Ça va?

Ca va?

This post is dedicated to the two little French words that just keep on going.

With these two words of vocabulary, you can say a great many things. You can ask if someone’s all right, in general or when they’ve hurt themselves (like Louis de Funès in the above pic), or expand upon them to create an entire conversation.

Ça va?

Ça va, merci. Et toi?

Ça va ça va. Et ta femme?

Ça va bien aussi.

Alors ça va. Bonne journée!

It’s extraordinary how much nuance can be expressed in those two words.

‘Ça va’, when said in a bright tone of voice, means happy. Ça va bien, super, or even super bien adds degrees of delight. If enunciated with an interrogation or a slight downward lilt, it can mean something less joyful. ‘Ça va pas trop mal’, means not bad, but could also mean not great either. When you get to ‘ça va pas trop’ or the ill boding ‘ça peut aller’, you know things are heading south. Until they stop all together.

Now despite our ups and downs, our strikes and our politics, things in France generally always go. Until they don’t go. Which is to say that most of the time ça va, until suddenly ça va pas. And then – Attention!

Ça va pas du tout aller là. Ça va vraiment pas du tout. Du tout du tout du tout!

When things stop going in France, watch out. There will be drama and sparks will fly. Couples divorce. Heads have been known to roll.

Usually after a dramatic episode of ‘ça va pas’ there will be a healing period of ‘ça va mieux’. Things are not fine but they are a bit better. They are going, which is infinitely preferable to not going at all.

‘Rien ne va plus’ (nothing more goes) was the title of a 1997 French film directed by Claude Chabrol about a couple of con artists. The title was inspired by the expression which is used in the world of casinos, about which I know nothing. Truly. But Google tells me this is what the croupier says when no more bets can be placed on the table.

Of course, you know that the ‘ne’ is usually dropped in spoken language. Just like you know that the word ‘ça’ is actually a contraction of the more formal ‘cela’. Some people prefer to say ‘cela’ to give themselves an educated air. Verging on the ridiculous, like the character infamously played by Thierry Lhermite in the French film classic ‘Le Père Noël est une ordure’.

C'est cela oui

As for the photo of Louis de Funès, it is from a 1966 film called ‘La Grande Vadrouille’. I’ve just learned it has been remastered and re-released. Not sure if it can be found anywhere to rent online but it’s out on DVD. I intend to watch it, both for the slapstick silliness that the French do so well and the wonderful scenes of 1960s Paris.

Alors toi, ça va?

La joie de vivre

le-fabuleux-destin-d-amelie-poulainA funny thing has happened in France since the Paris attacks.

The French are rediscovering their joie de vivre. Not just because joy is what makes life worth living but as a defining principle. Finding joy in the little things is what makes us who we are. Sitting at a table of an outdoor café, that most quintessentially French thing to do, has become an act of defiance.

It’s a reawakening of sorts. An awareness of what is important, the values we share and the fragile nature of life itself. It is made all the more poignant by the fear that is in people’s hearts. France is in the throes of collective post-traumatic stress syndrome.

At the same time, there is a sense of resilience. That somehow, in adversity, we will be stronger. Perhaps it won’t last. But I get the feeling that a page has been turned and that, as much as people are afraid and that their ‘insouciance’ has been lost or at least compromised, there is on another level a renewed appreciation of the things we share.

We are seeing it in the brave letters from people who have lost loved ones or been touched in some way by the terror. It is a refusal to give in, to change, to let go of one iota of what makes us who we are. We owe it to all those whose lives were tragically cut short on that fateful Friday night in November.

It has occurred to me that lately I have neglected to put enough joie into my vivre. This is going to change. I know the things that bring me joy. Singing. Jumping. Snow. Creating. Moments of peace and solitude. From now on, those things will take a higher place on my list. While I’m at it, I might just tear that list into pieces and toss it on the fire.

Amélie stole our hearts with her naïve sense of joy and wonder in the world. May we all feel it, today and every day that is given to us.

What brings you joy?

Faire son cinéma

Sophie Marceau wardrobe dysfunction
Sophie Marceau’s ‘slip up’

To dramatize, to ham it up, to make a scene: however you translate the French expression ‘faire son cinéma’, it’s happening at the moment in Cannes.

This is one of the rare French expressions that you can actually say in more than one way: faire son cinema, faire du cinéma, faire tout un cinéma…they all mean the same thing. And the French are masters of the art.

It happens every year at this time when the Cannes film festival kicks off for ten days of glamour and glitz. Drama queen moments abound during the festival when the stars hit the red carpet on the steps or ‘la montée des marches’ of the Palais des Festivals.

Mostly they do a better job of going up the steps than François Hollande did on his recent trip to Haiti (he literally hit the red carpet). The French president is known to be a bit of a klutz and he certainly proved it here:

This year in Cannes Sophie Marceau’s underwear ‘slip up’ hit something of a false note. Since revealing her boob to all and sundry on the red carpet a few years ago, she has lost all credibility with the wardrobe malfunction. How desperate for attention can you get?

What really has the croisette buzzing this year is ‘Shoegate,’ sparked by the organizers’ refusal to let women wearing flat shoes go up the highly photographed steps to the première of the film Carol starring Cate Blanchett. There is a strict black-tie dress code in Cannes but festival organizers have formally denied that there is a ‘high-heels only’ policy. It wouldn’t surprise me. Heels are absolutely de rigueur for French women. As someone who makes it a policy to exclusively wear flats, I won’t be likely to get my red carpet moment.

It’s all the more ironic given that this year’s festival is supposedly dedicated to la femme. 

Here are some of my favorite pics from Cannes this year (I have such a crush on Gabriel Byrne!)

Do you have a favorite red carpet moment – in Cannes or elsewhere?

What the Oscars can learn from Cannes

The sun shines down on the Cannes film festivalThe Oscars could learn a thing or two from Cannes: last night’s award ceremony went off without a hitch and perfectly on schedule. Lambert Wilson, who apparently had gotten over his nerves since opening night, hosted the event with aplomb as Jane Campion and the illustrious jury handed out the coveted Palme d’Or and a dozen other prizes.

Top prize went to the Turkish film, ‘Winter Sleep’, what the New York Times calls a ‘3 hour and 16 minute philosophical talk fest‘ and that I suspect lives up to its title. But the jury prize, the one they give to the film that’s closest to their hearts, went to a film called ‘Mommy’ by young Canadian director Xavier Dolan. That’s one I’ll try to catch.

When it comes to televised ceremonies, you have to hand to the French: they’re able to pull off ambitious live events with military precision. The whole thing was done and dusted in time for the assembled guests to go to dinner.

Now that’s what I call civilized.

And for red-carpet watchers like me, check out all the best-dresses from the 87th edition of Cannes here.

The world according to Les Guignols

Les Guignols de l'infoA great source of entertainment and education for non-natives in France is Les Guignols de l’info. These satirical French puppets have been parodying politics and ‘les people’, as the French call the famous, as long as I can remember. They’re part of the free viewing offer on French pay TV Canal Plus.

Every night at 20:00 (that’s 8 pm for you non-Europeans), the puppet known to all as PPD (pron: ‘pay-pay-day’, an abbreviation of the name Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, who used to be the real-life anchorman on the TF1 evening news), welcomes viewers with the line:

“Nous sommes en 2014, vous regardez l’ancêtre d’internet, bonsoir.”
(It’s 2014, you’re watching the ancestor of the internet, good evening).

He used to introduce the show with this line, forever engraved in the French pysche: “Vous regardez trop la télévision” (You watch too much TV). Mais il faut changer avec son temps, n’est-ce pas? Times change.

Ménage à troisNothing and no one is safe from the Guignols. Even the host of the Grand Journal, the evening news and entertainment show in which the puppets make their nightly appearance, has been the target of their biting commentary.

And every French president, from Chirac to Hollande, has been caricatured, poked fun at, openly criticized and even ridiculed. International figures like the Pope, the Queen, Osama Bin Laden have all made regular appearances. Often the more frightening their real-life personas, the most endearing are their puppets.

M. Sylvestre and PopeEvery American is portrayed as Sylvester Stallone. Sometimes there are multiple Stallones onscreen, explaining how they run the world to the French or ‘les fromages qui puent’ (stinky cheeses).

The Guignols have been going to town of late with two modern greats, both in the category I like to call ‘Oh how the mighty have fallen’. I’m talking about Dominique Strauss-Kahn (aka DSK) and Gérard Depardieu (affectionately known as Gégé).

Gégé, then and now...Unless you’ve been living under a rock (maybe the one that he himself crawled out from), you’ve heard about DSK’s fall from grace (if grace can be a state for one so notoriously unable to keep it in his pants). Hint: it involved a chamber maid in a New York hotel, oh-so coincidentally on the eve of a presidential run. Now his story has been immortalized in a feature film called ‘Welcome to New York.’ Depardieu plays DSK in the film which premièred at the Cannes Festival, but out of competition, and is available via video on demand. Why? Because no one in this country would touch it with a ten-foot pole. Anne Sinclair, DSK’s ex, heads the French edition of the HuffPost and is a pillar of the media elite in this country. By the way, her character is played by Jacqueline Bisset.

DSK, of course, is suing the film’s producers for defamation of character. Which is funny when you consider what the Guignols get away with.

DSK chez les GuignolsDSK’s puppet makes regular appearances on the show, always in an leopard-print peignoir and saying ‘Excuse my attire, I just got out of the shower.’ He is known to speak affectionately to his member, which he calls Francis.

While it’s already had millions of downloads, seems the flick is a bit of a turkey. ‘Un navet’ (a turnip) as they say in the lingo. Read the review here.

We don’t always agree, the Guignols and me. Their portrayal of Barack Obama as a stereotypical French idea of un Black (urban accent and all) offends me.

But they’ve enabled me to take my French to a much deeper level of understanding. Not just the language (although they’ve definitely expanded my vocabulary), but of popular culture, of what the French find funny. And not.

So, tune in if you can and discover the world according to the Guignols. I’m not sure the copyright laws will allow viewers from abroad to screen the episodes, but here’s the link anyway if you want to follow the shows: http://www.canalplus.fr/c-divertissement/pid1784-c-les-guignols.html