So one of my goals for myself is to watch a French film without subtitles by the end of the year. To that end, I’m trying to watch at least one film per week (among other things meant to aid my fluency). This is the first time since making that goal three weeks ago that I have actually accomplished it. I just finished watching La Petite Lili on Amazon Prime. Now, I have seen quite a few French films over the years, and I even own a few. I don’t know if it’s just indie films that I happen to find on Amazon, or if it is French cinema in general, but basically every film I watch leaves me with a better grip on the language and a looser grip on reality.
Quick rundown on the “plot” of Lili: Would-be filmmaker with an actress mother and director (sort-of) step-father makes a short film starring his girlfriend. People get mad at each other for some reason (it’s a dysfunctional family; from what I can tell, the French love dysfunctional families in cinema). The girlfriend runs off with the pseudo-step-father, and then we skip ahead four years where the ditched young filmmaker is making a movie about what should have happened with this whole situation. Spoiler: It’s actually weirder and more depressing than what actually happened.
There is a lot of juxtaposition in this film. We get several minutes of silence watching a character stare into the distance or move randomly through space, and then we get several minutes of dialogue with no clear beginning or end. I want to say this is an attempt at realism because since beginning my single life, living alone, I have realized that there are many long moments of silence interspersed with shoving as much dialogue as possible into tiny time frames. I mean, I spent a good 20 minutes this afternoon talking to myself in the mirror to break the monotony, so I totally get it. But it’s awkward on film.
Also, warning to American audiences who can be, let’s say, prudes: there are boobs in the first five minutes, but then you never see them again. I suspect the director was attempting to scare off mainstream American viewers. That, or he (Claude Miller) was trying to establish a relationship in the first five minutes that would become increasingly unimportant five minutes later. Let’s face it, Lili and Julien’s relationship is not built on a strong foundation.
After a few minutes of research (Google to the rescue again!) I discovered the film was based on the play The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. This makes me more hopeful that I may have missed the point entirely. Actually, I had that feeling through most of the film. See, I love Chekhov. Three Sisters is fabulous. Wikipedia tells me that The Seagull is a comedy. Oh dear. Well, perhaps I should read the source material and come back to this one.
However, as a film standing alone, I think it’s a bit abstrait for me. I am apparently terrible at choosing French films for myself to watch. Somebody help?