Parisian Charm School

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In Parisian Charm School Jamie Cat Callan provides an orientation to the uninitiated to the to élan of Paris. Her lessons on fashion, color, use of voice, flirtation and such explain why the French have such elegance and poise. In addition, she gives the names of tour guides and teachers with businesses that give unique experiences to English speakers.

The book is a fun, breezy read, that gives a romantic look at all things French. It’s far from a complete or sociological look at the City of Lights. I thoroughly enjoyed Callan’s writing, but realize that like any country France has its pros and cons and that a lot of the tours or experiences would be pricey. So remove your rose-colored glasses before you sell your house and move to Paris in search of amour.

Antoine et Collette

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A short film by François Truffaut, Antoine and Collette is a slightly melancholy look at Antoine Doinel’s attempt to get a girlfriend. First seen in 400 Blows Antoine has grown up left his neglectful, abusive home at 17. He’s on his own and works for a record company, where he gets lots of tickets to concerts.

At one concert he sees Collette and immediately falls head over heels for her. She’s indifferent to him so there’s misadventures as Antoine tries to get Collette’s attention. Once they become chummy, her parents meet and take to Antoine. This will be the story of his life, girls’ parents, but not the girls themselves liking this well-meaning, rather lost boy.

The film is touching and realistic and charms viewers in its 26 minutes. I wish it were longer and was glad to watch Stolen Kisses and see more of Antoine.

The Life of Émile Zola

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The film character doesn’t look like this

As I’ve recently finished Germinal, when I saw the film The Life of Émile Zola (1937) displayed with Oscar Best Picture winners, I had to watch it. Starring Paul Muni, The Life of Émile Zola begins with Zola sharing a cold garret apartment with Cezanne. Both are struggling to launch their creative careers, while trying not to freeze to death. Soon Zola meets a prostitute in a café, hears her life story, writes a novel based on it. When it’s published it’s criticized for its immorality and it flies off the bookstore shelves. Still poor, Zola goes to the book seller who published the book to beg for a small advance. Instead he gets a check for 30,000 francs. He’s rich!

Zola continues to write popular books and lives in comfort and luxury with his wife in Paris. One day his still struggling friend Cezanne drops by to announce that he’s off to the South of France to paint. Paris is no longer the place for him. Before leaving, he feels compelled to point out that Zola has become materialistic and complacent. He’s lost his ideals. This opens Zola’s eyes.

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The story shifts to the army office where treasonous letters are found and the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus is soon arrested and sent to prison. The Dreyfus Affair is a dark corner of French history, showing how quick the army leaders were to allow their Anti-Semitism to condemn an innocent man with out fair due process. The very odd aspect of this Warner Bros. film is that the anti-semitism is never mentioned. If you didn’t know about the history, you wouldn’t realize that Dreyfus was Jewish and that was a factor in his arrest and imprisonment. A 2013 New York Times article stated that studio head  Jack Warner, who was Jewish himself, insisted that any mention of Jewish heritage be removed from the film.

When Dreyfus’ wife pleads with the comfortable bourgeois Zola, she convinces him that the right thing to do is to take up Dreyfus’ cause. The famous article “J’accuse!” results and Zola’s soon arrested for libel. A fierce courtroom battle ensues where Zola is the David to the powerful government’s Goliath. (This time David loses though.)

While this chapter of history is worthy of a film, this production is outdated. To whitewash the events by editing out anti-semitism makes no sense. Muni’s Zola hops around the scenes and is so almost comical in his vibrancy, that it’s hard to take him seriously. Other characters like his wife, Cezanne and the military leaders are one dimensional. The film was the Best Picture of 1937 and won other awards, but it doesn’t stand up to the test of time.

Victoria, Season 2, Week 3

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This week Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and her court journey to France. She hopes to convince her cousin Louis Philippe not to marry his son off to a French princess, which would bring about a terrible political alliance as far as England’s concerned.

A corny subplot was the Duchess of Buccleough complaining about all things French, the baguettes, the people, the lack of toast. I feel sorry for Diana Riggs as this role is something of a poor man’s Violet of Downton Abbey.

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Château d’Eu in Normandy where Victoria et al visited the Louis-Phillipe

Albert pouts and broods a lot as he’s carrying the secret that he might be illegitimate.

Victoria feels insecure about being unfashionable compared to the French ladies. She asked Skerret to get her some rouge. Skerret delegates the task to Miss Coke, who speaks some French and we all learn that French women not only wear more make up than the French but they take veal, put it on their face and then put a leather mask over their faces while they sleep. And you thought K-Beauty had some strange products!

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Painting from this event, by Eugene Lami

Victoria is well received at the French court despite her qualms. When she wears rouge, it creates a bit of a stir. Albert chastises her for that later. He’s disgusted by the artifice of French society. He is out of place there. However, midway through the show, he’s walking in the woods with the French prince and some British nobles. He spies a waterhole and is compelled to disrobe and skinny dip! Soon all the men except the French prince are in the water. Then Victoria and the ladies happen by. Victoria is amused to glimpse Albert frolicking. There’s a rather overdone camera effect with all this diffuse sunshine on Victoria. A more natural effect would have been more fitting.

Back at the castle, Victoria teases Al for his skinny dipping. Then he confides to her how he fears he’s illegitimate and she responds by telling him she doesn’t give a hoot about his pedigree. She loves him.

Albert moves on to another success when he uses a grape metaphor to illustrate how politically bad a marriage between the French prince and a Spanish queen would be for England. King Louis-Philippe concedes and promises our royals they have nothing to worry about.

Back home, the duchess is happy to tuck into some boiled mutton or toast. (She’s far from a foodie.) Albert’s relaxed. And as absence makes the heart grow fonder, Victoria embraces her children with joy. There’s a bit about how Mr. Francatelli’s received a perfumed love letter. Mrs. Skerret feigns indifference.

Then da da da daa, Lord Peele announces that That tricky Louis-Philippe is hitching his son to the Queen of Spain. Seems the trip was a failure. All that seasickness for naught.

As Victoria had nine, count ’em nine, children the episode ends with her telling Albert is is pregnant.

All in all, the episode, which was based on history, was good. I didn’t expect the double cross. I didn’t miss the usual storylines with Skerret’s ungrateful cousin.

Next week we’re to see the Irish Potato Famine.

 

Ross & Co. to the Rescue

On this week’s Poldark Demelza pleads with Ross not to rush off to save Dwight because perhaps the plan Caroline told her about the Royalists defeating the Jacobins will work out. The look on Ross’ face says he highly doubted that, but he did listen.

George hit the ceiling when he heard that his son Valentine has rickets. The possibility of his heir having a common disease appalled him. I expect if the baby isn’t perfect George would ship him off to an orphanage.

Morwenna’s trying George’s patience by not agreeing to the match with the slithering Rev. Whitworth. Who can blame her? Elizabeth, why don’t you find her someone less slimy? Morwenna’s returned to Trenwith where she’s happily catching toads with Geoffrey Charles and her true love Drake. Aunt Agatha spies them and figures everything out. She then has a tete-a-tete with Morwenna letting the lass know that there’s no future with Drake so she ought to break things off right away. In the end Morwenna realizes that’s true. She ends it with Drake.

Nothing works out across the channel so Ross decides he must go to save Dwight. Drake joins the gang to numb the pain of his broken heart.

George is in a snit about not getting an invitation to a big party. If he were born 240 some years later he could be a regular Mark Zuckerberg, who’s reaction to social rejection was to start a billion dollar internet service. But alas Poldark’s in the late 18th century so George will just grumble and snipe and drive Elizabeth to distraction. Eventually he is invited, but that’s not sufficient because Demelza was invited. He wants to be included and he wants the host to only invite those he wants to see. Demelza gets the better of George in their exchange of cutting remarks.

George thinks trashing Ross will garner social points so he scoffs at what he considers Ross’ foolishness in leading a group of brave men over to France to save Dwight.

Over in France the men fight fiercely to save not only Dwight but a slew of men who’re imprisoned. They party has a casualty, Mr. Henshaw, Ross’ right hand man in the mines. His loss is great and he’ll be mourned for years to come. It makes Dwight’s rescue bittersweet for all but Caroline. Dwight is likely to feel survivor’s guilt for quite some time.

Drake was shot and he’ll need to be tended to, but will probably have PTSD. Morwenna has no one to help her and she’s headed for a terrible marriage.

As usual, this episode was the best thing I saw all week. The drama was pitch perfect as it closely follows the book, included stunning cinematography, and every scene was compelling. Every actor delivered a four star performance.

Poor Dwight and Morwenna

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Sunday’s Poldark episode began by showing the villagers poorer and starving. Yet, and this should come as no surprise, George had no mercy or compassion for them. He rounded up those he could and sentenced them to 15 years in prison.

Also, the program included the fastest, no fuss, birth I’ve ever seen on television. In one scene Demelza’s digging potatoes and a bit later she’s got her new daughter Clowance  in her hands.  I didn’t actually mind the abbreviated birth because the episode was packed with other events.

Dwight is stuck in a dank, dark, decrepit prison which rivaled the Les Misérables Paris sewers for hygiene. Yet despite the starvation and mental anguish of his imprisonment, heroic Dwight manages to perform surgery in his cell.

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Carpe diem, Morwenna

Morwenna and Drake, both reserved by nature, tentatively get closer. Yet as Morwenna’s charge Geoffrey speaks up to George and is found to have gone to Clowance’s baptism on the sly, George and Elizabeth feel it’s time for her to marry. Poor Morwenna. The Warleggan’s don’t bother to find anyone at all suitable. They settle for the first slimy widower to come along, a much older and very greasy Rev. Osborne Whitworth. Morwenna should run for the hills! But there’s no one who can rescue her. It’s out of the question socially that she could marry Dwight who lives in a dark, old building with a dirt floor with his brother. Even Demelza thinks Morwenna could never marry down.

George doesn’t brook opposition, no matter how wise or how true. Thus he’s exiling Aunt Agatha to the dungeon of the coldest, darkest part of the house. He makes sure that she gets no letters, including Ross’ invitation to Clowance’s christening.

As so many people are starving Caroline and Demelza team up to get them grain. Ross finds a way to trick George so that he’s fooled into thinking the villages stole when in fact they were given grain through donations. Ross’ trick backfires as it prompts George to get even by closing his mine, which was once a Poldark mine just out of spite. The result is 70 breadwinners will be out of work and their families may starve, but George has no compassion and he doesn’t care. Be careful George, look what the French did to their upper class.

The episode was brisk and moved a long with lots of emotion and action. The hour whipped by and I didn’t want the show to end. We’re left hanging to see what will become of Dwight, Morwenna and all the others in this splendid cast. I find I like Geoffrey Charles more and more.