Can We Talk?


If your language were as pretty as French you would want to talk more too. I like French movies.  When compared to American movies, they tend to be much heavier on the dialogue.

The French love dialogue.  They also love a good argument and sometimes indulge in it just for fun.  They don’t need to have strong feelings on a subject in fact virulent emotion in such arguments is frowned upon.  Think of it more like intellectual debate.

People watch television news programs to see such debate.  These French talk shows almost always have 4 or more people in the discussion. More discussion, less point/counter point. In their minds, how can you have a meaningful discussion without fewer people?

In France (not in private Switzerland) such debate isn’t just left to television, intense discussion of politics, religion and current events occur during regularly, even during casual social encounters.  Be prepared to participate, but don’t be as emotional as they are on the Sunday morning round tables.  You’re expected to express and intellectual analysis, but not attempt to convert others to your way of thinking or get hot under the collar.  Sometimes, this is easier said than done.

P.S. If I could talk in French without a horrible American accent, I would never shut up.  Except perhaps to listen to other people say beautiful things in French. Oui, mon amour.

Mrs.? Ms.? Miss? Just Call Me Madame


One of the hardest parts of French is getting the genders straight.  French nouns are either masculine or feminine.  There’s no logical way to discern whether the noun is masculine or feline, you just have to memorize it.   Adjectives change to agree with the gender and number of the nouns they modify.  This means that most of them have four forms!

Traditionally, when you saw the name of a profession, you would immediately know whether the professional referred to was a man or a woman from the form of the noun.  It’s comparable to using the term policeman or policewoman (instead of police officer) in English.  In Switzerland, French is changing to make professions more gender neutral by standardizing the names.   The poster above reads “the times change the language changes too.”   It’s not the only way the French language is changing in Switzerland.

As a newcomer, you don’t want to make a faux pas or embarrass yourself.   Knowing the correct way to address people is part of this.  It is made a little easier by the Swiss custom of not using Miss.  That way, you don’t have to find out someone’s marital status refer to them appropriately.  All women, regardless of their marital status, use Mrs.   It’s a sign of respect…just call me Madame.

Our Aixperience

We visited Aix-en-Provence and saw a knife fight.   That wasn’t the only thing we saw.

After leaving the restaurant at dusk, we strolled the streets.  Some towns roll up the sidewalks after dark; Aix does not.  It is practically mandatory to walk the streets in the evening and have a drink on cafe terraces.  Yep.  Streetwalking is mandatory.  It’s especially nice because the old town (vielle ville) is car free, easy to navigate and a manageable size.

Boulevard Mirabeau (Cours Mirabeau), is a grand avenue built on the site of the former ramparts in the 17th century.   Our favorite trees in Geneva, the plane tree, line and shade  the stately boulevard.  The overhanging trees provide much-needed shade on hot summer days.  Moss covered fountains are in the center of the avenue with stately old town houses behind the wide sidewalks.

We strolled it that evening, but went back the next morning to have coffee (and a croissant)  in the legendary café, Les Deux Garcons.  Dating from 1792, many famous people have dined here including: Picasso, Churchill, Edith Piaf, André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, Raimu, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean CocteauSophie Marceau, Jean Reno, Hugh Grant and George Clooney.  It was a regular haunt of Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola.  I can see why.  The cappuccino was tasty and the croissant was wonderfully light.  It was a treat to sit and watch the world pass.

Being American, we like a fast pace and giant to do lists.  It is impossible to live like that in Aix.  It is a place to stop, enjoy the view and make the mundane wonderful.

Aix is known for its many and varied markets.  They have normal markets, local producers markets, flower markets, antiques markets and old book markets.  We visited the morning market at Place Richelme (there are also markets at Place de Verdun, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and Place des Prêcheurs).  We picked up some fresh fruit and perused the many artisanal varieties of cheese, meats and breads.

 Aix-en-Provence is a university town (University of Provence Aix-Marseille) and filled with academics and students.  It also gets its fair share of aristocrats, people who are wealthy enough not to have to work and professionals.   It has a reputation for being a bit elitist.  If you are interested in Aix, it was immortalized by Peter Maille’s book “One Year in Provence.”

Like many other towns in the south of France (Arles, Orange, Vence), Aix was inhabited by the Romans.  They built thermal baths at Aix, Aquae Sextiae, around 2000 years ago.  Today you can visit the newer (18th-century hot-water baths) and modern spa built atop the old baths (you can see them from the lobby).

Colorful Colmar

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a fair amount in Europe, but never to Alsace (France) and always wanted to see it.  On the way to visit some friends in Germany, we stopped for a night.  We chose to stay the night in Colmar because it is a Rick Steves’ pick.  If it’s good enough for Rick, it’s good enough for me.  As usual, he didn’t let me down.

Alsatian towns are known for cobblestone streets, restored half-timbered buildings painted a myriad of colors and decorated with flowers.  Colmar is no exception.   Colmar is a larger than most with several distinct neighborhoods.  The Petit Venise quarter doesn’t look much like Venice (its canals don’t look much like Brugges either).  Regardless, you still want to stroll the streets and take pictures.

The “Fishermen’s quarter” is where fishermen and merchants sold fish and seafood here until mid 20th century.

Another famous neighborhood, the Quartier des Tanneurs contains tall houses with rooftop porches where Tanners dried their hides.  These tiny neighborhoods look wonderful in the summer, but are apparently also popular in the winter.  Colmar (and nearby Strasbourg) are known for their Christmas market and festive decorations.

Colmar has several unique old buildings.  The Ancienne Douane (Old Customs’s House), La Maison des Têtes (its intricate façade is ornamented with 106 heads, têtes in French), and the gothic Cathédrale Saint-Martin.

Colmar’s Museum of Unterlinden houses Matthias Grünewald‘s Issenheim Alterpiece.  Acclaimed as one of the most dramatic and moving pieces of art, it is unique and filled with iconography.   While I’m not one for most religious art, it was impressive.  The story behind it is interesting.   The religious community of Issenheim cared for the sick and terminally ill.  Depicting realistic pain, misery, Christ’s death and resurrection, analogized their suffering.

Although it might not be immediately obvious, many consider this one of the most exciting works in the history of German art!

We spent another couple of hours examining the museum’s other art, weapons, gold beer steins and other everyday objects from Alsace’s history.  From masterpieces to the everyday, it is one of the better museums we’ve seen.  Even on one of the first sunny summer days it merits a visit.  For us, the 10 most interesting things were:

  1. We saw people performing restoration work on a painting in the middle of the museum.  It was fascinating to watch them work.  I don’t think my eyesight or hand-eye coordination is good enough for that job.
  2. I stumbled into a room with a series of woodcut prints by Albrecht Durer.  I’m a fan of his and excited to see them up close.  They were pretty sweet.
  3. He liked the collection of old wine making equipment.  If you need to hide some bodies, you could definitely do in their giant wood casks.
  4. I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the suits of armor.  Just like the suits we saw at the Tower of London, there were excessively large codpieces that made me giggle and suits large enough to fit Pavarotti.
  5. He liked the old guns, swords helmets and instruments of punishment/torture.
  6. It was fun to compare the old paintings of Colmar to what we saw strolling the streets.  Some of the areas above were instantly recognizable!
  7. How could you not want to drink out of the gold and silver beer steins?
  8. Populated since the Neolithic era, the museum had archaeological finds in the basement, including burial sites replete with skeletons from Alsace.
  9. The museum itself is pretty sweet.  Housed in a former convent from the 13th century, it remains calm, orderly and detailed.
  10. Cheeky sculptures

Someone should have gone easy on the tartes

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statute of Liberty is from Colmar.  The town is justifiably proud of its hometown boy made good.  His sculptures (above) and tributes to his work decorate the town…and the traffic circles.  They are clearly proud of their hometown boy who made it to the big time.   Thanks for Lady Liberty Freddie!

Getting Our History On At Fort L’Ecluse

On our first hike in the  Jura Mountains went through the Rhône Valley by Fort l’Écluse (or Fort de l’Écluse), near Leaz, France in the Pays de Gex.  The site has a view of the strategic route between the Jura Mountains and the Alps and has had fortifications since Roman times.

The Romans built defenses around 58 BC to protect them from the Helvetii (the nearby Swiss tribe). In the Middle Ages, the stronghold protected the Jura and was a center for goods (which the cyicist in me interprets to mean used to collect tolls or taxes).  Expanded, in the 17th century, the French used the fort to prevent French Protestants from fleeing France to Protestant Geneva after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which permitted secularism and tolerance).

There are actually two forts on the site, the lower (inférieure in French) and upper (supérieure in French).  The Duke of Savoy and the Marquis de Vauban (during the reign of Louis XIV) built the lower fort.  When the Austrians destroyed the fort in 1815, the Savoy rebuilt it bigger and stronger.

The tower dovetails into the rock.

We got lucky, they were having a historical reenactment when we visited.  It got us admission and we saw solders living as they did in the 19th century.  Some of them were cooking.  I asked what they were making.  The “soldiers” jokingly said “nothing good.” They explained that soldier’s food wasn’t good and they were being historically accurate.  We spied a couple of bottles of wine tucked away behind some plants (also historically accurate?), so I think they had a good time anyway.

Built into the stone, the fort was surprisingly cool (which was good for them in their wool uniforms).  The reenactors were really nice and totally into it.  When I asked to take a picture with them they gladly agreed and, to my astonishment, passed me the musket.  It weighed 5 kilos (10.2 pounds)!

The upper fort (200 metres/660 feet above the lower one), was built in the 1830’s-40’s to protect the lower fort provide additional space and better views from which to control the valley.  It has a subterranean stairway with 1165 steps through the rock that connecting it to the lower fort.

Unfortunately, the upper fort is closed because it is unsafe for visitors.  They are doing restoration work on the lower fort.  We hope that when they finish, they start on the upper fort because it is an amazing site and filled with history.

We took a steep trail uphill for a half an hour to reach the upper fort.  I shouldn’t have bothered to ask the extremely portly gentleman we encountered in the lower parking lot for directions.  I’m pretty sure he hadn’t done much walking, let alone hiking, over the past 30 years.  The gentleman said the upper fort was closed, there was no reason to go up there and looked at me like I was crazy when I told him we were hiking.   We are glad we went anyway.  We were still able to see the ramparts.  Even better, they had exceptional views of  the Rhône, Saleve and the Alps, including Mont Blanc.

Fort l’Ecluse wasn’t just a customs station and border control in the 20th century.  It served as a military training center during World War I.   In the 1930’s, the fort was incorporated into French border fortifications (as part of the enormously inefficient Mangiot Line) that were intended to prevent a German invasion from Switzerland.  We all know how that worked out.

I was astounded to learn that it actually saw action during WWII.  It is so close to Geneva, I can only imagine the anxiety that Genevans must have felt.  The Defensive Sector of the Rhône, a French military organization controlled the French border with Switzerland around Geneva, controlled the fort.  In June 1940, German forces (the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions and the 13th Motorized Infantry Division) advanced from the north along the Rhône valley.  From June 22nd to 25th, the French force held the back the German forces advancing toward Albertville.   When France surrendered on June 25, the fort didn’t.  It held tight until directly ordered to let the Germans advance and surrender by General Charles Huntziger of the Vichy Regime.

Fribourg, Freiburg, A Charming Town And Lots Of Fun In Any Language

Founded in 1157, Fribourg was a sovereign republic until it joined the Swiss Confederation in 1481. Fribourg sits in a valley between lakes and mountains with the Saane river (Sarine in French) flowing through it. It is a gorgeous setting, but this is Switzerland, where picturesque settings abound.  We’ve gotten accustomed to the incredible beauty and now almost expect it.  Fribourg did not disappoint.

Fribourg isn’t large (population 40,000), but is charming.  It is home to the University of Fribourg.  This gives the city a slightly more cosmopolitan atmosphere and the vibrancy of a university town.   It’s medieval neighborhoods are well-preserved and charming.  The buildings show a blend of French and German Swiss culture.

Fribourg is known for its beautiful Gothic buildings.  Its old patrician townhouses combine German baroque and French classicism.  They have tons of detail, from stone carvings to ornate doors, to places to scrape your shoes.  Architectural buffs and home decor enthusiasts will love them.

Wander the small, steep streets and medieval staircases.  If you get tired, you can easily stop at a cafe in one of its many cobblestoned squares adorned with fountains.  Fribourg also has a funicular for those less enthusiastic about urban hiking.

Walk across Fribourg’s beautiful bridges.  The Pont de Berne, is a well-preserved covered wooden bridge dating from 1580.  The solid, yet elegant, Central Bridge links the old town with opposing cliffs.

Crossing the river and climbing the hill on the opposite side yields stunning views of Fribourg’s Old Town.  The St. Nicholas‘s Cathedral  lofty 15th-century Gothic bell tower is also easily visible on the skyline.

The city hall’s (Hôtel de Ville) gothic clock tower dates from 1546 (the blue pointy thing).  On Wednesdays, the square in front of city hall houses a market.  The nearby Rue de Lausanne is a car-free pedestrian zone.

Fribourg is not just the name of the city.  It is also the name of the canton (like the state).  The canton of Fribourg is bilingual with the Saane river (Sarine in French) forming the language boundary. On one side, they speak French, on the other, Swiss  German. All road signs in the Canton are bilingual!

Fribourg is the French speaking of the city.  Freiburg is the German spelling, but is not commonly used to avoid confusion with the German town of Freiburg.

It is worth taking at least an afternoon to wander Fribourg’s streets.  We plan on returning to spend an evening there.

My Introduction to French Cinema, A List of Great, Entertaining and Fun French Films

I have been trying to watch TV in French.  Unfortunately, there are not many great television series in French. Thankfully, friends have suggested French movies for me to watch (thanks guys).

Thanks to Igor Film and Casbah Film

Volumes have been written on French cinema and there are endless ways of classifying meritorious French films (best, top, famous classic, popular, recent, great, good, and must see).  Classics like the 400 Blows, Belle du Jour, Un Chien Andalou, and The Battle of Algiers, do not appear on this list.  These films were chosen not for their cinematic adroitness, but for their entertainment value and insight into French culture.  They are divided into the following categories: Comedy, Black Comedy, Classics by Jaques Tati, Romantic Comedy, Dramatic Comedy, Dramas, Action, Animated/Cartoon, and TV (which contains a couple of old television series).

Thanks to Gaumont Films


Les Bronzés (French Fried Vacation) – Released in 1978, directed by Patrice Leconte, and starring Michel Blanc, Marie-Anne Chazel, Gérard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte, Josiane Balasko and Christian Clavier.  Perhaps I should have listed this under the “Cult” category as this satire was done my the famous sketch comedy group, Le Splendid.  Six vacationers from France find themselves in a Club Med like setting and take part in the organized fun.

Les Bronzés Font Du Ski (French Fried Vacation 2) – Released in 1979, directed by Patrice Leconte, and starring Michel Blanc, Marie-Anne Chazel, Maurice Chevit, Gérard Jugnot, Thierry Lhermitte and Christian Clavier.  The first film was such a success that they made a second one on the slopes.  This film is still quoted by Francophones (French speakers) on the slopes.  With all the skiing we have been doing lately, it is required viewing.

Courtesy of Trinacra Films

Le Père Noël Est Une Ordure (Santa Claus Is A Bastard)– Released in 1982, directed by Jean-Marie Poiré, and starring Thierry Lhermitte, Gérard Jugnot, Christian Clavier, Anémone and Josiane Balasko.  In this burlesque comedy classic, the main character hands out leaflets advertising a sexy Christmas party, but his girlfriend leaves with Santa.

La Grande Vadrouille (Don’t Look Now… We’re Being Shot At!, literally translated as “The Great Stroll”) –  Released in 1966, directed by Gérard Oury, and starring André Bourvil, Louis de Funès, Terry-Thomas, and Claudio Brook.  For over forty years, this film was the most successful film in France.  The crew of a RAF bomber shot down over Paris must then make their way through German-occupied France with the help of two French citizens.

Courtesy of Pathé Renn Productions

Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks, Welcome to the Land of Shtis) – Released in 2008, directed by Dany Boon, and starring Kad Merad, Dany Boon and Zoé Félix.  This is the most successful French film ever.  A man born and raised on France’s Southern coast is exiled to the Northern territories as punishment for lying to the government.  He is forced to relocate to the north of France, between Belgium and the English Channel where they speak an amalgam of French, Flemish and Latin.  He encounters cultural differences and struggles to adapt to his new life.

OSS 117: Le Caire Nid D’Espions (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies) – Released in 1996, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, and starring Jean Dujardin (the French George Clooney who has recently achieved recognition for is work in The Artist), Bérénice Bejo, and Aure Atika.  This spy comedy parodies Bond films and uses lame sight gags, crass sexual innuendo, juvenile action sequences, and hilarious coded conversations to great effect.  He even watched some of it in French with me…without subtitles.

Le Magnifique (The Magnificent) – Released in 1973, directed by Philippe de Broca and starring Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Paul Belmondo.  It is a slapstick comedy that spoofs B movies.

Courtesy of Alpilles Productions

Les Visiteurs (The Visitors) – Released in 1993, directed by Jean-Marie Poiré, and starring Jean RenoChristian Clavier, and Valérie Lemercier.  In this cult comedy, a 12th-century knight and his servant time travel into the present.

La Traversée De Paris (The Trip Across Paris, Four Bags Full) –  released in 1956,  directed by Claude Autant-Lara, and starring Jean GabinBourvil and Louis de Funès.  In this comedy, two men have to cross nazi-occupied Paris by night during WWII.  As they walk along dark Parisian streets they encounter various characters and have adventures until they are arrested by the German police.

Courtesy of Franca Films

Le Gendarme De Saint-Tropez (The Policeman From Saint-Tropez) –  released in 1964, directed by Jean Girault, and starring Louis de FunèsGeneviève GradMichel GalabruJean Lefebvre, and Christian Marin.  An ambitious police officer is transferred to St. Tropez where he struggles with persistent nude swimmers.  Even more troublesome, is his teenage daughter, who’s trying to impress her rich friends by telling them her father was a millionaire and owned a yacht in the harbor. He tries to cover for her and trouble ensues.

La Chèvre (Knock On Wood, literal Translation Is “The Goat”) – released in 1981, directed by Francis Veber, starring Pierre Richard and Gérard Depardieu.  In this buddy comedy dedicated private eye searches for a businessman’s daughter in Mexico, but the case is complicated by the amateur sleuthing of the client’s accountant.

Courtesy of Les Films de la Colombe, Les Productions de la Guéville, Madeleine Films

Alexandre Le Bienheureux (Blissful Alexander) – released in 1968, directed by Yves Robert, starring Philippe NoiretMarlène Jobert and Françoise Brion.  A henpecked childless farmer is oppressed by his authoritarian wife who does not permit him any rest.  When she dies, he decides that the time has come to take it easy and enjoy life a little, sets  his livestock free, and takes to his bed, practically disappearing. The only clue that he is still alive is his dog, who periodically goes shopping to the nearby town with a basket in its mouth, sparking town gossip about his fate.

La Vie Est Un Long Fleuve Tranquille (Life Is A Long Quiet River) –  released in 1988, directed by by Étienne Chatiliez, and starring  Benoît Magimel and Valérie Lalonde.  12 years after giving birth, families discover their babies were switched at birth leading to complications in the lives of both families.

Les Randonneurs (Hikers) – Released in 1999, directed by Philippe Harel, and starring Benoît PoelvoordeKarin ViardGéraldine Pailhas, and Vincent Elbaz.  Parisian friends fly to Corsica for a mountain trek guided by the married lover of one of the women. They all have their own reasons for going and it doesn’t turn out as planned.

Mon Oncle Benjamin (My Uncle Benjamin) – Released in 1969, directed by Édouard Molinaro, and starring Jacques Brel and Claude Jade.  In the 1750’s, a country doctor in love with the beautiful innkeeper’s daughter, but she refuses his advances until he produces a marriage contract.  He endures several trials including a humiliating practical joke and condemned to prison.

Courtesy of Lira Films

Le Sauvage (Call Me Savage) – Released in 1975, directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, starring Yves Montand and Catherine Deneuve.  When a woman breaks her engagement and runs away to Caracas, she is pursued by her jilted fiancé.  She looks to a French middle-aged man she met by accident for help.

La Folie Des Grandeurs (Delusions Of Grandeur) – Released in 1971, directed by Gérard Oury, and starring Louis de Funès  and Yves Montand.  Loosely based on Victor Hugo’s play Ruy Blas, this historical face tells the story of a nobleman who has been exiled from court and sent to collect taxes in the countryside.  His assistant manages to help the overtaxed peasants behind his boss’s back. When he decides to resume meddling in the monarch’s affairs using his assistant as his henchman, his schemes backfire badly.

Black Comedy

Delicatessen – Released in 1991, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, and starring Dominique Pinon and Karin Viard.  This post-apocalyptic surrealist black comedy about a landlord of an apartment building who murders people to serve cheap meat to his  tenants.

Courtesy of Téléma and FR3 Films Production

Tatie Danielle (Auntie Danielle) – Released in 1990, directed by Étienne Chatiliez, starring Tsilla CheltonCatherine Jacob and Éric Prat.  Auntie Danielle, is supposedly in ailing health but is really just a nasty old shrew.  The new housekeeper who starts looking after her, knows what she is doing, and deals with her accordingly.

C’est Arrivé Près De Chez Vous (Man Bites Dog, It Happened In Your Neighborhood) –  Released in 1992,  directed by Rémy BelvauxAndré Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde.  It stars Benoît Poelvoorde.  This dark satire is a documentary about a film crew that follows a ruthless thief and heartless killer as he goes about his daily routines. It gets progressively more complicated when the film crew gets caught up in the violence.

Courtesy of Les Artistes Anonymes

Jeux D’Enfants (Love Me If You Dare, Literal Translation Is “Children’s Games”) – Released in 2003, directed byYann Samuell, and starring Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard.  Two young friends go from childhood to adulthood in a friendship that revolves around daring each other to pull increasingly audacious practical jokes. They remain seemingly obvious to their emotionally intimate relationship.

L’Auberge Rouge (The Red Inn) – Released in 2007, directed by Gérard Krawczyk, and starring Christian Clavier and Gérard Jugnot.   In rustic little inn in a remote rural area of France, the inn’s proprietors support themselves by murdering stagecoach passengers who stop over at the inn, keeping their valuables for themselves. A passenger learns of the innkeeper’s homicidal schemes, but is prevented from revealing them by the rules of the Confessional.  He finds a solution.

Classics by Jacques Tati

Les Vacances De M. Hulot (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday) – Released in 1953, directed by Jacques Tati, and starring Jacques Tati.  Monsieur Hulot, a pipe-smoking, well-meaning but clumsy character, comes to a beachside hotel for a vacation, where he accidentally (but good-naturedly) causes havoc.

Courtesy of Gaumont Distribution

Mon Oncle (“My Uncle”) – Released in 1958, directed by Jacques Tati, and starring Jacques Tati.  In this follow up to Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Monsieur Hulot visits the technology-driven world of his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, but can’t quite fit into the surroundings.

Jour De Fête (Aka Festival Day, The Big Day) – Released in 1949, directed by Jacques Tati, and starring Jacques TatiGuy Decomble, and Paul Frankeur.  An inept, easily distracted mailman drinks too much wine and goes to hilarious lengths to speed the delivery of mail aboard his bicycle.

Romantic Comedy

Courtesy of Claudie Ossard Productions, Union Générale Cinématographique (UGC) and Victoires Productions

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie, translates literally as “The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain”) –  released in 2001, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz.  This film was relatively popular in the US and ran semi-regularly on IFC. A curious and innocent Parisian girl who has her own sense of justice, decides to change the world by changing the lives of those around her.

Fanfan (Fanfan & Alexandre) – Released in 1993, directed by Alexandre Jardin, and starring Sophie Marceau and Vincent Perez.  Sophie Marceau has always been one of my favorite French actresses.  Although this romantic comedy starts out normally, it veers of and breaks the mold.

Dramatic Comedy

L’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck or The Spanish Apartment, translates “The Spanish Inn) –  released in 2002, directed by Cédric Klapisch, and starring Romain Duris,  Judith Godrèche and Audrey Tautou.  In this comedy, a strait-laced French student leaves his girlfriend and moves into an apartment in Barcelona with a cast of six other characters from all over Europe.

Courtesy of Bac Films, Ce Qui Me Meut Motion Pictures and France 2 Cinéma

Les Poupées Russes (The Russian Dolls) –  released in 2005, directed by Cédric Klapisch and starring Romain DurisKelly Reilly and Audrey Tautou.  This movies is the sequel to L’Auberge Espagnole.  This film portrays a reunion set five years after the first film.

Les Convoyeurs Attendent (The Carriers Are Waiting, an expression used when waiting for the repayment of a favor) – Released in 1999, directed by Benoît Marriage starring  Benoît Poelvoorde, Morgane Simon and Bouli Lanners.  A man who obviously loves his family, but doesn’t always connect with them.  One day, he learns an area business association is sponsoring a contest for a family that can break a world record, with the grand prize being a new car and drafts his son into the attempt.

Courtesy of Légende Entreprises, Film 99 Francs and Pathé

99 Francs – Released in 1997, directed by Jan Kounen, and starring Jean Dujardin and Vahina Giocante.  A satire on the business of advertising, a commercial ad designer wearies of his active free wheeling lifestyle and organizes a revolt against the business.

Les Valseuses (Going Places) – Released in 1974, directed by Bertrand Blier, and starring Miou-MiouGerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere.   Two whimsical, aimless thugs harass and assault women, steal anything of value, murder, and alternately charm, fight, or sprint their way out of trouble. The story picks up when a jaded, passive hairdresser, joins them as lover, cook, and mother confessor.

LOL (Laughing Out Loud) – Released in 2008, directed by Lisa Azuelos, and starring Sophie MarceauChrista TheretJérémy KaponeAlexandre Astier, and Alexandre Astier.  A teenage girl’s life is split between her studies in a prestigious Parisian high school, her secret diary, her friends, boyfriends, her divorced parents, drugs, and sexuality.  This movie is a remake of a 1980 film, La Boum.

Courtesy of Pathé, Bethsabée Mucho and TF1 Films Production

Mon Meilleur Ami (My Best Friend) – Released in 2005, directed by Patrice Leconte, and starring Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon.  An art dealer refuses to believe that her unlikable business partner has a best friend, so she challenges him to produce one. He scrambles to find someone willing to pose as his best pal and enlists the services of a charming taxi driver to play the part.


Courtesy of One World Films, Studio 37 and Universal Pictures International (UPI)

Gainsbourg (Vie Héroïque), (Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life) – Released in 2010 and directed by Joann Sfar It is a biopic of the life of French singer Serge Gainsbourg.

The Chorus (Les Choristes) – Released in 2004, directed by Christophe Barratier, and starring Gérard Jugnot, Jean-Baptiste Maunier, Marie Bunel, and François Berléand.    A successful conductor returns home and reminiscences about his childhood inspirations through the pages of a diary.

Jean De Florette – Released in 1986, directed by Claude Berri, and starring Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, and Yves Montand.  In this historical drama, two local farmers scheme to block the only water source for an adjoining property in order to bankrupt the owner and force him to sell.

Courtesy of DD Productions, Films A2 and Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI)

La Gloire De Mon Père (My Father’s Glory) – Released in 1990, directed by Yves Robert, and starring Philippe Caubère, Nathalie Roussel and Thérèse Liotard.  Based on the novel by the same name, it chronicles a summer in a young boy’s life in turn-of-the-century France. He witnesses the success of his teacher father and his arrogant uncle when they pend their summer vacation in a cottage in Provence.

Un Homme Et Une Femme (A Man And A Woman) –  released in 1966, directed by Claude Lelouch, and starring Anouk Aimée, and Jean-Louis Trintignant.  A man and a woman meet by accident and learn that they are each a widow/widower. They become friends, then close friends, and then she reveals that she can’t have a lover because, for her, her husband’s memory is still too strong.

Le Cœur Des Hommes (The Heart Of Men) – Released in 2002, directed by Marc Esposito, and starring Bernard CampanGérard DarmonJean-Pierre Darroussin, and Marc Lavoine.   Lifelong friends  are forced to confront situations beyond their control when the death of a father, a wife’s infidelity and a daughter’s wedding affects them.  They share their feelings, support each other, and analyze the true meaning of their lives.

Paris –  released in 2008, directed by Cédric Klapisch, and starring Juliette BinocheRomain DurisFabrice LuchiniAlbert DupontelJulie FerrierFrançois Cluzet and Mélanie Laurent.  In this ensemble piece, a professional dancer suffering from a serious heart disease is awaiting for a transplant that has the potential to save his life. While he waits, he observes the people around him, from the balcony of his Paris apartment.

Un Air De Famille (Family Resemblances) –  released in 1996, directed by Cédric Klapisch, and starring Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Catherine Frot.  When an upper middle-class French family celebrates a birthday at restaurant.  During the meal, they explore the family’s history, tensions build, and they explore memories.

Courtesy of Why Not Productions, Chic Films, Page 114

Un Prophéte (The Prophet) – Released in 2009,  directed by Jacques Audiard, and starring Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup. A nineteen years old, Frenchman of Algerian descent is sentenced to six years in prison for attacking police officers.  Upon his arrival, he is alone and illiterate.  He falls under the sway of mobsters who enforce a brutal rule and climbs within their ranks.
Les Petits Mouchoirs (Little White Lies, Literal Translation Is “The Small Handkerchiefs”) – Released in 2010, directed by Guillaume Canet, starring François CluzetMarion CotillardBenoît MagimelJean Dujardin, and Pascale Arbillot.  A handful of old friends make some unexpected discoveries about one another during an annual vacation after one ends up in the hospital after an auto accident.  Seemingly everyone has some secret that they have been hiding from their friends.
La Haine (translated literally as Hate) – Released in 1995, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, and starring Vincent CasselHubert Koundé, and Saïd Taghmaoui.  Three teenage friends struggle to survive in Paris’ ghetto suburbs.  When one is hospitalized after a riot, where a policeman lost his gun. His friend finds it and claims he will kill a cop if his friend dies.
L’été Meurtrier (One Deadly Summer) – Released in 1984, directed by Jean Becker, and starring Isabelle Adjani. This tragic tale of misunderstanding, obsession, and increasing madness,has a woman trying to avenge the long-ago rape of her mother.  In doing so she loses her mind and sets in motion a tragic series of events.
La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) – Released in 1969, directed by Jacques Deray and starring Alain DelonRomy SchneiderMaurice Ronet and Jane Birkin.  This film is about a love triangle that leads to disaster.
Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) – Released in 2007, directed by Julian Schnabel and starring Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner.  Based on a book by Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby about his life after he suffers a stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body.  Only his left eye isn’t paralyzed.


Courtesy of Cerito Films and Mondial Televisione Film

Peur Sur La Ville (Fear Over The City) –  released in 1975, by Henri Verneuil starring Jean-Paul Belmondo   In this French crime thriller a commissaire faces off against two old enemies, a gangster and a maniacal killer.

Pierrot Le Fou – released in 1965,  directed by Jean-Luc Godard, starring Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo.    An unhappy, recently fired married man escapes his boring society and travels from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea with  a girl chased by hit-men from Algeria. They lead an unorthodox life, always on the run.

À Bout De Souffle (Breathless, Literal Translation Is “At Breath’s End”) – released in 1960, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.  This film helped launch French New Wave.  A young hoodlum steals a car and heads for Paris, shooting a cop on the way. In Paris, he meets an aspiring journalist who agrees to hide him while he tries to trace a former associate who owes him money so that he can evade the police dragnet and make a break for Italy.

De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arête (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) – Released in 2005, directed by Jacques Audiard and starring Romain Duris.  A real estate thug is torn between a criminal life compete with thuggish father and his desire to become a concert pianist.

Nikita (La Femme Nikita) – Released in 1990, directed by Luc Besson, and starring Anne ParillaudJean-Hugues Anglade, and Tchéky Karyo.  Convicted felon Nikita, is broken out of jail, given a new identity and trained, stylishly, as a top secret spy/assassin.

Courtesy of Alter Films, Canal+ and Fidélité Productions

Anthony Zimmer – released in 2005, directed by Jérôme Salle and starring Sophie MarceauYvan Attal, and Sami Frey.  A highly intelligent criminal is pursued by international police and the Russian mafia.  He has extensive plastic surgery rendering him unrecognizable, even to his girlfriend, who enlists the help of an unsuspecting stranger on a train to foil those trailing him and embroiling him in the action.


Les Triplettes De Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville) – Released in 2003 and directed by Sylvain Chomet.  We saw and liked this film in the US when it was first released.  It tells the story of  elderly woman who goes on a quest to rescue her grandson, the Tour de France cycling champion, who was kidnapped by the French mafia for gambling purposes and taken to the city of Belleville. She is joined by the Triplets of Belleville, 1930’s lounge singers.

Courtesy of Les Armateurs, Production Champion and Vivi Film


Kaamelott is a French television series running originally 2005–2009.  Combining medieval fantasy and comedy, it presents a new “realistic epic” version of the Arthurian legend.

Panique Au Village (A Town Called Panic) – Released in 2000, it is a puppetoon series.


Swiss Languages, What is Romansh?

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Switzerland has four national languages: Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh.  Swiss German speakers make up 63.6% of the population, French speakers make up 20.4%, Italian speakers make up 6.5% and Romansh 0.5%.*  In fact, Switzerland’s diversity, particularly it’s diverse languages, is one of the primary ways it differentiates itself from its more homogeneous neighbors.

Romansh is only spoken in a few valleys in the southeastern alps, but is one of four national Swiss languages. It is a national language, but not an official language.  Therefore, it not used in Parliament, government and the army.  Also, laws do not have to be translated into Romansh.
When the Romans conquered the area in about 15 B.C.E., they latinized the area. Today’s inhabitants of the area speak Romansh, a descendant of Latin.
The area is very remote and isolated. As a result, five different versions of the language exist.   Notice the lack of roads (due to the Alps) in the southeast, where Romansh is spoken.
These are some of the largest, most easily accessible and well-known areas.  You can see how transportation and contact with the outside world might have been (and still be) difficult.
It is a unique phenomenon to have so many dialects in such a small area. In fact, Romansh is spelled many different ways including: Romansch, Rumants(c)h, Romanche, Romansh, Rumantsch, Rumantsch, and Romontsch. To help keep it alive, a standard written form was developed in the 80’s.
Check out the Romansh keyboard.  Despite my frustration with them, French keyboards are starting to look a lot easier.
*Those who add will note that this does not total 100%.  Other language speakers make up around 9%.  Expats, like us, are a good example.


Why CH?

If you have looked at any Swiss websites, you may have noticed that their country abbreviation is “ch”. This is also the country code/abbreviation you see on cars, money and stamps.

What does the CH stand for?  Confederatio Helvetica. Just don’t ask me how to pronounce it.

Switzerland has four official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh) that each have their own word for Switzerland.  To not favor any one language, the Swiss use the Latin term for Switzerland, Confederatio Helvetica.  Problem solved.

Who were the Helvetians?  They were a tribe that lived in Switzerland that were beaten by Julius Cesar in 58 B.C.   They lived (more or less) in the borders of modern day Switzerland.  This isn’t terribly surprising as modern day Switzerland follows natural geographic boundaries (the Rhine, the Rhone, the Alps and the Jura).