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The greatest French invention and why watching films will help you understand the French (and other French speakers) better
When you think about France, food, fashion or art probably come to mind more often than great innovations. Yet, the French have bestowed many inventions upon the world. What would our lives be like today if Alexandre Godefroy hadn’t invented the hair dryer in 1886, or if France had never introduced the world to the metric system. Take a minute or two to imagine a world without the credit card chip – yes, a Frenchman invented that as well. You’re welcome shopaholics.
In my opinion though, the greatest innovation to ever hail from France is definitely the cinema. The aptly named Lumière Brothers (Lumière means light in French) are considered the earliest film makers in history and were indeed the first to hold public screenings in the late 19th century.
Proud of this tradition, France still is the largest film producing country in Europe. Not to be outdone by the French, Belgium, Switzerland, Québec and French speaking Africa also produce their share of great films every year. You really are spoiled for choice, should you decide to complement your learning French using the moving pictures.
Watching films regularly, at home or in the cinema, is one the easiest ways to improve your language skills outside of the classroom. It allows you to immerse yourself in the target language without so much as having to leave your sitting room (or cinema theater). No need to pay attention, take notes or use complicated verb charts. You simply sit down, relax and let the magic of cinema help you learn.
But language and culture are intertwined in the same way the chicken and the egg are. Learning a language independently of its culture (or cultures) is like trying to produce eggs without hens; pointless and fruitless. The French speaking world is a vast and complex patchwork of cultures. Learning French should never be just about grammar rules and pronunciation mistakes. It is also important to learn about what it is to be Belgian, Congolese or Marseillais. One of the simplest ways to get more cultural insight into the francophone world is through films. Indeed, films allow you to dive into a different culture and experience it in many ways.
Try to have a conversation with a Senegalese, a northern French person and a Quebecer and you’ll understand how different French can be when spoken by people from different continents.
Watch for example the massively popular Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis to get a better understanding of the Northern French accent and comparing it with Marius et Jeannette set in Marseille where the accent is as warm as the weather.
For instance, Belgian film makers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s award winning films offer a naturalistic view of outcasts at the fringe of society. Two of their films Rosetta and L’Enfant won the palme d’or in Cannes. My personal favourite Le Gamin au vélo won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011 and tells the rather moving story of a young boy from an underprivileged background struggling after his father abandons him. I also recently came across an interesting Congolese film called Viva Riva! which depicts in a very realistic way the violence in the street of Kinshasa (please note that the film is in French and Lingala)
I personally find the lunch scene in 3 Days in Paris absolutely hilarious. Every line in it transports me back home. If I were asked to sum up in ten minutes what it is to be French, I would probably show this scene. It is all about the importance of food, the crude sexual innuendos, arguing for the sake of arguing, the extreme pleasure taken in shocking foreigners with our food and many other things that make us French.
The critically acclaimed Amélie, although at times a little stereotypical, offers the viewers a wonderful opportunity to wander through the streets of Paris. The French have also long been known for the quality of their historical drama. 1992’s Indochine explores the life of a French family in a rubber plantation in Vietnam from the 1950 all the way to Vietnam’s independence from France. Although not a true story, the film is a powerful depiction of the last decades of French presence in Indochina.
It has never been easier to get your hands on French (or francophone) films: you can choose between downloading them, streaming them or borrowing one of the 450 DVDs from our médiathèque here at Alliance Française de Cork, click here.
And don’t forget of course our upcoming 28th Cork French Film Festival – laissez-vous emporter par la 7ème art.
Matthieu has two Masters Degrees from Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux III and taught in the linguistic Department in Bordeaux III. He later relocated to Denmark where he taught English and French in a Danish Folkeskole. He moved to Cork in 2007, and joined the team at Alliance Française de Cork as a French tutor, teaching second level, adults, children and training French teachers. Matthieu also works with Cork French Film Festival team during the week of CFFF, introducing films, interpreting and helping with Education Packs.