Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Film review: A Christmas Tale

I wondered when the standout French film of the year would land on my desk, and here it is just in time for Christmas, although you won’t be able to see it in UK cinemas until early next year.

Director Arnaud Desplechin has some serious prior: 2005’s Kings and Queen (starring his muse Almaric, pictured here after a glass of red too many) was rewarded with multiple gongs and it was clear from this César (French Oscars) triumph that he has a winning way with big name actors and large casts.

Set in the northern town of Roubaix (place of Desplechin’s birth – what a nice change to see a star-studded film set outside of Paris), we witness the gathering of the Vuillard clan for Christmas, each member having undergone a compatibility test that might save the matriarch Junon (played with trademark understatement by Deneuve) from liver cancer.

The offspring – a heavy-drinking black sheep, played with barnstorming gusto and lip by Almaric; a sad and bitter eldest sister, Anne Consigny; and a smooth and thoughtful fixer, Melvil Poupaud – harbour no end of defects (mainly self-medicated) and combine to form a perfectly dysfunctional family. Much of the humour and pathos in this tightly scripted drama comes from bickering and seething tensions. Meanwhile, Junon faces her illness with grace and fortitude.

Stylish, witty, poignant and intense, with a superlative cast and outstandingly fleshed out lesser characters, this film knocks the genre of family reunion drama – so often marred by slush in Hollywood films – into an artfully cocked beret. Go and see it.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Ségolène Royal and me

Before you get too excited, no, I am not the "dashing and handsome media figure" with whom the Socialist Party's defeated 2007 presidential candidate has recently been photographed in a "stepping out" kind of way, although you could be forgiven for thinking this to be entirely plausible.

The lucky chap in question is Bruno Gaccio, who founded the French equivalent of Spitting Image – a puppet show which lampoons politicians. He left the show in January 2007, so presumably will now be delighted that he doesn't have to take the rise out of his alleged new squeeze to pay the bills.

Me and Royal have history (well, sort of, very tenuously). I first heard of her a few years ago during a trip to the Poitou-Charentes region, of which she had just been elected Council President (2004, I think) and I vividly remember somebody – a tourism bod if memory serves – telling me that she, Royal, would be President someday. I've kept an eye out for her ever since and although Sarkozy convinced the electorate that he was the man to change France for the better, Royal is firmly back on the front foot.

As for news on the dynamic President, his wife Carla Bruni has taken an admirable public stance on Berlusconi's crude Barack Obama suntan "joke".

Whatever you say about France's current crop of public figures, boring they ain't.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Language course offer

A serious offer from the good people at Coeur de France, who run a language school in hilltop Sancerre, Loire. In addition to learning French in situ, you can make the most of the local wine and Chavignol goat's cheese. I've visited the area and can vouch for its appeal.

Study French in Sancerre!
Special Limited Time Offer from
Coeur de France Ecole de Langues

Exclusively for UK and Ireland Residents

Save 170 to 500 euros (up to 400 pounds) on 1 or 2 week GCSE preparation packages

Save 300 to 700 euros (up to 560 pounds) on 2 week Group and Couple packages

Save 100 to 200 euros (up to 160 pounds) on 1 week Group and Couple packages

Similar savings available for Family Programs and private One to One tutorials!

Available Dates
Choose a 1 or 2 week period between 15 November 2008 and 21 March 15 2009.

Available Courses
All of our courses are eligible: Group, One to One, Combination, Couple, Petit 1:1 child's tutorial. Even our famous Family Program is eligible!

Special offer ends 30 November 2008. All dates and courses are subject to availability. Don’t wait – with these low rates, availability is very limited and on a “first come – first served” basis -- don’t miss out!

For details, please see www.CoeurDeFrance.com/specialuk.htm