Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Excellent movie on French TV

A week ago, when I learned from my favorite TV weekly (the one, of course, that employs my daughter as a journalist) that the actress Isabelle Adjani would be playing the role of a slightly deranged schoolteacher in a so-called téléfilm (a movie made to be aired on TV), I was intrigued in the same way as when I once heard—in a totally different domain—that the great Lance Armstrong planned to make a comeback to professional cycling in a relatively low-profile bike race down in South Australia. Now, some readers might criticize my choice of words, so I hasten to add that I'm aware that it's not exactly correct to qualify the Tour Down Under as "relatively low-profile", just as it's misleading to suggest that the great Adjani has been absent long enough from theater and cinema to allow me to talk of a "comeback".

The 85-minute film, which was released today in French movie houses, has a strangely dull title, which doesn't really attract viewers: Skirt Day. Fortunately, journalistic previews told us, without spoiling anything, what to expect in the movie. The story line is as simple as it is ingenious: exactly the sort of tale that an imaginative scriptwriter might dream of inventing.

In a suburban secondary school, many of the undisciplined students seem to be of a North African ethnic background. A distraught teacher of literature, played by Adjani, intends to introduce her students to a comedy by Molière, but the classroom atmosphere is so rowdy and out of control that her attempts at talking about theater are doomed. In a scuffle, one of her more boisterous students drops a bag, and a loaded hand gun slides out of it and onto the floor. Spontaneously, without thinking, the teacher snatches the weapon and transforms herself, in an instant, into a keeper of hostages. During the confused events that unfold, the armed teacher has extraordinary opportunities to read out the riot act, as it were, to her dumbfounded students, most of whom are lying face down on the floor of the classroom, and fearing for their lives. She forces them to listen to an assortment of harsh facts about sexuality, the respect of women, the absurdity of racist attitudes, etc.

Adjani's dramatic offering is utterly superb, and she has been applauded unanimously by the vast audience of two and a quarter of a million viewers who, like me, watched the film on TV. The film is now destined to have a huge success in movie houses and, soon, on DVD.

Srely, one of the keys to Adjani's brilliant performance is her own personal background. Her stern father was an Algerian Kabyle, and her mother, a German. Isabelle and her brother grew up in the rough suburbs of Paris, and the brutal atmosphere of this film was not unknown to her.

As for the title, Skirt Day, it alludes to the silly idea that a woman who wears a skirt, rather than trousers, is asking for trouble, since many suburban males will see here as a loose female, akin to a prostitute. The teacher, in her role as a keeper of hostages, makes an unexpected ransom request: the observance of an annual Skirt Day, promoting a woman's liberty and right to wear whatever clothes she likes.

Conclusion. We can look forward to profound repercussions from this movie. Clearly, Isabelle Adjani has neither exhausted her dramatic impact upon all those who admire her, nor spoken her final words on the serious themes of this movie.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

French model

Up until now, I had imagined naively that the overall political style of Barack Obama was something that he and his team of advisors had forged from scratch. So, I was taken aback by allegations in the French press, over the last 24 hours, from our Socialist diva, Ségolène Royal.

Basically, she contends, with no mean pride, that Obama would have borrowed certain political principles and communication techniques from the former French presidential candidate herself. Madame Royal visited Washington for Obama's inauguration, but it appears to have been a private excursion, and one should not fall into the trap of imagining that the French lady had been invited there by anybody in Obama's milieu.

When Ségo tries to explain the exact concepts that might have been copied, I find her words rather fuzzy. She mentions, first and foremost, her win/win strategy, according to which both employers and employees should have something to gain as an outcome of advantages accorded to one or the other party. Frankly, I find this example a bit far-stretched, in that everybody knows that this concept comes directly from game theory, which was essentially a US invention of sixty years ago. She talks, too, of her expert citizen concept, related to the old-fashioned populist notions that ordinary people (like the customer) are always right, that trained specialists tend to become robotic administrators, that common sense will always prevail, and that a naive down-to-earth approach to problem solving in society can produce results almost magically. To my mind, this kind of talk rings a little like the Christian notion of the meek and mild inheriting the Earth. As Madame Royal once dared to affirm, children never tell lies. Has Obama's team really decided to implement Ségolène Royal's system of so-called participative democracy?

According to the French Socialist lady, it was in 2007, when she was campaigning against Nicolas Sarkozy, that Barack Obama sent a team of his advisors to Paris to study, among other things, her website named Désir d'avenir [future desire]. It's highly likely that Ségolène's belief that she inspired Obama should be placed in the category of wishful thinking, accompanying Sarkozy's dubious allegation, not so long ago, that Obama was his copain [mate]...

BREAKING NEWS: Ségolène Royal explains that, in her remark about Obama copying French methods, she had been replying flippantly, jokingly, to a journalist's question during a press conference she had organized in Washington just after Obama's inauguration. "Concerning the campaign and the use of Internet, it's no doubt we who should be inspired by Barack Obama and maybe copy him now and again." She added: "The force of the event we've lived through here and elsewhere in the world has impressed me... but it didn't cause me to lose my wits!" The least I can say is that Ségo has a talent for screwing things up from time to time by using inappropriate words.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Sarko's mind

No normal French citizen could be happy with appalling images of the following kind, which reoccur sadly every New Year's Eve, when certain individuals get a kick out of burning automobiles, forcing firemen to risk their lives extinguishing these absurd blazes:

This year, some 1,147 went up in flames in this crazy fashion. It's easy for mindless vandals to get away with such acts, since an automobile can be torched almost as easily and rapidly as lighting a cigarette. The victims of this madness are the innocent owners of destroyed vehicles, who might even be prevented from earning their living as a result of the loss of their automobile.

While everybody is surely reassured to discover that no less a man than Nicolas Sarkozy himself is disgusted with this plague, and determined to eradicate it, the means suggested by the president are somewhat bizarre. What he suggests is a weird kind of indirect punishment for young vandals who burn automobiles. A condemned youth would be prohibited from passing his test, in the hope of obtaining a driver's license, for as long as he hasn't reimbursed the cost of the automobile(s) he happened to burn.

French laws have existed for ages, of course, concerning this kind of delinquency, and one might imagine that conventional punishment would be appropriate. But we common mortals don't necessarily understand and appreciate the specific style of Sarko's mind. He reacts like the lawmakers in primitive societies who say that, since a robber uses his hands to commit robberies, then the most fitting punishment for a robber consists of cutting off his hands. In the present situation, since young hoodlums are destroying automobiles, then let's deprive them of the right to use automobiles. In a way, it's primitive eye-for-and-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth thinking. Now, I find it hard to say whether Sarko's right or wrong. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. In any case, that's his special bling-bling style. Most normal leaders (if such creatures exist) are obliged to go about righting wrongs in a dull legislative manner, with the assistance of elected parliamentarians, reforming existing laws with a view to making them correspond ever more closely to current social realities. The gimmick-oriented mind of France's president doesn't work that way. He has the habit of seizing upon spectacular criminal events to transform them—maybe unconsciously—into pretexts for self-glorification, designed to make onlookers exclaim: "Isn't he an amazingly powerful guy!" Or maybe: "Isn't he a cunning bastard!"

French people recall the happenings that transformed Sarko, overnight, from the mayor of a posh Paris suburb into a Zorro-like hero. That was back in May 1993, when I happened to be leaving Paris in an old red Renault, with my Macintosh computer and a suitcase of clothes on the back seat, to start a new job down in Grenoble. On the car radio, I heard that an armed guy calling himself "Human Bomb" had burst into a kindergarten in Neuilly-sur-Seine and taken a class of kids as hostages. The tension was terrible, because the crazy guy, named Erick Schmitt, was encased in an intricate arsenal of explosives that could annihilate everybody. As the mayor of Neuilly, Sarkozy stepped boldly into the picture.

He negotiated directly with the kidnapper in the expert manner of a Middle Eastern rug merchant... with France watching on TV. And, whenever Sarkozy succeeded in obtaining the release of a hostage, he would carry the child back in his arms in front of the TV cameras.

To my mind, that day marked the start of Sarkozian mythology.

Personally, I would never dare to wink an eye in the direction of Carla Bruni. I would be afraid of hearing the president decree, in his usual spontaneous style, that my balls must be cut off.