Wednesday, May 2, 2012

3 French Novels inspired by 3 French movie trailers

Dealing with French through high school and some university was difficult for me, but because my instructors took some pity on me I scraped through. Now I look at French culture more favorably. Ironically the three French novels (in English naturally) I have read this year by mid April were all inspired by movie trailers.

I follow the IMDB website a lot and learn about film festivals and check out new or highly regarded movies. Early this year I saw a trailer for "Sarah's Key" and found it interesting, partly because I had seen Kristen Scott Thomas in a number of French movies and quite enjoyed them (ranging from comedies to dramas). My sister in law, Cindy Olynyk decided it was a good idea to offer some books (especially books she enjoyed) to friends and relatives and suggested when we were finished to loan them to someone else who was interested. A great idea allowing more people to read good books. "Sarah's Key" was one of the books and the one Cindy talked about the most.

My wife grabbed it first and took it with her on the beach in Cuba. There it had an unexpected response. One fellow walking by noticed the book and loudly proclaimed it was one of his very favorites and that it had made him cry. This fellow created quite a stir as he was wearing a brightly coloured thong bathing suit and was quite loud. We ended up talking to him for about half an hour and learned a few things of our overlapping interests. Towards the end of our vacation my Kobo's battery ran out and I switched my attention to "Sarah"s Key." Like Cindy and my wife Sharon, I found it hard to put down.

In the airport to go back home I picked it up to read and got the attention of a woman nearby who also expressed her great love of the book. This started another interesting conversation. She and her husband, both in their 80's were from Thunder Bay, a place I have never visited. They were good models of what I would like to be like when I reach that age. They were both politically active (not the same voting tendency as myself, but very open) and I suspect physically as well. They had come to Cuba on a very enticing deal they learned about just a few days before the flight. They re-arranged their busy schedules to take advantage of the opportunity. I had stayed at a beach resort, but they chose a resort in town so they could feel the local culture more closely.

About the book itself, written by Tatiana de Rosnay  it is a page turner.  It explores a part of World War II that is not publicized very much--the roundup of Jews in France by French police. The actual events run parallel to a modern discovery of the events. The conversations around the history depicted in the book all acknowledged that it would be easy to condemn the French, but also admitted that most of us might not be any better. The story also is an example of the endurability of the human spirit and our capacity to empathize with others.

A little earlier in the year another movie trailer caught my attention called "The Hedgehog". Trailers can be very deceptive and they are are designed to develop your interest. I read some of the reviews and that encouraged me even further. This time I checked the library and alas the movie was not in, but the book, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" was. I checked it out.

Written by Muriel Barbery it was an interesting mix of younger and older characters, French and a little Japanese culture. A young girl bent on suicide is befriended by a self described ugly concierge mutually recognizing their superior intelligence and sensitivity.  A Japanese film maker becomes a part of the intimate group.  I didn't feel I had been too misled by the trailer, but the book's ending did catch me off guard.

A third time another movie trailer got my attention. I have to confess that any movie that has Audrey Tautou in it, is automatically something I have to watch. Audrey wasn't playing a particularly glamorous role, but the hint of the plot looked interesting. I checked the library again and saw an entry for "delicacy" that had Audrey's photo in it and reserved it. I was very excited, but when I picked it off the shelf I saw that it was a book. I was tempted to turn it back as I already had too many books out.

I am glad I didn't. "delicacy" made me laugh and I found it very satisfying not only its plot, but its unique style. It is a romance between a fairly young widow and someone thought of as a klutz.  Of course there are all sorts of obstacles for this unlikely couple.  They misunderstand each other often,  but it turns out to be a satisfying relationship.  I understand the author David Foenkinos teamed up with his brother for the movie version.

All three French authors were great to read. They seemed to have a feel for the psychology underlying the actions of the characters. I should credit the translators for making them easy to read, but I think the tone was set by the authors.   Like most Canadians I tend to read books written by English speaking authors, but as I have found in the film world, foreign perspectives can be very intriguing.

Still waiting to see the movies and I am sure there will be differences.  It is difficult to get into the internal thinking that is exemplified in these three books so I will be interested to see how the directors, screen writers and actors tackle the project

I did eventually see the movies and you can read about my reactons at:

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