénie Grandet – even though he knows nothing about it – and asks the boy questions on the story, what it is about: remarkably, it is evident from the nature of the questions that Manesquier would have made an extremely good teacher if his life hadn't gone the other way.

In an awesome kind of ballet of death – on the Saturday of the bank robbery the two men part company, Milan going to an important hospital operation – the robbery and the operation are constantly juxtaposed, as if each takes place at the exact time. And both men die at the same time, although they both come alive again for a few moments. They, or their souls, cross the street barely noticing one another, Milan takes his place on the train for Manesquier's return journey, and Manesquier goes to Milan's house to try out the piano. Spellbinding.

21 October 2019

Claude Chabrol's Les Innocents aux mains sales | Innocents with Dirty Hands (1975)

Claude Chabrol is of course another auteur of nouvelle vague cinema, generally thought to have been much influenced by Hitchcock, although he claimed that Fritz Lang was a bigger one. Here though we can see the hand of the master Hitchcock in Chabrol's work. This is a dark thriller with a number of twists and changing allegiances in it, the cops providing most of any humour there is, although these are clever rather than bungling cops.

The movie begins on a light note, with neighbour and writer Jeff Marle flying a kite near Draguignan (Var), which lands right on the ass of Julie Wormster (Romy Schneider), who is sunbathing naked on her back lawn, her husband Louis being absent at the time. Jeff timidly opens his mouth and Julie tells him to get it, which he does and then she asks provocatively him if there's anything else he wants. Cut.

Jeff becomes friendly with Julie and Louis, although we can see there's tension between the married couple because Louis is a hopeless whisky drinker, and when he staggers off to bed Jeff and Julie have passionate sex on the carpet. Soon the lovers form a murderous pact: Julie will club her drunken husband to death, Jeff will cart the body off to his boat and dump him in the sea. Julie, of course, will draw Louis's money from the bank.

So the cops question Julie, who is only too ready to provide an alibi for Jeff, who was far away driving the car Louis had 'given permission' for him to drive. She also remarks that her husband may have fallen overboard as he has a bad heart. Trouble is, the cops can't find a drowned body, blood found on the boat belongs to Jeff not Louis, and the car Jeff was supposedly driving went off a cliff. Furthermore, Julie walks right into it by going to the bank and enquires about her husband's money, and he's emptied the account. Furthermore, his doctor reveals that he has no heart problems.

There are of course more twists before we discover that both Louis and Jeff are alive. The dénouement comes thick and fast.

François Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianiste | Shoot the Pianist (1960)

Tirez sur le pianiste wasn't the first of the nouvelle vague films, but it was certainly one of them, if one of the most influential. And an innovation is that it, although of course influenced by American cinema (B movies and noir), it is a mixture of genres: film noir, love story, gangster, even a bit of (subdued) comedy. The main characters are Charlie Kohler/Édouard Saroyan (Charles Aznavour), Léna (Marie Dubois), Thérèse Saroyan (Nicole Berger) and Clarisse (Michèle Mercier), and the main themes in a way could be said to be women (or womanhood) and shyness.

The mood is set when Charlie's brother Chico, pursued by gangsters, runs into a lamp post and wounds his head. He then seeks out Charlie who's working as a pianist in a dive bar. And here we have the absurd blending in, with Boby Lapointe singing incomprehensible words (for those unfamiliar with him) from both his songs 'Marcelle' and 'Framboise', the second to cover up for Charlie as he deals with his brother's problems.

Charlie occasionally has a free ride with his prostitute neighbour Clarisse, who represents the sensual side of a relationship. But it's Léna (the representative of romantic love) who knows about Charlie's true identity, who is aware of his being a classical pianist previously, but who receded into anonymity after his wife tragically killed herself. She wants Charlie to go back to the true performer he was but he has problems with his timidity, and tries to overcome it by buying secondhand books on it.

Slowly they become a couple, but in a crazy twist he kills the jealous Plyne in self defence and is taken by Léna to the chalet where Chico is holed out. But the bungling gangsters come, Léna is killed in the snow in a scene pre-figuring La Sirène du Mississippi, and Charlie is again left to a fate of playing mechanically in the dive bar, his expressionless face ironically expressing a great deal. A classic haunting film with haunting music, one of Truffaut's more remarkable in spite of its underrated ranking.

Patrice Leconte's Le Parfum d'Yvonne | The Perfume of Yvonne (1994)

There are three main characters in Patrice Leconte's Le Parfum d'Yvonne, which is based on Patrick Modiano's novel Villa Triste: Count Victor Chmara (Hyppolyte Girardot), Yvonne Jacquet (Sandra Majani) and Doctor René Meinthe (Jean-Pierre Marielle). The story is told historically from Victor's point of view, with many long flashbacks to 1958, when he was some years younger and dodging conscription to the Algerian war by moving to an area around Lake Leman, living in hotels and boarding houses. He looks back to the time when his life was turned upside down by the lovely young budding actor Yvonne, when both of them were driven locally to various places by René, the ageing and openly homosexual man who is slightly mad, given to fits of rage in which he calls himself 'La Reine des Belges'.

Le Parfum d'Yvonne is a sensual, dreamy fantasy-cum-reality in which all is not as it seems: 'Victor', to start with, is not a count but a man living under an assumed identity; and as his love affair with Yvonne becomes more intense, his intention being to make his lover a star in the USA, she abruptly ends the relationship without a word. And the flamboyant René is not as happy as it may at first appear: Aznavour's 'Sa jeunesse' reminds him far too much of the little time he has to live, and angers him when he hears it sung.

Early in the film Yvonne (who has a Dalmatian dog) tells Victor that these dogs are prone to suicide. If this is true or not I'm unsure, although it's certainly true that about a quarter of Dalmatians suffer from an excess of uric acid, an active chemical in human depression. Patrice Leconte seems to be obsessed with suicide: not only did he direct the animated film Le Magasin des suicides, but suicide appears in several of his other films, such as Le Mari de la coiffeuse, Monsieur Hire and La Femme sur le pont. Le Parfum d'Yvonne ends dramatically in René deliberately driving through a fence, the car toppling down a cliff and bursting into flames.

20 October 2019

François Truffaut's Les Quatre Cents coups | The 400 blows (1960)

In the vanguard of the nouvelle vague cinema mentioned below in Godard's film À bout de souffle, Les Quatre Cents coups was the first of the films starring Jean-Pierre Léaud in François Truffaut's Antoine Doinel saga, which was followed by the twenty-minute short Antoine et Colette (1962), and then the feature length films Baisers volés (1968), Domicile conjugal (1970) and L'Amour en fuite (1979).

In large part autobiographical, Les Quatre Cents coups (in spite of its very weird English translation) is a reference to leading a wild life: Antoine is brought up in a rather run-down flat with dysfunctional parents (his mother is far from motherly and is having an affair), his school is run on painfully traditional lines where learning by rote is the order of the day, and the main person he relates to is Rémy, his schoolmate who lives in rather more fortunate circumstances, but has a rebellious nature that chimes with Antoine's.

Antoine plays truant, indulges in petty theft, has a healthy disrespect for authority, sleeps out in Paris one day, lies to his French teacher that his mother has died, visits the cinema as much as he can, tells the truth when he says he's learned a Balzac passage by heart but is disbelieved by his French teacher. And finally he steals a typewriter but is discovered in the act of returning it and is denounced by his father. His punishment: ending up, at thirteen years of age, in a military-style youth centre, from which he escapes, runs, runs, until he reaches the sea and...what next? To be continued.

Bernard Eschasseriaux: Les Dimanches de Ville-d'Avray (1958)

Bernard Eschasseriaux's Les Dimanches de Ville-d'Avray has many differences from the highly successful cult film directed by Serge Bourguignon and starring Hardy Krüger as Pierre and Patricia Gozzi as Françoise. It wasn't seen as controversial in the far more innocent days of the film and book, although today it would smack of paedophilia, highly suspect as it concerns a relationship between a thirty-year-old-man and an eleven-year-old girl. Sort of, although the man is really a child himself.

Pierre meets the girl with her father at the train station at Ville-d'Avray when the father asks him the way to the 'Les Dames de Sainte-Maguerite' institution, where he is taking her: the child has been born 'out of wedlock', the couple live separately, and the Françoise hardly knows her father. Pierre secretly follows the couple until the father leaves her with the nuns but is then killed in a hit-and-run-accident, whereupon Pierre takes him to a wood and buries him.

This of course is mighty odd behaviour, but then Pierre has been (and in fact still is, although he doesn't know it) involved with a group of criminals, had a bad fall in one of their exploits and has lost all memory of his past. Involved in this is Mado, a prostitute who has taken Pierre in, terrified that he will behave inappropriately, that he will (accidentally) reveal more than he should.

Pierre is fascinated by Françoise, seeing in her to a certain extent the child that he is: Mado is absent from their home on Sundays, so Pierre spends them with Françoise, who swiftly comes to identify with him as the father she has never had, and (uncomfortably for Pierre and the reader too), sees him as her future husband.

Things become increasingly complicated as the body in the wood is discovered, a safer home for Mado and Pierre is sought out in faraway Provence, although two deaths intervene and Françoise is finally left more alone than ever.

19 October 2019

Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle | Breathless (1960)

Is 'Breathless' the best translation of 'À bout de souffle'? I prefer 'Out of Breath', but there we have it. Whatever the title, this is Jean-Luc Godard's first film, and quite rightly seen as immensely important as an innovation not only in the history of French cinema but the history of cinema tout court. But why?

OK, jump shots, hand-held cameras, lack of studio, often lack of polish or editing, experimentation, etc, but there's more than that here: there's also a question of content. 

This is 1960 and the USA is still living in puritanism. Now, the nouvelle vague directors were influenced by American cinema: a relatively new country culturally versus an old continent: but that new (half-)continent was in part hidebound by minorities who had escaped from persecutions by the old world, so conflict was inevitable. However new and exciting it was, wasn't Hollywood and all that came from it restrained in so many ways? European (especially French) cinema had learned so much from American cinema, but French cinema was opening up a new world to America. He looks in the mirror and sees himself as a kind of Humphrey Bogart, but the film gave birth not just to the obvious Bonnie and Clyde, but to many other American actors such as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson, etc. Thelma and Louise?

 À bout de souffle was, contrary to what title anyone chooses for translation, a breath of life into cinema. Here we have the main character Michel Poiccard (a young Jean-Paul Belmondo), an amoral gangster, almost a psychopath, someone only out for his own end (financially or sexually), a twenty-something who is on the run from something (maybe himself), who casually steals a car (as he casually steals more cars and money too), dreams of escaping to Italy but must first leave Marseilles and get money that Antonio owes him (although we don't know why: who cares?) 

So he takes off for Paris, driving dangerously and is chased by the police, kills one of them, makes it to Paris, robs one of his girlfriends and hides out in the cramped flat another one's living in: Patricia (Jean Seberg), who may be pregnant by him and isn't sure she's in love with him. But it's evident that she's fascinated by him, thrilled by his gangster reality, and she's in effect just as amoral as him. The sketch of Michel meeting her again on the Champs-Élysées, where she's selling the New York Herald Tribune while waiting to go to the Sorbonne, is one of the classic moments of movie history.

But as he waits for the money he's owed to come in, they hide from the police as they move in closer and closer, until Patricia denounces him because she's decided she doesn't love him, or does she? In the street scene as she hears his dying words, with the faux-naïf voice she's used several times previously, she (rather unconvincingly) asks the cops standing over the body what dégueulasse means.

À bout de souffle celebrates its 60th anniversary next year, and apart from the clothing and the cars still look as fresh as when it was first made. It features Jean-Luc Godard himself as the grass, Truffaut was co-scriptwriter, Chabrol was on the technical team, and Jean-Pierre Melville appears in a cameo. Unforgettable, and this film can be watched endlessly.

Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre (2011)

Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's film Le Havre has obviously been compared to Philippe Nioret's Welcome, which also involved illegal immigrants (although in Calais), but as a surreal version of that film. Certainly some of the subjects talked about in the movie – which is almost entirely based in Le Havre, and in the working-class fishing area Saint-François –  veer towards the surreal, as does Commissionnaire Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) giving a pineapple to his friend Claire (Elina Salo), the patronne of La Moderne bar; and so too does the baker Yvette (Evelyne Didi) reading the very sick Arletty (Kati Outinen) to sleep in hospital with a short story by Kafka.

But this is not a tale of the surreal – it's more of a fairy story shot through with (not-too-)noirish elements. One reviewer called it a homage to Marcel Carné's cinema at the time of his collaborations with Jacques Prévert, and this seems to be a fair if slightly-off-target assessment.

Above all, the film harkens back to a time when working-class neighbours helped each other, talked about their problems, and went out of their way to help the underdog, particularly people in a less fortunate situation than themselves. The movie is to some extent – and this too is part of the surrealism – set in a recent but non-specific past, or maybe more accurately in a number of different periods in the past: there's a reference to the immigrant situation in Calais on the television, a handbook dated 2002, but there are a number of cars from different decades, and there is positively no sign at all of a computer or a mobile phone of any period.

The central role is taken by the elderly Marcel Marx (André Wilms) – a former writer now eking out a living as a shoe shiner based in the town. He welcomes into his home the pre-teen Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), who has arrived in Le Havre via a container shipment from Gabon, although unlike the other illegal passengers he has escaped from the French police and now being actively sought, the sinister-looking Commissionnaire Monet heading the search team which is all the time drawing closer to its target.

Idrissa's father is dead but his mother lives in London and he wants to join her. But he must obviously keep out of sight as much as possible, although Marcel's neighbours (including patronne Claire) are fully aware of the situation, and everyone seems to be fully supportive of Idrissa. Finding out where Idrissa's mother lives, Marcel then finds the owner of a small fishing vessel who is willing to smuggle the boy into England for 3000 euros, which of course Marcel doesn't have. But then he thinks of the (real) ageing rock singer from Le Havre, Little Bob: if he could get him to give a come-back benefit performance the boy would be saved.

And, in spite of difficulties, this is what Marcel does, although as soon as he's on the moored boat handing his contact the money, along comes Monet who discovers the 'stowaway'. But – and here's the first miracle – Monet has a heart too and sits on the hatch and dismisses his cop friends: Idrissa is free to go to join his mother. And – another miracle – Marcel's wife Arletty is completely cured.

Yeah, a fairy story which came just a few days before Xmas 2011. Bit players include – in obvious homage to François Truffaut – Jean-Pierre Léaud as the informer. And the improbable doctor by the eighty-something Pierre Étaix.

At the end of the film, Monet accepts Marcel's offer of a drink, and says he'll have a calva (his usual drink). In the background are two bars with significant names: 'Au Retour à la mer' ('Return to the sea') and 'Grand Carrefour' ('Big Crossroad'). One cover of the DVD of Le Havre shows Marcel, Idrissa, Laika the lovable dog, Monet as a black shadow, Marcel's shoeshine equipment – and a pineapple! There was something of a mixed response to this film: the critics loved it, but the public found it painfully slow. I'm on the critics' side: this is a wonderful, and very clever, film.

13 October 2019

Robert Sabatier: La Souris verte (1990)

Marc is a student in Paris living at his father's flat in the 16e, whereas his father is in the provinces living with his second wife Daniéla, who is present at the flat when Marc's life begins to change dramatically, when a girl named Maria comes in with a female partner to give him news of his uncle in Germany.

This is Nazi-occupied Paris, the girl is a German who lives on the Germano-French border, speaks fluent French and is working in Paris as a translator for the Nazis. And gradually the two come to love each other, which of course poses many difficulties: Maria has to keep this from anyone she knows and works with, as does Marc, especially as he is occasionally working with his father in the Resistance.

Suspicion arises on the part of the Nazis, the lovers have to tighten up on their movements, and all the time discovery seems to be creeping closer to them until for no apparent reason Maria is called back to Germany. Heartbreak on Marc's part of course, but soon he's working full time for the maquis under a different, younger name before the Nazis catch up with him. He lives in the hope that peace will soon come and he will be able to join Maria.

Peace of course comes although Maria was killed a year previously in an air raid and Marc is left to the grief of his first aborted true love. A moving story which called to mind André de Richard's La Douleur .

12 October 2019

Gauvain Sers's Les Oubliés (2018)

Gauvin Sers's second album, Les Oubliés, lives up to the expectations suggested in his first album Pourvu. Unusually (for an album or book, etc, surely?) Sers introduces this with a kind of explanation, saying how a second album is notoriously difficult: if he reproduces the same as the first people will just say he's going round in circles, if he branches out into something different they'll say he's lost his way, and so on? So how does this fare?

There's a similar concern with lists: the conditions and/or objects in 'Pourvu' and 'Dans mes poches' in the last album give way to the number of past treasures stored in 'La Boîte à chaussures', and his drawer in 'Le Tiroir' includes a photo booth picture that recalls the many Photomaton moments in the film Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain referenced in the first album, which also played a part of course in the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet making clips of Sers's songs.

And that old photo from the machine is of his drunk mates posing together. Friendship is high on the list of importance in this album, as in 'L'Épaule d'un copain', where a mate's shoulder is of primary concern. However, Sers (while singing in the first person) is intending to be understood in the third person in 'Changement de programme' when he unkindly mentions his 'p'tite femme' whom he ignores one evening: originally intending a drink or two with his male friends to last a short time, the session lasts well into the early morning, and the narrator knows that this is far from the final time, no matter what he says. In fact this sounds like a regular (or potential) drunkard speaking.

This macho swagger is far removed from the sensual thrust of 'Ton jean bleu' or (far more) from 'Excuse moi mon amour', where he empathises with his partner, shows strong contempt for the sexist world in which she lives, in which a young woman has to show every care about how she dresses in a world full of male vultures.

As in the album Pourvu, there isn't just one track where Sers uses the first person for a third person voice: there's also 'Tu sais mon grand' where he imagines the voice of his grandfather, or the voice of a student prostituting herself in order to survive financially in 'L'Étudiante'. Even in his duo with the 85-year-old Anne Sylvestre, 'Y'a pas de retraite pour les artistes', he's singing in her voice, as if he were her.

Overwhelmingly, I've of course saved the most important bit to the end. This album is called Les Oubliés, which of course isn't a reference to Sers's beloved cinema (Buñuel's Los Olvidados), but to the closure of village schools: there are several clips of Sers's work at a primary school in Ponthoile (Somme), and several photos from the school are in the CD booklet. Perhaps this is an indication (as 'Hénin-Beaumont' and 'Mon fils est parti au jihad' suggested in Pourvu) that Gauvain Sers's voice should speak of social issues or evils. Certainly a new track (not found on either album): 'Y'a plus de saisons', which concerns global warming, might indicate this. I wish him a long and successful future.

Natacha Appanah: Le Ciel par-dessus le toit (2019)

Natacha Appanah's Le Ciel par-dessus le toit is a title inspired by a poem of Verleine's which he wrote in prison for wounding Rimbaud in the wrist, and aptly this novel is a book about the different prisons people build for us (either physically or mentally) or which we build for ourselves. The characters here are shut in on themselves, they are wounded people.

Oddly (on first impressions, that is) I was reminded of The Minipops, a 1980s English television programme which was a huge mistake on the part of those who allowed it to be shown: a paedophile's wet dream, it showed young children mimicking the pop songs of the day, the girls' faces heavily made up and the children dancing around amidst adult lyrics and tried-on adult (i.e. sexy) gestures. Mercifully, this potentially deeply destructive exercise was eventually stopped, although I'm very sorry to say that many Minipop clips on YouTube have been reposted, with comments from a number of women finding the pulling of the programme incomprehensible and 'politically correct'. As if anti-paedophilia were some kind of disease. Dis-ease this certainly makes me feel.

Where is this leading? To the fictional Éliette, the pre-pubescent girl whose parents paint her in make-up, create a singing doll, delight in her singing in front of audiences, until she cracks. She cracks particularly because she's waiting in the wings to go on and sing when a work colleague of her father's smudges her lipstick and puts his tongue in her mouth, smelling of tobacco, sweat and mint. She is eleven years old. And she goes on stage and screams. Psychotherapy doesn't help, and she lives in the unspoken trauma, experienced as conflagration of the self, and she burns her parents' house down at the age of sixteen.

Éliette mentally dies then, and she re-names herself as Phénix, risen from the ashes of her childhood. She goes on to independently rear two children by two fathers, children she will not interfere with as her parents interfered with her. The first is a girl she calls Paloma, and seven years later she produces Loup, a boy who doesn't have any of the ferocity of his wolf name, but is in fact usually very calm and collected. All three, though, live together until Paloma leaves in her twenties and promises to return to the then seven-year-old Loup. But Phénix doesn't even open Paloma's letters and ten years later Loup is left in ignorance, until (without a driving licence) he takes his mother's car in an attempt to find his sister and ends up driving down a motorway bretelle the wrong way, having a slight accident with another vehicle, ending up in a short-term prison cell with the sky above him, through the roof. Rather like Éliette years before him, he voices his protest in court not in a yell, but in an unpunctuated howl.

This is a highly accomplished novel by by a highly accomplished writer.

6 October 2019

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Clé USB (2019)

The Belgian Jean-Philippe Toussaint writes for Minuit so automatically, without even knowing anything about the book or even the author, the reader knows that this won't be a 'normal' read, not of course that that has any meaning. Let meaning take a back seat and enjoy the ride.

The narrator works for the Commission européenne with an interest in futures and blockchain technology, particularly bitcoins. So when he's approached by an unknown person with a view to meeting a guy in China with a view to learning more about bitcoins he's interested, but very suspicious because he doesn't in any way want to compromise his job in Brussels.

It's uncertain why he agrees to go to China to talk to a manufacturer of bitcoins, even uncertain about why he's been chosen to go there, but he makes sure everything he does won't come back in his face, that he won't in the future be accused of any corruption, so he won't accept any expenses paid to him.

But on discovering a USB key that his contact had inadvertently dropped (or on purpose?), and on finding out from the key's contents (which suggest embezzlement) he just has to go to China to find out what he can, but without telling his bosses anything about it.

Why he doesn't say anything is a mystery, as is his meeting with the Chinese contact, as is his trying to discover anything about the technological 'backdoor', or indeed why he receives an award in China, or even why his computer is stolen from him in a toilet in China by a mysterious hand groping under his cubicle door.

But that means the talk in Japan he's going to give will be aborted, in spite of his desperate efforts to re-write it without his computer notes, and anyhow he has to return home where his father is in his final hours. So? So what does the future mean when his father doesn't have one, what does the narrator's future matter?

I felt a sniff of Kafka in this novel (possibly inverted, circumvented, oblique, subverted or whatever way), a dreamlike universe where things take on amnesiac forms, where nightmares become the norm but are soon dissipated, but then maybe this is just Toussaint throwing uncertainties not to the wind but in our face. As ever, he's nothing short of interesting, intriguing, fascinating, infuriating. And the USB key? Maybe a kind of Hitchcockian MacGuffin, just designed to carry the plot through without a great deal of (if any) meaning in itself.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #13: Michel Serrault

Michel Serrault (1928-2007) is described here as one of France's greatest comedians and actors. He was born in Brunoy (Essonne) and died in Honfleur-Vasouy (Calavados) and came to live in Vasouy, Honfleur, with his wife in 2000. He had a particular love for the town. The events he especially liked in Honfleur were the Festival Alphonse Allais and the Saint-Germain in Vasouy. His career in cabaret, theatre and the cinema was very big.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #12: Françoise Sagan

Françoise Sagan (1935-2004) was born in Cajarc (Lot) and died in Equemauville (Calvados), and was always faithful to the Honfleur area, moving into her Manoir de Breuil in Barneville-la-Bertran in 1959. The plaque here says that it was common to see her in the streets of Honfleur, at a café terrasse or at the wheel of her car, and that she loved the area's authenticity, its calm, and its colours. In 1998 she wrote her own epitaph: 'SAGAN Françoise first appeared in 1954 with her slim novel Bonjour Tristesse, which was a scandal throughout the world. Her death, after a life and a work as pleasant as it was botched, was only a scandal to herself.'

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #11: Erik Satie

Erik Satie (1866-1925), born in Honfleur, said that painters had taught him much more about music that musicians had. And his music is also hard to classify, being seen as a precursor to such movements as surrealism, minimalism and the theatre of the absurd. He died in poverty in Paris, hating to ask friends or family for money, and never allowing anyone into his studio. On his death his studio was found to contain two untuned pianos tied together, full of unopened letters which he had partly replied to. In a cupboard was a collection of umbrellas and false collars, and in his wardrobe identical grey suits which he always wore.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #10: Lucie Delarue-Mardrus

Lucie Delarue-Mardrus (1874-1945) was a poet, novelist, and sculptor who was born in Honfleur and died in Château-Gontier. She married the orientalist Dr Joseph-Charles Mardrus, with whom she visited many mainly eastern countries, and later divorced and had affairs with such women as Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks and Germaine de Castro. After dividing her life between Paris and Honfleur she moved to Château-Gontier in 1938. Probably the most famous of her many novels is L'Ex-Voto (1922), concerning the fishing community in Honfleur, which was adapted into a film in 1928 by Marcel l'Herbier called Le Diable au cœur.

4 October 2019

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #9: Alphonse Allais

I mentioned Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) in a post about his house and museum. The plaque here calls him a writer and comedian who initially, following in his father's footsteps by studying pharmacy, but gave this up definitively in 1879 to devote himself to journalism. He gained some fame from 1883, when he wrote for the cabaret paper Le Chat Noir, then moved to Le Journal in 1892. He became editor-in-chief of Le Sourire in 1894, where he remained until his sudden death in Paris. He is called here a master of the hoax and the pun whose humour has a remarkable modernity. The cartoon is by Cappiello.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #8: Albert Sorel

Albert Sorel (1842-1906), the writer and historian born in Honfleur was also professor at the École des sciences politiques. He has been mentioned before in a previous post.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #7: Claude Monet

Claude Monet (1840-1926), a great impressionist, was advised on painting by both Boudin and Jongkind. He was with Boudin when he created his first landscape near Le Havre in 1858, and from then until 1872 he stayed several times in Honfleur, painting the streets and harbour entrances, etc. He was faithful to Normandy and the Seine all his life. Also below is Monet's interpretation of Saint Catherine's in Honfleur.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #6: Eugène Boudin

Eugène Boudin (1824-98) was born in Honfleur and died in Deauville. The plaque here states that in spite of his travels he remained faithful to Normandy and the Pays d'Auge in particular. Baudelaire discovered his pastel skies in 1859 and Boudin used to meet up with Honfleur's artists at the auberge Saint-Siméon. Boudin's characters on Trouville beach brought him fame in the 1860s, although Honfleur maintained a special place in his heart: he encouraged the creation of the town museum, to which he left 70 paintings. Below the bust is one of Boudin's paintings of Trouville beach.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #5: Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) stayed here in 1859, with his mother and step-father, and wrote that to stay in Honfleur was the dearest of his dreams (which sounds a little like a tourist guide advert!) I'm not fond of the sculpture as it doesn't fit with any photo I've seen of Baudelaire. Under the bust is a photo of Baudelaire's mother's house in Honfleur.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #4: Johan-Barthold Jongkind

Johan-Barthold Jonkind (1819-91) was a Dutch landscape painter, a friend of Boudin and Monet who worked in Honfleur (the plaque here states) between 1863 and 1865. In 1864 he wrote that he found Honfleur admirable, and that he very much liked the cider and bread from Normandy. There is a plaque in Nevers which states that he stayed in an auberge there between 1861 and 1875!

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #3: Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville (baronne d'Aulnoy)

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville (baronne d'Aulnoy) (1650-1705) was the writer of adult fairy stories not of the nature of Charles Perrault, but of a much more scandalous nature, weaving a subversive spirit through her allegories and satires: she is more often compared to Jean de La Fontaine's veiled criticisms the French court and society of the 17th century.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #2: Louis-Alexandre Dubourg

Louis-Alexandre Dubourg (1821-91) is another painter who was born in and died in Honfleur, where his paintings are of the town, the countryside and the fishing port. In 1868 he founded and managed the town museum, which was later to become the Musée Eugène Boudin.

Le Jardin des Personnalités, Honfleur #1: Léon Leclerc

Léon Leclerc (1866-1930) was a painter who was born and died in Honfleur. He was a staunch defender of the traditions of Normandy and the founder of the society 'Le Vieux-Honfleur' and the museum of ethnography. His paintings are representations of fishermen and the old streets of Honfleur.

Paul-Élie Gernez in Honfleur, Calvados (14)

Paul-Élie Gernez (1888-1948) was born in Valenciennes and died in Honfleur, and it was in this house, next to Satie's, that he lived and worked as a painter, watercolourist, engraver and illustrator from 1919 until his death. Cubism was an early influence, but he then settled to landscapes, still life and marine life, most of his inspiration coming from Honfleur.

Erik Satie in Honfleur, Calvados (14)

Erik Satie (1866-1925) needs no introduction, but he too was born in Honfleur, where the house where he was born is a tribute to his life and highly unconventional mind. As the leaflet advertising his house(s) says, he collaborated with such people as Picasso, Picabia, Braque, Cocteau and René Clair, and influenced such people as Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. To remind, among his most noted musical works are Trois Gymnopédies (1888), Six Gnossiennes (1890-97), Trois morceaux en forme de poire (1911), Sports et Divertissements (1914), Parade (1917) and Socrate (1919). Unsurprisingly, there is a representation outside of him as the 'fonctionnaire bourgeois' with his bowler hat and umbrella.

Albert Sorel in Honfleur, Calvados (14)

Albert Sorel (1842-1906) was a French historian born in Honfleur and the cousin of the philosopher and sociologist George Sorel. He was a member of the Académie française and the founder of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques. He worked for thirty years on his greatest publication, which was in eight volumes: L’Europe et la Révolution française (1885-1940).

La Petite Sirène in Honfleur, Calvados (14)

The Ruelle de la Petite Sirène is named after a legend in which a fisherman from Honfleur dreams of meeting a female companion. Throwing his net into the sea he dozes off and is awakened by the sound of the waves. He draws in his net and finds a little mermaid smiling at him. He can't resist mooring his boat and taking her to his home via the alley which now bears her name. The miracle was that once the fisherman had shut the door the mermaid was transformed into a beautiful young girl. Here's the odd thing, though: the plaque here says that a representation of the mermaid is now sculpted into a wall, thus allowing lovers and newlyweds to affix a padlock to it as a symbol of their love. I know what they'd have thought of this idea in Paris, but I could find no sign of a sculpture, although some distance away, not far from the Musée Eugène Boudin, I found the sculpture photographed below.