Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Getting serious about French

Today I finally succumbed to a twenty-year itch and enrolled in French language classes at Alliance Française in St. Kilda. Faxed my application form and credit card details. CAE in the CBD would have been more convenient, but I can be impetuous and wanted to strike while the iron was hot - CAE's classes started about a month later than AF.

I have a certain personality-type. When there are lots of options, I find it hard to make a decision, because deciding on one means excluding the others. At different times I've also contemplated German, Spanish and Greek. German, because I learnt it at high school and liked the well-structured and phonetic nature of the language. Spanish, because of all the languages I've encountered, I've found it the easiest to pick up (I spent 17 days in Panama in 1987). And Greek because my partner speaks it fluently and could assist me.

Ultimately French won because of all countries, French (and French-speaking) have been my favourite overall. The culture really appeals, and I'd love to at least visit the place and be able to go to a cinema without subtitles. The recent French Film Festival and screening of Paris, je t'aime probably added to my decision. And just tonight, I saw Claire Denis' sublime Beau travail (1999) for the first time at Melbourne Cinémathèque. It just confirms why I want to learn French.

Classes start from 23 April and I'm just hoping I can remain committed. I've since found a free online resource and have adjusted my keyboard settings so I can type all those accents. As if I had plenty of spare time up my sleeve... sheesh!

Oh, and somehow or other I've managed to make it to 50 posts - they've snuck up on me. I'm pretty happy I've made it this far. That's about 10 posts a month. Now I just need someone to pay me for my writing. Anyone?


marty said...

French is a great language and not as difficult as you would expect. I took the CAE French class years ago in 1992 but didn't do the full course. However, I am going to France next month attending the Cannes Film Festival and then jetting off to Paris for 5 days. I know a bit of French that gets me by ok. You'll enjoy learning French and your partner will find it very sexy.

Paul Martin said...

Yeah Marty, that'd be a bit of a dream holiday for me. But not just Cannes, as I think film festivals can be a bit intense, but just hanging out in a city and going shopping, seeing films and doing normal day-to-day stuff.

I spend a month in the US (NYC and Washington DC) about three years ago, and even in an English speaking country, I found it fascinating to get around walking or taking a train and doing the same kind of things I do at home, or a resident would do, avoiding all the tourist traps.

Of all the many languages I've dabbled in, I found French the hardest. That may be because I didn't like my high school French teach. Thanks for the encouraging words, because I am feeling a little daunted.

And I do love the sound of French (and Spanish, too). I'm one of those hard-core purists that stays to the end of the credits and reads as much as possible. I love reading names in other languages, especially Spanish and French.

Matt Riviera said...

Hey Paul,

Quelle bonne idée!

I'm so glad I'm a native French speaker: I'd hate to learn it, it's not the easiest of languages to tame. But it's a great initiative, and there's nothing like watching foreign films without the need for subtitles.

By the way, I really recommend watching French films on DVD (especially ones you've already seen) turning off the subtitles. It's basically how I learned Spanish - and if you're an avid film watcher, it's relatively painless!

Also: congrats on your 50th post! The blog keeps getting better - many happy returns!

Paul Martin said...

Thanks Matt. I don't have a problem with subtitles at all, but I feel that there's subtleties one misses out on. For example in Beau travail we see the protagonist writing or in other films there may be street scenes with signs, etc.

My understanding is that English is a very hard language for others to learn; just a matter of practice and determination. Yeah, lots of DVDs sounds good.

I have a question for you, Matt. My favourite French films are often the bleak social dramas. Pretty much we only get them in film festivals. France produces some 250 films a year. Are these serious dramas easy to find in Paris? Is it like here where you have cinemaplexes and arthouse cinemas? I'm thinking I'd love to go on holiday to Paris/France and check out the cinema there.

trent said...

Hey Paul, it's huntz hall. All the best with learning French--as you mentioned actually living in a French-speaking country would be the ideal way to learn, but this is a good start. The closest I got was spending a week in Montreal, but Quebecois is a little different anyway. I would love to understand every language spoken in the movies I see because I think a lot of subtlety and nuance is lost in the English subtitles. Werner Herzog speaks about this quite often in the commentary for his films.

Also just wanted to mention that the Centre Pompidou Video Art exhibit is on at the ACMI at the moment. I caught it in Sydney a couple of months ago and actually visited 6 or 7 times. There are a number of great videos to check out but the greatest of them all is Godard's Scénario du Film Passion. Try to catch it all the way through if you can. Cheers.

Maya said...

Congratulations on your decision to learn French, Paul! I return to Paris every couple of years because I love to just hang there, socialize, watch film. It's the city I would ultimately like to retire to.

Paul Martin said...

Hi HH, thanks for dropping by. So is it Huntz or Trent? And do you have a blog (the link doesn't access anything). There's a link for my email in the sidebar, drop me a line as there's something I wanted to discuss.

I get to ACMI a couple of times a week or more (I was there this evening) but haven't seen the Pompidou exhibition yet. I might go there a few lunch-times as I work not too far away - and it's all free! I'll look out for Godard (believe it or not, I've seen nothing by him yet; I'm waiting for something on the big screen as I rarely watch DVDs).

And thanks for dropping by Michael. I noticed that your photos on your other blog are of Paris. I also have a photo blog - I like to capture buildings, urban decay, street art/graffiti, interesting faces, etc. I've not really been to Europe (other than London) but I do have a strong urge to live in NYC for 2-5 years (I don't know if I'd want to retire there, though).

trent said...

I'm intrigued, my e-mail

It will probably take Godard's death for anyone to show his films here, and by then it will just be an empty gesture. The Chauvel showed A Bout de Souffle a couple of weeks ago but so what--anyone would think that's his only film as that's all cinemas ever seem to show, no one bothers to show his later films. I am forced to watch a lot of movies on DVD because of this reason, but you'd think that a living master would at least get his work shown more often. He is snubbed in a lot of places, not just here, and this is why I am very critical of distributors. So make sure you see his film at the exhibit because his insight into Passion, into labour and love, is what inspires and drives me.

I love ACMI, it really is a wonderful place. I often lament the fact that I can't go there anymore. I still feel like a Melbournian no matter where I am, however.

Paul Martin said...

Trent, I got to ACMI to see the Centre Pompidou Video Art exhibition at lunch-time today, just before the Godard video and watched it in it's entirety. I've not seen any of his films yet, so I don't have a good contextual appreciation of it. However, I think it will help me to appreciate where he's coming from when I do get around to seeing something of his. The visual quality was quite poor (projected onto a reasonably large screen), and the seating arrangements are fairly austere.

One of the staff at ACMI said he saw the exhibition in Sydney, which was much larger and more like the original exhibition. Nonetheless, I'll spend a few lunch-times there to see a bit more.

Interestingly, now that I've committed myself to learning the language, I found myself taking a bit more note of the aural sound of the spoken words.

What you're saying about Godard being snubbed reminds me of our very own Alkinos Tsilimidos. Or even (in the context of theatre), the Melbourne playwright Daniel Keene (who wrote the screenplays to three of Tsilimidos' films). At least Keene has recognition in France where most his plays have been translated and produced.

Cathleen Rountree said...

Hey, Paul, we met on Michael's blog ("The Movie Lovers' Club" post). Good choice, French. I studied it for several years and then lived with a Frenchman for four years, so when I'm in France, I can get by okay. Now I'm on to Spanish. Took Spanish 1 about 3 years ago and tomorrow I'm enrolling in intensive summer sessions of Spanish 1 (repeat) and Spanish 2. The weird thing is that when I try to speak Spanish, my French returns; so I end up speaking more French than Spanish! I interviewed Connie Nielsen a couple of weeks ago. She speaks SIX languages; but, then, that's a European for you. Bonne chance!

Paul Martin said...

Hi Cathleen, and thanks for your comments (and your 2c worth at The Evening Class). From your website, I see we have some common interests that may both collide and have some synergyies. If you visit Melbourne, stop by and we can discuss and/or argue. ;) My interest in gender (which is part of a broader concern with social and human issues) can be gleaned from my review of Volver, and which I continue to think about as I read more about Almodóvar.

I don't know how good a choice French is - I've considered Spanish since I spent 17 days in Panama in 1987 (I left a week before the coup by Noriega; that's a story for another day). I also think Spanish would be more useful for me if I lived in the US for some time, and I'd love to get that opportunity. I noticed lots of Spanish-speakers in NYC when I was there in the winter of 2003/04.

But one of my biggest passions within cinema is for French films, so French it is. I think if I can master it, Spanish should be a breeze.

I was thinking about language and other languages I'd like to take up at some time are: Arabic, Hebrew (I can read a little as I learnt it as a child), Mandarin and Japanese (I learnt some at school). Maybe next lifetime.

Cathleen Rountree said...

Paul, I read your VOLVER commentary and agree with much of it. i, too, thought Cruz was a little over-hyped. i wonder why you didn't mention TALK TO HER, which i find hugely more satisfying. I agree with your assessment of the soap-operatic quality in VOLVER (and many of his films, actually, and i've seen them all). For all of his Spanish "heat" and Cruz's contrived sexuality, the film left me cold, even though i enjoyed the viewing process, it had no emotional depth. When reviewers compared Cruz to Sophia Loren and (worse) Anna Magnani (who is my favorite actress), i couldn't believe it! It's also interesting that Almodóvar's first films were exceedingly dark. it's fascinating watching directors (Bergman, Fellini, Tarkovsky, Allen, for a few examples) unravel their psyches on celluloid.

Thanks for the suggestion of the typing program. that's the one I mentioned that i'd used––but not long enough, alas.

No trips to Melbourne planned (I want to get to Iran, India, Argentina, and Brazil first), but i'll definitely let you know, if i ever do make it there. BTW: have you seen the remarkable old film ON THE BEACH with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner that takes place in Australia? Pretty spooky, especially as the nuclear potential increases. Ciao...

Paul Martin said...

Cathleen, since Volver was released (which I've seen twice), I've watched all of Almodóvar's work. I know many people point to Talk to Her as one of his best. My favourites are Matador and Live Flesh, the only works he used co-writers. I think that Almodóvar's work (including Talk to Her) never breaks through an invisible ceiling because of HIS writing. Artistically he's got great style, but his writing is limited by his personal headspace, in my opinion of course.

Almodóvar is a master of publicity, and - aside from the many other devices he uses - he really has talked up Cruz in a way that the media took on board. You've probably seen media production notes. I find the film media very lazy. The production notes come out and they (the media) all basically parrot the view that's promoted.

The Beach screened recently at ACMI, but I missed it unfortunately.

Cathleen Rountree said...

Yes, THE MATADOR is one of my favorites as well, also, DARK HABITS. And, because i'm a woman writer, i guess, i like THE FLOWER OF MY SECRET.

ON THE BEACH should be on DVD, no?

Paul Martin said...

Cathleen, as I said on Michael's The Evening Class, I find Almodóvar so damn frustrating. There are so many elements I love, and I find him a good director. I've liked all his films but none of them have achieved greatness for me, because of that ceiling he can't rise above. I'll even go so far as to say that I think his ego prevents him. I get the impression (and I may be completely wrong) that he has such a high estimation of himself and his work that he's become a little lost to himself.

I liked both those films, but both frustrated me too, like most of his films. I liked Flower a bit more than most, even though he once again focuses on a neurotic and insecure woman (he loves portraying them as victims), because he showed a some balance (but only a little) with his treatment of gender.

Yes, On The Beach is available on DVD, but as I said to Michael, I watch little DVD - I'm a big-screen person. I have a completely different experience seeing something on DVD vs the cinema.