Community Events

Using Film to Promote French

Of all the art forms, film may well be the most captivating and intriguing because of its exploration of the imagination, its unique combination of images, motion, and sound, and its capacity for simulating dreams and memory. When we enter a salon de cinéma, we are transported to another world, a world in which our creativity is invited to participate in the scenes and events unfolding before us. Barriers of time, space, and identity are erased, and only our unwillingness to suspend our disbelief can hold us back.

Throughout the history of cinema, films produced in France and in other Francophone societies have been recognized for their high quality, intellectual content, and artistic flair. Thus, because of the reputation of French and French language films, we can capitalize on the public’s readiness to be both entertained and enlightened by the literary masterpieces, the clever comedies, and the gripping dramas found in these films. Indeed, for over a century, audiences caught up in French cinematic technique have been fascinated by the stories told, the history revisited, and the psychology unraveled on the screen.

Consult the three volumes Allons au cinéma: Promoting French Through Film produced by the AATF Commission on Cinema for titles of recent French and Francophone films.

Weekend Film Event

An excellent way to celebrate National French Week would be to combine a community activity that would appeal to a general population or to a group of special populations with a showing of a French film. The following list offers several suggestions for possible events:

  • Ask a local cinema to show a French film at a specific time. French students, the French club, parents, the Alliance française, or the French boosters could prepare French hors-d’oeuvre before the movie or desserts after. Depending on arrangements worked out with the cinema, the food could be sold by the providers or offered as a promotion of things French.

  • The film can be shown at a high school or university with a dinner preceding it. There could then be a lecture or discussion following the showing.

  • Linking a film with an art, music, or theater event could work very well. Staging a play in English on Friday night with the French subtitled movie version being screened on Saturday can double the emphasis on French contributions to the worlds of fine arts and entertainment. Such a pairing could appeal to Anglophones who might be converted to studying French.

  • University theater departments often present translations of Moliere’s comedies; therefore, a funny, clever English translation of Tartuffe could be compared with the film version. Theater professors could discuss the differences between the two media following the film. Another choice would be to have the English translation of Cyrano de Bergerac, the play, performed on Friday night and the French film Cyrano presented on Saturday.

  • An art history illustrated lecture could be presented as a prelude to Camille Claudel or Van Gogh. In addition to a lecture presenting the major works and techniques, autobiographical background related to the content of the film can be included. A question and answer session can be held following the film.

  • A warm-up activity to a film that has great potential for reaching an audience is to have an artist, a musician, and a dramatic reader coordinate the simultaneous rendering of a drawing or watercolor, a piano, violin, or flute piece, and a French poem. These artistic selections would all address a common theme which would forecast the theme of the film to be shown. An Impressionist musical selection and a symbolist poem can be used as a backdrop for the creation of an Impressionist watercolor, followed by a film like Camille Claudel or Van Gogh.

  • An interesting evening combining music and film can occur by having a string ensemble or soloist as a precursor to seeing Un Coeur en hiver. Likewise, a soprano might open the evening which would conclude with the film. Showing the film Bleu, first, then having a reception while playing the movie soundtrack showcases a powerful film that delivers equally powerful musical moments.

  • Teaming up with an historian or history teacher would be a good way to integrate the historical background of the Occupation with films treating that era in France. Au revoir les enfants, Le Dernier Métro, L’Accompagnatrice, or Jeux interdits would serve well as the featured film in this format.

  • Presenting film versions of well-known pieces of literature also has appeal. Madame Bovary and Germinal would be good choices and could be paired with English lectures comparing the printed form with the cinematic one. Other popular choices would be Jean de Florette and Manon des sources.

  • Having “mini film festivals” on themes such as Provence using Jean de Florette, Manon des sources, La Gloire de mon père, and Le Château de ma mère could include presentations on the region and its traditions.

  • A film event that could be an extravaganza for all the local gourmands and gourmets is showing Babette’s Feast, then serving a comparable feast to all the film guests.

  • Because of their capacity for bringing meaningful issues into sharp focus, presenting Le Huitième Jour on Friday night and Ponette on Saturday could be an effective cinematic event. These films could be featured as excellent family fare, with a discussion following each film that emphasizes the complexity of family relationships, the problems of the mentally disabled, the challenges of living with individuals with mental problems, and the devastating loss suffered by a small child whose mother dies.

  • Showing a French film followed by its American remake can generate a reflective discussion on cultural similarities and differences related to plot, setting, character depiction, dialogue vs. music/silence, and dénouement. Le Retour de Martin Guerre and Sommersby and Trois Hommes et un couffin and Three Men and a Baby are two pairs of films which can engender such discussion.  The films included in these suggestions are but a few of the many that are available to us as teachers of French. We all have our favorites for teaching culture, language, special concepts, values, or ethics. We also have personal standards and school rules to observe which may cause some of the choices listed here to be inappropriate. Only the individual teacher can decide if a film is suitable for a specific purpose. For adult audiences, we may be more flexible, but if students attend, we must be conscious of parental concerns.

An important legal consideration when using videos is that most of them prohibit public viewing. Check with the company from which you purchased your video to find out the proper way to obtain permission to show the film at a public gathering.

Few media are as engaging and as rich in teaching possibilities as film. Using films to attract attention to French is usually successful because films are enjoyable entertainment, because those not well acquainted with French culture are curious about it, and because those who are acquainted with French culture are usually delighted to have an opportunity to enjoy it vicariously through film. Combining film events with other arts or other aspects of French culture simply multiplies the pleasure of watching French film. National French Week provides us with a marvelous opportunity for sharing our love for French film with our communities. The ideas given here are intended to remind you of your own great ideas for teaching, recruiting, and promoting with French film.

Mary Jo Netherton (KY)

Reprinted and adapted from the AATF National Bulletin, Special Issue, Vol. 24 No. 5 (May 1999)