What do you do when you live in East Germany right as the Berlin Wall is going to fall and your devoted Socialist mother drops into a coma, only to awake after the fall of the Wall?
Why, you lie to her and make everything like it was before.
Alex is devoted to his mother, Christiane, who suffers a nearly fatal heart attack on the cusp of the fall of the Berlin Wall. She falls into an eight month long coma during which East and West Germany are slowly merging, and when she wakes up, the doctors inform Alex that he must prevent any strong excitement from entering his mother’s life, lest she suffer another heart attack. Knowing his mother’s devotion to the East German socialist cause, Alex determines to take her home and make it like nothing ever happened. Of course, with the influx of people, products and ideas from the West, this makes Alex’s decision none too easy, one that is not supported by his sister and her boyfriend, and one that often leads him to insane ends to convince his mother that her beloved country is still intact.
With moments of comedy, like Alex buying Western foods at the supermarket and pouring the contents into the canisters of defunct Eastern foods, and poignancy, like when Alex and his sister realize his long-lost father who left the family years before is still close by, the film mixes the highs and lows of a family caught in an extreme situation nicely. It also is more than just the simple plot details, as the film takes an extraordinary situation to examine what an ordinary family has made of their collective lives.
Overall, it’s a well done dramedy with a nice wrap-up at the end. I was thoroughly surprised by how much better it was than I was expecting.
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This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive “best of” list of French film in general.
I should preface this by saying that I took nearly nine years of French classes. For a few years, I was really blessed to have a teacher that felt we not only needed to learn the language, but vital elements of French culture as well. French film was a staple in our classroom, and I cannot thank that teacher enough for exposing me to all the wonderful films that she did show us.
So, in no particular order, here are my favorite French films of all time that I feel give a good feel for French film across the ages that I thoroughly enjoy and recommend (and have recommended) to people.
La Haine is the story of three friends in a Parisian banlieue (French for ghetto, colloquially speaking) and I don’t have a better way of describing this film other than a Molotov cocktail to the face. It was renowned in France when it was first released for its depictions of violence and police brutality; it still remains a hallmark in my French film collection simply because of how powerful the movie is. It also is one of several stellar collaborations between Mathieu Kassovitz (dir: Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Crimson Rivers, Gothika – sadly) and Vincent Cassel (Ocean’s 12, Derailed).
The movie spans 24 hours in the lives of the three friends, one of whom is hospitalized after suffering a vicious incident with the police. His two friends roam the streets after the night of a huge riot in Paris with reserves of anger, malice and discontent built up after years of discrimination.
I seriously view La Haine as a landmark film, period. It made a huge impact on me as a teenager.
- LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) — 1964
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is a musical. Don’t let that throw you off; this movie ranks as one of my top five of all time easily. Guy and Genevieve are young and in love when Guy is called up to serve in the French Army for the war in Algeria. His two year term seems to be a lifetime to the pair, and after Guy leaves, Genevieve discovers she is pregnant. Genevieve’s meddling mother and a jewels dealer named Roland do little to help already complicated matters.
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