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.