Grand corps malade

Fabien grew up in Seine-Saint Denis, an ill-famed area north of Paris known to all as ‘le neuf trois’, for the number of the French department – 93. He was going to be a professional basketball player, until a dive into a shallow pool left him paralyzed. He was told he would never walk again.

Instead, he became Grand Corps Malade (translation: Big Sick Body), a slam poet. He came to fame in France in 2006 with an album called Midi 20 (Twenty past twelve). I remember listening to it on the radio on the way back home from work. My kids liked him, and I was intrigued. When I saw that he had written a book, Patients, a memoir of his time in the hospital and rehab after the accident, I picked it up.

I don’t often read in French. I wanted to see whether I could read an entire book and enjoy it, maybe even improve my comprehension of the written language. I had spoken for French 20 years but never studied or even read its literature.

I was immediately captivated by Fabien’s voice, and the story he told without sentimentality. The little frustrations: not being able to change the channel on TV, or scratch an itchy eyebrow. It was a simple story about character, and people, and kindness and courage. I was struck by the cast of so-very-French characters who helped him climb out of the paralysis in which he was locked.

Now, he walks with a cane and a bit of a limp. Very tall, very deep-voiced, he is a man with an extraordinary regard, one that is frank and full of humour. And his story is now a film, that he produced and co-directed with the filmmaker Mehdi Idir.

I spent a couple of weeks in the hospital once, a few years ago. The dual meaning of the word ‘Patients’ was brought home to me. Never my strong point, patience, and I probably got better and went home quicker simply to avoid having to be a patient for any longer than I had to.

It’s been ages since I went to see a film at the cinema but I can’t wait to go and see Patients.

Et toi? Have you seen any good movies lately?


  1. phildange · March 2, 2017

    This word makes me feel like starting one of my pedant crises, sorry for that . Patient comes from old Greek paskho/epathon, a verb meaning endure or suffer, exactly the double modern meaning . It is the root of “sympathy”, originally “suffer with”, but also the root of “passion”, originally meaning “suffering” as we can see in the Passion of the Christ and in the beautiful concept of “compassion”, Latin literal translation of the Greek “sympathy”. Old Greek gave the Latin “patior”, then the French/English “patient, passion” etc…
    The double meaning of patient and all derivatives surely gives much to think for those who want to learn from the very deep and ancient wisdom of humanity transmitted through this exclusive human tool called the language .

    • MELewis · March 2, 2017

      I quite enjoy your sometimes pedantic raves! It’s quite interesting to discover the origins of the word patient, and as you point out, it is rich in meaning. This world needs more compassion.

    • midihideaways · March 6, 2017

      That a great insight – language is wonderful!!

      • phildange · March 7, 2017

        Yes, for those who know how to love it . I remember when I was God only one Word was needed to launch all the big thing .

  2. francetaste · March 2, 2017

    Thanks for the film tip. I hadn’t heard about it.
    Another book in French that’s an easy and enjoyable read is “Le coeur n’a pas de rides” by Marina Rozenman. It’s a collection of true stories about French couples who found love after age 70.

    • MELewis · March 2, 2017

      Now I remember why I had noted that down for a future read! Thanks for reminding me – it’s on my list.

      • francetaste · March 2, 2017

        Marina is a friend of mine. A lovely person and a great journalist.

  3. Osyth · March 2, 2017

    1). I am living two steps from the best little cinema in town so I will look out for this movie. It’s very much my sort of story (no surprise there) but pricks me more soundly just now since my stepson who moved back to the States after doing his Medieval and Renaissance Studies Masters at Liverpool is working currently whilst he tries to find a niche in a museum or teaching, in a small unit with four severely brain damaged patients. The one he speaks of most is a young man of 26 – quadriplegic and helpless. There but for the grace of something or other we all go.
    2). It’s funny but I read easily in French but still struggle to speak without the proverbial mouthful of hot potatoes so I am also ordering the book and I am certain I will eulogise silently to self
    3). The last movie I saw (at the aforementioned great little movie house two steps down the street) is ‘Un Sac de Billes’ about a Jewish Family in Paris during the occupation – I highly recommend it.
    4). I have made a note of Francetaste’s book too and will seek it out.

    • MELewis · March 2, 2017

      1) I envy you that cinema as we are rather under served in our area. An hour by the time we drive and park the car = not very inspired! And what a wonderful ‘school’ for your stepson – and for us all. 2) We may be soul sisters but are clearly French language opposites! I speak far better than I read or understand. 3) Noted – sounds like an interesting film. And 4) Would never do anything as structured as join a book club but just love getting book recommendations. Thanks for your thoughts!

      • Osyth · March 2, 2017

        I am hoovering up the movie names and making detailed plans for movie nights because this is only temporary but I must say it is bliss. I love the cinema and I love French films so I’m a little piglet in mud. Mind you, I made a mental note that the one with the announcement that she went to sleep and woke up the next morning with ‘a little extra’ … not pregnant but complete with man-tackle, that one is one to miss!!!

      • MELewis · March 3, 2017

        Good lord. Sounds like the documentary about Trump showing on Sky at the moment. TMI. Reality is tough enough! x

      • Osyth · March 3, 2017

        There is no way on earth I would be able to watch that …. I’m finding it hard enough to sleep as it is!!! Xx

  4. Charlotte Graham · March 2, 2017

    To be honest, I generally do not enjoy watching films. Documentaries, on the other hand, I tend to enjoy. Your post reminds me that I need to find a new documentary to watch.

    • MELewis · March 2, 2017

      I tend to prefer series drama to feature-length films these days. Also enjoy a good documentary or investigative-style news magazine and there are lots on British and French TV. Hope you find something interesting!

  5. Suzanne et Pierre · March 2, 2017

    We aren’t going to see movies as much as we used to. The last was Arrival by Denis Villeneuve and we have Lion on our list but never seem to find the time to go…He is an interesting character with a great story to tell…(Suzanne)

  6. Anne Donnelly · March 2, 2017

    Wow, I have heard Grand Corps Malade’s music, but I had no idea his story. Will definitely look out for the book and the film! Thanks for the tip! I’m generally not that moved by Oscar buzz, but I have to say I’m really interested in seeing Hidden Figures and Moonlight. Both are such important stories told by AMAZING casts!

    • MELewis · March 2, 2017

      Interesting, it’s the same for me but for some reason I have completely missed the Oscar buzz this year. Of course I heard about Moonlight after the awards ceremony blunder…. Thanks for sharing and hope you get a chance to read it or see the film!

  7. Lisa @ cheergerm · March 3, 2017

    Sounds like a remarkable story, I will keep my eyes peeled. I am keen to see Lion and Moonlight as well.

    • MELewis · March 3, 2017

      Oh, yes, do go if you get a chance. Any please share if you have any good Aussie films to recommend?

  8. Mél@nie · March 6, 2017

    ah Fabien aka GCM… je l’ai vu à Canal+… par contre, I haven’t been to the movies for years, as we watch recent films on Canal+!!!

    • MELewis · March 8, 2017

      Glad you enjoy that option! I don’t go often but lately I find that when I do, I enjoy the focus of watching a film in a dedicated space with no distractions. We have Sky at home but whenever I watch a movie on TV, I’m ashamed to admit I fall asleep!

  9. midihideaways · March 6, 2017

    Saw ‘Jackie’ recently, and am still not sure what to make of it. And LaLaLand was very much so-so. But I did see an old movie called ‘Waking Ned Devine’ a couple of nights ago, and that was brilliant, very funny with some good laughs!

    • MELewis · March 8, 2017

      Have not seen any of those films but the last one sounds more like my kind of thing. Increasingly enjoy the little ‘indie’ films and leave the box office blockbusters for others. Lots of good French films at the moment – Patients was great and now I want to see ‘De Plus Belle’ and ‘M. et Mme. Adelman’.

      • midihideaways · March 9, 2017

        There are some great ‘indie’ films out there! Watched ‘I Daniel Blake’ last night – not uplifting, but very fascinating!

      • MELewis · March 9, 2017

        Saw that one too and loved it!

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