Ben Sen's Blog

Politics, Culture and Religion Without Projections

Ben Sen

Ben Sen
New York, N.Y.,
December 31
I'd rather be judged on the basis of my posts than anything written in my bio. It's put down and gathered as a record of my experience and a response to what I see as the important issues in the world today. I don't pretend it's anything other than subjective. The purpose is to analyze, interpret, express opinions, challenge the status quo, open a few doors, and entertain. I heartily welcome ratings, comments and dialogue. That's what makes this media unique and valuable. It also keeps me honest and encouraged since I'm not getting paid. Take a risk and say something; it feels better. A "conversation" is essential for the growth of the individual and the collective. I have faith it extends beyond the confines of what is said here. "For it is necessary for awake people to be awake, or a breaking line may discourge us back to sleep, the signals we give--yes, no or maybe--should be clear: the darkness around us is deep." From A RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER by William Stafford


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APRIL 11, 2011 12:09PM

Confessions of a Frankophile

Rate: 14 Flag

     Maybe it was growing up Catholic in Detroit and belonging to the old guard who knew "Detroit" is the French word for "strait," referring to the river and the French were on top of the historical pecking order.

     Maybe it's the bread.

     Maybe it was the Camus, Flaubert, Gide, Maupassant, de Tocqueville, Zola, Montaigne (the essays are back in print) Balzac, Proust, Rimbaud, Simenon, (born in Belgium, wrote in French) Voltaire, Cezanne, Monet, Matisse, Picasso (yes, born in Spain) Rodin, to name very few.

     Maybe it's the fact the French listen to what their writers have to say more than anybody else. 

     Maybe it was those times at the Hotel de Bain at Seven Rue Delambre in Montparnasse, the scent of the rain on the cobblestones in Place Pigalle at dawn, the foie gras with that bottle of wine for five bucks that was the elixer of the gods in the Dordogne, the lavender fields at harvest time in Avignon, the girl in the pink petticoat in the hayloft in Tulle that time I was hitchhiking... 

     But maybe in my lifetime it was the movies of Truffaut, Eric Rohmer (who could forget Claire's Knee, for instance) Godard, Claude Chabrol, Pierre-August Renoir, (Le Grande Illusion still ranks as the greatest anti-war movie I've ever seen) Allain Resnais, Louis Malle, or Robert Bresson, who still hasn't received his due.  Now that they're gone, or not producing the world is a less civil, sophisticated, witty, and humane place.  I know not everyone agrees, and I respect that, but it doesn't mean I can't feel sorry for them for what they deny themselves.

     This is all by way of review.  I can't say Xavier Beauvais is on the level of the greats yet, but his OF GODS AND MEN is definitely in the style.  It's based on the true story of a small band of Trappist monks in Algeria who decided to die at the hands of terrorists before abandoning their monastery and the muslim community it served.

     I can't imagine the most obtuse athiest or Frankophobic (there are a lot of them) not seeing the power in these men's commitment given the principle that the way we live and die says more than any philosophy or religion we espouse.  There are some scenes that risk being cant, like the analogies with Christ in the desert and the Last Supper, but they're pulled off so well and with such delicacy they meet the challenge and then some.

     You may remember Lambent Wilson from his roll as the sniveling French lecher in the Matrix, but here he goes to the opposite extreme to prove he can act.  Less is more and he knows how to do it, even if he's upstaged by the veteran Michael Lonsdale, who you should be able to recognized by the cautious droop of an eyelid, or the waving of a bottle of Bordeaux to introduce SWAN LAKE.  My God I love him.

     That it brings back more than it portends is sad, but then aren't  all those incredible moments waiting for us on netflicks, or at the ALF when we finally slow down enough to witness how life is actually lived rather than titillated by twirling acrobats with bare legs and Glocks?  The same can be said for POTICHE (The Trophy Wife) directed by Francios Ozon--a homage to the great Catherine Deneuve, where she gets to mix it up at least one more time with Gerard Depardieu and show the kids once again how it's done.

     Deneuve, technically speaking may not be the greatest actress to stand before a camera, (as is true of most American film stars, especially of the older generations) but she is so penultimately French it's easy to overlook, and her moments of incandescence make watching her thrilling.  Mr. Ozon has presented us with a sweet morsel, the class and sex wars converted to a laugh--and who on God's earth can complain about that who isn't simply obscessed with the unremittent war?

     I want them all back--all the greats--Moreau, Belmundo, Signoret, (See her in La Chat--her last performance with Jean Gabin. It'll knock you on your derrier.) Anouk Aimee so I can worship at their feet.  But at least I can still see their films the way I did all those years ago under the tutellage of Andrew Sarris from his "platform" at the Village Voice--turning us onto a new world of intimacy, culture, tradition, refinement and oui, mon ami--style.       

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a very original post. are you also of French origin?

Nope. Not a drop for the six generations I'm aware of. But there was definitely a distinction I felt when I was a kid. My grandfather used to erect monuments to the old French priests who founded the city of Detroit, and many of the main roads were named after the early French settlers. I think these sort of things have an subliminal effect or, they did in my case.
Lambert Wilson is indeed a hottie. And he sings Sondheim. What more could a gay Francophile like me want?

France defines me: Proust, Genet, Godard, Rivette, Rohmer and abive all Patrice Chereau.
...and Rene Crevel.

I just wanted to make sure he got mentioned.

I'm a FrankBoothophile.

Where's my bourbon?
I think of Brigitte Bardot as one of the all time French beauties as well. Very enjoyable read. I tasted my first lavender honey in France, after driving along fields of lavender.

Another Bresson admirer! I own Au Hasard Balthasar on DVD.

If I was going to answer this "saved by pop culture" Open Call, I'd write about seeing the films by the great French filmmakers - Godard, Truffaut, Renoir, etc - and how they changed my view of what film could be but also made me understand myself better. Also time to dig out my dog-eared copy of Camus' The Plague.
I wish I were as smart as you, Ben Sen. I am not half as well read and I know little about French history and culture past the basics. This was delightful.
My experience with films is limited. Although I've experienced some excellent pieces of art, most of my exposure to movies has been limited to the rather tasteless and forgettable ones. I'm also not very good about remembering names, but I do remember this modern day film that I consider a classic, "The Mission." It's main character is Robert DiNero. I loved his acting, the music, and the power of Catholic Redemption and forgiveness in this unforgettable film.
I agree, and am looking forward to seeing POSTICHE. For me, it is vicariously going back to that aesthetically magical place where everything rewards the eye, and one can taste the wine as it slides down the throat. All French movies have that blazing sensuality, while being totally real. And the women are authentic, beautiful with a few wrinkles, and extra pounds. One of my favorites, was "L'Heure d'Ete".
Wonderful reminiscences, my dear M. Sen! I was recently captivated by Jean-Claude Brisseau's Choses Secrètes (2002) on Netflix instant streaming. Highly recommended neo-noir.
Thank you for writing this. In France, I was moved by the sight of a middle-aged French woman applying lotion to her arms in the airport. The grace and dignity with which she regarded her own skin made me rejoice in being a woman and desire a more dignified way of being in the world.
"Vous savez talent" mon ami. The French definitely appreciate their great thinkers, they are some of my favorite heroes. Thank you for this incandescent stroll through a cultural tower.
I just went through a little Francophile period of my own a few months back. I listened to a lecture series called, "The Giants of French Literature" and then read the recommended novels. Let's was Flaubert, Camus, Balzac and Proust. My favorite was Flaubert's Sentimental Education. I still haven't been able to get through Proust. Perhaps I haven't tried hard enough. I will come back to him.
Oops, got my Frankophile spelling wrong. That's embarrassing.

U aren't the only one who has trouble with Proust. It's what he attempted in terms of form that makes him interesting in my view, but once you get it there's not much to hold your interest.

I didn't mention Baudelaire, for whom I feel much the same thing--an experiment in form that changes how you think, and is entertaining to a point, but then losses impact. The French take more chances than anybody else, partly, I think, because they can still be accepted.
There's Anatole France, Descarte, Rabelais, a lot of artists, cooks, a big steel structure they call sculpture, though it looks like a broken radio tower. I would like to visitit someday. Without the fucking mimes though. They are a scourge on humanity.
I just saw Postiche. It was delightful and charming and the quintessential French movie! It was also a tongue and cheek look back at the Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Now SHE is the umbrella manufacturer and she undoes one happy ending to make another. I loved it. Deneuve is still beautiful and realistically plump, yet still sexy, unlike so many American actresses.