Category Archives: French

11. ‘Partie de Campagne’ Creative

Swing Theory…

I really liked the extended swinging shot in ‘Partie de Campagne’ and thought it would be a good excuse to try out the HarryCAM that Dad made me for Christmas.  I tried a variety of techniques, although I’m not sure that they are completely successful, but it was fun.

Results on YouTube –




11. Joint 90th – ‘Partie De Campagne’ (1936)

During my research and as completely new to Jean Renoir’s work, I was really intrigued to find out that the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and the director Luchino Visconti were assistant directors. I was hoping to see this pedigree in the film and find some hints to their genius. I also found out that the film was unfinished because of bad weather and they released it without Renoir in 1946 at only 39 minutes long.

Unbelievably, I have never seen a Jean Renoir film, which is a little shameful, especially as he is considered the fourth best director by the BFI survey. I am looking forward to exploring what his work is like, although I possibly should have started with his full-length films.

I did find it full of comedy French cliches, including a man with a stripy top and a moustache holder, Pastis, an hysterical mother, the amazing beautiful French countryside, Parisians… I was almost waiting for Maurice Chevalier to turn up!

There were a lovely variety of shots used and, although used for a long time, I liked the shot on the swing, which set up the rest of the narrative.

With the 1860 setting and flattened black and white cinematography (by Claude Renoir, his brother?) it feels like an old world rediscovered and almost as if they are recreating the Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting ‘Chestnut Tree In Bloom’ – see below. It is interesting to think of the effect of Renoir’s father may have made on him.

The story was a perfectly contained narrative and would be all you needed in any film and although the kiss seemed hasty and slightly unlikely, I loved the way it was shot. It was almost like she was staring down the lens and the film got more interesting after it. The tracking rain shot was great.

Not sure I understand the genius yet… And mum and dad certainly found it soporific…

Steadicam on a swing
Tracking of rain shot
Recreating an old painting



French film lesson – ‘Être Et Avoir’ (2002)

Kate, Françoise  and I had a lovely couple of French lessons on the 14th and 21st March when we watched a French documentary, Être Et Avoir.

French films


French lessons are always great anyway as Françoise  is very patient about our ability and often gives out some snacks and champagne.  What’s not to love?  However, we have decided to watch some films without subtitles to help our listening comprehension.  This was a brilliant film to start with as Être Et Avoir is set in a primary school in the middle of the very rural Auvergne region.  One teacher, George Lopez, teaches all the children (from 4 to 11 years of age) and is the epitome of patience and kindness.  I will remember him when I lose my temper with teaching… Some of the children were completely adorable, my favourite was JoJo who had a cute face and couldn’t quite manage to clean his hands.

Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that much of the language (children’s voices are quite hard to hear), but Françoise very nicely translated and the film was lovely to watch.  We also had to do some research and present it in French as homework, which was nice to prepare. We’re now planning our next film, do suggest anything you think we should watch…

5. Joint 93rd – ‘Un Chien Andalou’

Un Chien Andalou (1927) by Bunuel and Dali is a shocking, challenging and confusing watch.  I have taught this film at least three times and probably watched it twenty times so it is difficult to create an independent response and remember how I initially felt about it.  I actually used this film today, along with some art by Picasso, to explain Modernism, before we started learning about Post-Modernism.  It’s all high-brow around me don’t you know!  It isn’t a film I would watch this regularly if I didn’t teach it, but I definitely appreciate its place in the canon.

Watching it in class this afternoon

Watching it in class this afternoon

I really love watching this film with students and have used it as part of the showreel to sell film studies this year.  It quickly got around school that I was showing the most disgusting clips, which surely can only help!  The student reaction to the eye-cutting sequence is brilliant.  The most hardened horror fan will still squirm when the eye is cut in to.  I don’t think they expect it to really happen.  It’s amazing how quickly people forget that film is a construct and that it can’t really be happening.  On the viewing this afternoon one of my students sat open-mouthed throughout the entire thing.  Perfect.

Obviously, I love the initial eye-cutting sequence and all its references to the hypnotic and damaging power of mainstream cinema.  I also love the close-up on the beach sequence where the man’s hand is held up next to her face and she seems to stare at his watch.  However, my favourite sequence is the one that Dali seemed to be most in charge of.  I love the male character trying to drag the two pianos, two priests and two dead horses.  It’s such a perfectly visual image and I would love to imagine what it would look like in colour.  Although I love the grainy black and white generally, it’s nice to imagine this as a Dali painting.

Horses on pianos.

Horses on pianos.

This short film is clearly about a break with narrative structures and no matter how often you try to suggest to a class that there isn’t a clear plot and the narrative is deliberately confusing they won’t have it.  I love how it plays around with time, including the intertitles that say ‘eight years later’, ‘in the spring’ in an illogical way.  The changes in tempo are dramatic and unnerve the spectator, clearly a plan.


A close-up on the eye.

A short film that disrupts time and place.

A chaotic written piece.

1. Joint 93rd – ‘Madame De…’

Which one to start with…?

I started off my top 100 film list by watching ‘Madame De…’ a lush and regal 1953 French film directed by Max Ophuls.  It was the perfect choice for a Saturday afternoon and told the story of a Parisian coquette (played by Danielle Darrieux) who sells her husband’s earrings (Charles Boyer) as she is in debt.  We then follow the earrings as their owners get entangled in affairs, deceit and desire.

Throughout the film there were numerous long tracking shots that involved complex camera movement and the use of focused lighting. It gave it a lovely musical quality, it had an innate choreography that was most clearly demonstrated in an energising waltz montage.  The camera and two main characters (Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica) are continuously spinning round each other, they have a force that will inevitably lead to the tragic resolution.  I have discovered after researching the film that Ophuls had been a musician and he used to script a tempo to each scene of the film.

This lightness of touch continues with the amount of adult content that is explored in a delicate way.  We have mistresses, gambling, debt, heartbreak and I love the way they are all treated with ease.  There also seems to be a lot of parallels througout the narrative that give it a lush, formal feeling (to match the incredible rococo mise-en-scene).  The train departure, the earrings as a gift, both men wanting her to come back, being injured or feeling pain in her and his heart and feeling irritation about her suitors.   The dialogue is equally sparse and precise, but contains some lovely, philisophical statements that discuss the human condition.

The most impressive scene for the economy of story-telling, something I think modern films have often lost, is the scene where Darrieux and De Sica meet.  It is in a customs office and in only four shots we find out what he does (an ambassador), realise he is interested in her, they acknowledge each other and she leaves.  The camera movement does all the work and they exchange no words.  A masterly sequence and an example of how tightly crafted the whole film is.

I loved Darrieux’s performance.  She went from a frivolous coquette to a tragic heroine in ninety minutes.  I loved her taut, composed face with eyes that showed desperation.  Her scenes during the affair were well done and I loved how she said ‘Je vous n’aime pas’ over and over, while clearly expressing the opposite.

I was interested in the suggested critique of the church.  Her futile prayers were another parallel througout and I liked the fact that her cursed earrings were left to the church as the final image.

Ideas for creativity:

  • A close-up of precious objects.
  • Moving camerawork- like my scary scene?
  • Use of spotlight.
  • Work with black, white and grey.
  • Try to tell a narrative with a simple plot device/objects.

Details of the film:  France, 1953. Directed by Max Ophuls and starring Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica.

Details of viewing: 6th October, 5pm, on my own at home on DVD.