Used to be that the French in movies were considered suave customers, hand-kissers who went to their heroic deaths with a smile and a quip. Maurice Chevalier charmed musical lovers from the 1930s to the Eisenhower age. Simone Simon was one of the most inflammable women on screen during the 1940s. Charles Boyer, with his air of ageless sophistication, dazzled the female audience for more than two decades. Boyer's luscious mannerisms are remembered by today's film viewers whenever they see his cartoon avatar (above).

Today, we're more familiar with the role of the treacherous surrender-monkey in contemporary American cinema. Action directors, scalded by French film critics, fluff up the frog-bashers in the audience, who are still angry at the French lack of enthusiasm for our maneuvers in the mid-east. David Hayhurst in the July 30 Variety digests a little of the French press's reaction to nouveau French villainy. The critics he cites don't mention Le Frog in Flushed Away, or the dreadful revival of Clouseau. They do center in on Sacha Baron Cohen's slobbery Gaul in Talladega Nights, and the inexplicable French (or were they supposed to be Algerian?) terrorists in Live Free or Die Hard.

Liberation,
the most politically left of French newspapers editorializes that the terrorists "speak the language of Moliere" -- was their French indeed that precise? I don't remember any aphorisms when they were blowing up stuff -- and yet they just sound like typical foreign villain to Americans. When you pick on the French, Liberation continues, no one protests, in the way they might have if the villains were Arab or Chinese. Not to be outdone, the center-right Le Monde blames the rise of French villains on the former president Chirac and "his band of capitulators."

To the new wave of French-bashers, let me quote Belmondo in Breathless. "Me, I love France. If you don't like the beach, there's the mountains. And if you don't like the mountains ... you can go hang yourself." When I tell people I spent time in Paris, they act like I escaped from some anti-American hellmouth instead of a place where you feel lucky to be there, and lucky to be alive. The snooty French wait-aire, the gabbling policeman, the slutty harridan who blows smoke in your face, the sports-jacketed, stubbled piece of Eurotrash--in the movies, they all get the big guffaw from viewers who never got closer to France than French Lick, Indiana. But maybe it's time to comb the world for some other villains. I nominate the Welsh. Their so-called rabbits are nothing but cheese on toast, they wear witch hats, and their language has too many "L's" in it. Never trust the Welsh!
categories Cinematical