Tuesday, May 28, 2013

French Girl returns to the 1960's with "Populaire" (Seattle International Film Festival, part II)

Bonjour les amis,

French Girl in Seattle here, reporting from the Seattle International Film Festival.

In Populaire, a debut feature from writer-director Regis Roinsard, Mad Men meets les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,) meets My Fair Lady.

Set in 1958 France, the romantic comedy tells the rags-to-riches story of 21-year old Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François), a small town girl who runs away from the quiet life her widowed father envisions for her (a marriage to the local mechanic and the life of a housewife,) opting instead for an exciting career as a secretary! 

Rose Pamphyle, secretary

She moves to the nearest town and applies for a secretary position with dashing local insurance man Louis Echard (played by Romain Duris, France's edgy leading man.) Louis soon realizes Rose's secretarial skills are less adequate, but he finds out she can type at lightning speed. He becomes Rose's Pygmalion and trains her to join the regional speed typing competition.

Rose and Louis at work

The plot is predictable (a common occurrence with romantic comedies,) but we take a guilty pleasure in following Rose's transformation into a speed typing champion and an elegant, self-assured, independent young woman, heralding the changing face of gender relationships in the 1960s. 

Visually, the movie, a delicious blend of charm and kitsch, is gorgeous: One is captivated by the soft and sugary colors; the vintage clothing on display during the speed typing competition. It is all so... elegant. Romain Duris, forsaking his trademark two-day stubble, channels Cary Grant and classic American romantic comedies. 

Lead actors and supporting cast (an excellent Bérénice Bejo of The Artist fame,) keep it all fresh and lively. Conversations sparkle like a glass of Champagne!

I do not want to include any spoilers, but this feel good movie will take you all the way to the New-York based worldwide speed typing competition, for a satisfying and uplifting finale.

The movie is in French with English subtitles, but characters occasionally skip from French to English. It seems Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein, who is not afraid of a challenge and successfully produced the Artist in 2011, is betting on Populaire's international career. And he may very well be right.

A bientôt.

Regis Roinsard, 2012
Limited release date: May 17, 2013

Populaire movie Trailer:

Are you in Seattle?
Seattle International Film Festival
Some of the French-language movies playing this week:

  • Camion, Canada, (May 29 and May 30.) Details here.
Get a free ticket to the 6:30pm showing here.

  • Thérèse, France, a Claude Miller film with Audrey Tautou. (May 28 and May 30.) Details here.

  • Haute Cuisine, France, (May 31 and June 1.) Read my review here.

Book online or call 206.324.9996 and use Coupon Code FRENCH2013 for a $2 discount.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

French Girl turns movie critic at the Seattle International Film Festival (part I)

Forget Cannes! Seattle is currently hosting the largest film festival in the United States, the 39th S.I.F.F. 

Over three weeks, the festival shows about 250 features, representing many countries around the world. Most movies are playing in iconic (read old fashioned) movie theaters in the Emerald city. My favorite kind of theaters, you may remember

A few days ago, I received an email from the Festival team. They offered me free access to the French movie selection (and their crews whenever they were in town.) It seems the word has gotten out French Girl in Seattle loves le cinéma! They even threw in a Press card. Oh, là, là!

I was contacted too late to get to see all of the movies, but with some careful planning (and the help of a few girlfriends,) it will be my pleasure to work around my schedule and Junior's to catch a few shows.

Today, I would like to introduce a must-see French movie.

Christian Vincent's Haute Cuisine is an excellent translation of the clever French title, Les Saveurs du Palais. See movie release information at the end of the post.

Haute Cuisine is based on a true story: In the 1990s, Socialist French President François Mitterrand head-hunted Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch, a skilled chef based in the beautiful Dordogne region, and brought her to the Elysée Palace (the French White House,) to work as his private chef and help him rediscover "les plats que [lui] faisait [sa] grand-mère," (the tastes of his childhood.)

In the movie version, the president is interpreted with sheer delectation by an amateur actor, journalist and French Academy member Jean d'Ormesson. The Chef, Hortense Laborie, is masterfully played by Catherine Frot, one of France's most popular and versatile actresses. 

The movie is imperfect, but it works. Like one of Hortense's delectable confections, it is multi-layered and offers fascinating insights into French society and culture.

Let's be clear: The story is an ode to food. The movie shines when we watch Hortense, (a perfectionist in search of the finest ingredients,) prepare traditional French specialties for the president, with a total disregard for cost, or dietetics. [Note to readers: Do not watch this one on an empty stomach!]

"La du Barry des fourneaux..."
(the kitchen du Barry) 

But when the movie starts, we quickly realize Hortense's years as the Elysée Palace private chef are over. She has since moved on to bring culinary excellence to grateful scientists at a French antarctic mission! 

What happened? The movie is a flashback, and will try and bring some answers.

The scenes at the Elysée Palace, as Hortense learns to maneuver around the protocol and internal rivalries among the staff are the most enjoyable ones. Decisive, undaunted, petulant at times, Hortense stands her ground, and when working in the private Elysée kitchen, she dazzles. Her rare exchanges with the older president are delightful. 

Hortense et le président

This is quality popular cinema. The movie is smart, engaging and entertaining. It illustrates a few truths most French people hold as self-evident: 

1. The French once fought a bloody revolution to get rid of autocratic monarchs so they could replace them with [elected] presidents who behave like kings.

2.  A happy man knows and respects his roots; his culture; his terroir and indulges often in a healthy dose of nostalgia.

3. Choux farci au saumon. Boeuf en croûte de sel. St Honoré à la sauce Mémé (all recipes featured in the movie:) 
Scr-#$@ the dietetician: Eat and drink everything, in moderation. 

A bientôt

Haute Cuisine (*)
(in French, subtitled)
Seattle International Film Festival (S.I.F.F.)
May 31 - 9:30pm - Egyptian Theater, Seattle, WA.
June 1 - 8:30pm - Kirkland Performance Center, Kirkland, WA

Box office: 
Mention coupon code "FRENCH2013" and get $2 off per ticket

(*) (ed: Downton Abbey meets [the French] Julia Child)

Movie trailer here: 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Black cats, umbrellas, missing jewels and the French Riviera...

This week, The 66th Cannes Film Festival opened with much anticipation. The prestigious jury, led by Steven Spielberg, includes glamorous Nicole Kidman, French actor Daniel Auteuil, director Ang Lee, and actor Christoph Waltz to name just a few. 

Ah, Cannes! The red carpet. Hundreds of paparazzi and professional photographers. Journalists and reporters. Limousines. Fans. Stars. Rain. Torrential rain. 

Wait. Rain? In May on the French Riviera? Oh oui, and lots of it. It has been a soggy five days in Cannes, and many are wondering if this is the end of the world as they know it...

Carey Mulligan (the Great Gatsby) thinks: @#$%!!!

Then, just before the weekend, a man shot a gun loaded with blanks during the taping of a French TV show, prompting the audience and everyone present (including actors Daniel Auteuil and Christoph Waltz) to duck for cover. He was quickly apprehended. 

As if it weren't bad enough, I heard on the French news that the Chopard jewelry house, one of the festival's official sponsors, had lost over one million Euros in a burglary. When the news broke, the Chopard spokesperson announced promptly that none of the jewelry stolen from a rented hotel safe [ed: a rented hotel safe???] was part of the "special collection" reserved for the Festival's glamorous movie stars. Phew. I don't know about you, but I feel better already. Thank goodness Nicole Kidman will be accessorized properly when she announces the Festival's winners in a few days!

The French police is investigating, but they are at a loss, and no suspect has been arrested yet. If they asked me, I could tell them who did it. It seems pretty obvious. The culprit is... "the Cat!"

Un chat noir? A black cat? Tssssss... Don't you know your classics? The Cat, a.k.a. John Robie!

Voilà John Robie

Do you see what I mean? In a strange turn of events, it seems we are witnessing a case of life imitates art... on the French Riviera. 

Come on. You must remember, even if you do not love movies as much as this French Girl does. After all, this is only one of the most famous American movies ever shot in Europe! A legend. I am talking, of course, about To Catch a Thief, released to great acclaim in 1955.

How many times have I seen this classic? You don't want to know. It is still a favorite here for home-based movie nights with my girlfriends. Just for the fun of it, (and to try and forget the chilly spring weather on the French Riviera and in the Pacific Northwest,) let's list some of the reasons why the movie remains so mesmerizing, 58 years after it was released.

1. Location, location, location.

La Côte d'Azur. Cannes' prestigious Carlton Hotel. Nice's Promenade des Anglais. Some of the quaintest villages in the foothills above the French Riviera, Tourrettes sur Loup, le Bar sur Loup, Gourdon and la Turbie. La Côte d'Azur threatens to steal the show in almost every frame... if it weren't for the movie's two superstars. And this takes us to...

Nice setting for a picnic, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant...

2. The undeniable chemistry between the two lead actors.

Grace Kelly. Cary Grant. Beautiful. Smart. Sexy. And great friends off camera. Their witty and playful banter catches viewers' attention. Watch them make the screen sizzle!

John Robie: You're here in Europe to buy a husband.
Frances Stevens: The man I want doesn't have a price.
John Robie: That eliminates me.

Kelly and Grant: Amis à la ville, comme à l'écran...

3. Grace Kelly's elegance

She would have looked good in a garbage bag, but in the iconic movie, she never had to.  Grace Kelly was dressed by legendary costume designer Edith Head (she won eight Academy Awards,) and had never looked so... regal.

The "Bathing Suit"

The lamé gown in the costume ball finale

The blue chiffon evening dress that, many years later, inspired another princess...

4. A talented director.

"Hitch," a.k.a. Sir Alfred Hitchcock. Inventive. Prolific. Need I say more?

Making one of his signature cameo appearances in the movie...
Directing his actors in Cannes...

5. Elegant fluff as art.

To Catch a Thief is not considered one of Hitchcock's best movies. Yet, it remains a viewers' favorite. Revenge. Deception. An ex-burglar forced out of retirement. Suspense. Thrilling car chases. This would be good enough for some, but what stands out is the movie's visual style, the stylized elegance in each frame, from the splendid French Riviera locations; to Edith Head's costumes; and the lead actors' natural charm. Perfection. Pure escapism.

Will John Robie prove his innocence?

The hair-raising drive along the Grande Corniche road above Monte-Carlo

6. A princess story. 

To Catch a Thief was Grace Kelly's last film with Alfred Hitchcock. As she was attending the Cannes Film Festival to promote the movie in 1955, she was invited to meet Prince Rainier of Monaco. A photo session was organized at the royal palace. The rest, as they say, is History...

A young prince meets his princess

Visiting the royal palace with Prince Rainier

Grace and Rainier's wedding day: April 19, 1956

What about you? Have you seen To Catch a Thief? Did you like it?

A bientôt.

To Catch a Thief (movie trailer:)


Sunday, May 12, 2013

What if Jay Gatsby had lived in Paris?


This week, I am so happy to join the deligthful Anita of Castle, Crowns and Cottages, 
et ses amies for a special party - by invitation only!

Merci beaucoup, Anita. 

The party theme: What makes la Belle France so special to me and other people? 

Une bonne question. A good question indeed. 

Allez, mesdames et messieurs:

Follow me to Paris, and if the following video clip does not make you smile, 
then nothing will. Bon weekend et merci de votre visite!

-- Véronique (a.k.a. French Girl in Seattle)

Bouquinistes, Quais de Seine, Paris

Bonjour les amis,

I hope all my favorite moms had a wonderful Mother's Day celebration today.

I was lucky to attend a couple of events this weekend. One of them involved re-uniting with a favorite fictional character of mine, Jay Gatsby. I really enjoyed the new movie by flamboyant director Baz Luhrmann (of Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge fame.) It was not perfect, but how delicious to watch Leo-the-Great, (a.k.a. Leonardo DiCaprio) capture Gatsby's soul. I have decided Leo is like a fine wine. He keeps improving with  age [insert sizzling sound.]  

"Forget Daisy Buchanan. You are the one for me, French Girl!" 

This week, I found a funny little video online. It was too good not to share. One petit problem: The video is in French. So, for those of you who read French, enjoy. For those of you who are happy being lazy monolingual bums, I have translated the script below. 

Il n'y a pas de quoi. You're welcome. 

We all love Paris. Some of us return, year after year. Some of us were lucky enough to live in Paris for a while. Some of us wish they did. Jay Gatsby never lived in Paris. But if he had, he may have agreed with the following list...

Les amis, I give you, directly from les Parisiens, "Telltale signs you live in Paris."


1. Your Monday mornings look like this [ed: on the subway.]
2. For 25m2 [ed: 270 square feet,] your rent is 800 Euros [ed: $1,050.]
3. You have never used the Seine river tour boats, but you wave "Hello" to tourists...
4. You never talk to your neighbors.
5. You are happy when it only takes 48:21 to get to work.
6. You never cross the beltway to go to the suburbs. Well, ok, sometimes you do.
7. You say to yourself you really have to visit the Louvre... one day.
8. You know what subway car to get on, to face the nearest exit when you step off the train.
9. To a lot of people you are just a "Parigot" [ed: derogatory nickname given to Parisians, rhyming with...] "tête de veau" (calf's head.) 
10. Top three animals you hate the most: Pigeons. Rats. Tourists.
11. You like it when Paris is empty in August... and the Parisians have left the city.
12. You know what "rush hour" means [ed: notice photo of a Parisian park on a sunny afternoon.]
13. You know the best places to kiss.
14. You know each subway line by its color [ed: there are 14 total.]
15. You know how to avoid danger on sidewalks [ed: danger = dog poop.] 
16. You can locate each arrondissement (district,) well... almost. [ed: There are 20 arrondissements in downtown Paris.]
17. You constantly visit "awesome" exhibits...
18. You never turn down a chance to have a cup of espresso on a terrace... not even for 10 Euros [ed: $13.]
19. The hardest part about your vacation, is returning [ed: Sunday evening traffic!] 
20. You know that sometimes, Paris can be magical [ed: photo of le P.S.G., the Paris soccer team.] 
21. There are 894 shows playing every evening... but you never go.
22. You can test the world's cuisines... simply by changing neighborhoods.
23. You can buy a bottle of wine; too expensive; mediocre; at any hour.
24. You meet poverty every day... but you don't notice it anymore.
25. Once, you found a cab quickly (with a nice driver to boot!)
26. You like it when Paris wakes up at 5:00am... as you are going to bed.
27. You know why la Défense neighborhood will never be Manhattan [ed: Parisians *love* New York City!]
28. You are certain that Paris is the most beautiful city in the world.

 Well, what did you think? Did you enjoy the list? Can you relate? 

I will volunteer a small contribution to the original list, and it goes something like this...

29. You complain about Paris while you live there, and talk often about "getting out." Yet, you will never feel more Parisian than once you have moved abroad, and constantly think about returning. 

And that, les amis, is a fact.


A bientôt.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wonderful small towns: Edmonds, WA

“This town of churches and dreams; 
this town I thought I would lose myself in, with its backward ways and winding roads leading to nowhere; 
but, I found myself instead. 
-Magic in the Backyard (excerpt from American Honey, by Kelly Elmore)” 

What does a big-city-loving-French-Girl do, when she can't be in a big city? 

She hunts down the nearest small town, that's what.

Lucky Moi, the Seattle area has a few good ones, and I have featured some here in the past. Lovely Snohomish, WA, has inspired several stories. So has Winslow, Bainbridge Island...

Today, I'd like to introduce you to another favorite - probably one of the best small towns in the area - Edmonds, WA

Edmonds, like many local towns, was founded by a future lumber baron. There are still trees around, but trees are not the first thing that come to mind when I think of this attractive, friendly locale. 

Located a few miles north of Seattle, Edmonds offers a lot more. First, breathtaking water and mountain views. How many urban areas boast views of the Puget Sound, the Olympic  mountains (to the west,) and the Cascades (to the east?) This town does. 

Hellooooooooo Pacific Northwest...
The iconic WA state ferries link Edmonds to the neighboring Olympic Peninsula...

That fact alone would make Edmonds the perfect place to retire. How fun would it be to walk my dog every morning on the local beaches, or along the waterfront, looking at this? After years of hoofing it daily, rain or shine, in a pastoral setting, coastal hikes would be a welcome change.

One can't walk the dog all day, I realize. Not to worry: There is plenty to do in Edmonds. 

Edmonds is a real town, you see. There are sidewalks. Shops. Restaurants. Coffee shops. Art Galleries. Let's not forget an old-fashioned movie theater and a Saturday outdoor Market.  Best of all, there are people, children, and dogs walking around, all day long. 

Edmonds has turned a little chi-chi (affluent, trendy) over the last ten years. As I was walking around yesterday, I noticed the old mom-and-pop antique-shops had been replaced by spas and trendy eateries. The crowds basking in the sun on the town's patios were eclectic. Busy families; empty nesters reading the paper while sipping a cappuccino; relaxed 30-somethings casually dressed in high-end yoga wear; the mandatory local tree huggers, complete with Birkenstock sandals... But everyone seemed to get along just fine. People laughed and greeted each other, smiling, as people have a tendency to do in the Pacific Northwest when they are granted a day of exceptional weather outside of the summer months. 

I had lunch sitting at the bar of my favorite local restaurant, Chanterelle, where I chatted for a while with a patron. We both picked the pear-brie-spinach quesadilla. fresh... and délicieux!

Bon appétit, French Girl!

My day would have been perfect as it was, but I made it even better by visiting two mandatory stops on all my Edmonds trips.

First, the Savvy Traveler, the perfect shop to prepare for a trip... or to dream about one... The store has everything; I mean everything you *think* you need to travel. Bags galore, of course. Travel guide books. High-end travel clothes that will instantly turn you into Indiana Jones on your next expedition...

I found a great Fedora hat for my upcoming trip to Europe, and replaced my travel hair dryer. Then I had fun browsing around and chuckled a few times... As I said, the Savvy Traveler will gladly sell you all the things you need to travel... and more...

These would solve the problem of overstuffed carry-on bags on major airlines, don't you think?

Edmonds' most famous son and resident is European travel Guru Rick Steves. This French Girl is a fan (I mean, I have met the man and shot the breeze with him on several occasions, for chrissakes!)  No trip to Edmonds is complete without a visit to Rick's Travel Center, Europe through the Back Door, downtown. 

The Pacific Northwest's Mecca of all things Europe...

I love it there. There is fun stuff to look at, and even more to learn. A wonderful collection of bags, and other travel artifacts (all labeled "Rick Steves" to ensure you will be making friends while lining up in front of the Eiffel Tower or shopping on rue Cler in Paris, France...) 

There are travel counselors at the ready to help you plan your next European adventure. 

There are tables and chairs where guests are welcome to sit down and take notes from the generous collection of travel resources Rick and his team share with them. 

Shhhh! Travel is serious business...

I had a good time chatting with some of the visitors and shamelessly plugged in my upcoming France travel workshops with a lady and her friends who were discussing their summer trip to Paris... 

The least I could do was to purchase Rick's indispensable Civita Day Pack. It is affordable and so soft and light you can practically stuff it into a pair of sneakers when not in use. The color? Prune (Plum,) of course. The bag had to be *perfectly* accessorized with my favorite suitcase du jour: Rick's new rolling carry-on, designed to meet European carry-on standards (a souvenir from Mr Steves' last travel festival I attended with a friend.) Voilà, I shall stop here before this post becomes a Rick Steves commercial. This is French Girl in Seattle's blog, after all, not American Public Television!

So, you may ask, is Edmonds, WA perfect? Just about. There is one tiny, upsetting little thing there. 

Le rond-point. The roundabout. 

Living in my neck of the woods in American suburbia where three roundabouts were introduced on a busy road a few years ago, has convinced me Americans just can't do roundabouts (or maybe it is just a Pacific Northwest thing?) I mean, where else in the world do people accelerate as soon as they see the YIELD sign upon approaching the dang thing, threatening to hit any unfortunate soul already maneuvering their way inside it? 

YIELD!!!! How hard can that be???

Well, Edmonds have their roundabout, and they must have assumed nobody would pay attention to a YIELD sign (they would be excused if they did,) so they went ahead and replaced them with four giant STOP signs. I spent ten minutes watching the incredible show unfolding before my startled eyes yesterday, as cars slooooowwwwllllyyy approached the roundabout; hesitated; moved in; slowed down or stopped in the middle to let pedestrians go; started again... tentatively. On the bright side: Nobody got hurt. People are relaxed in Edmonds, you see. It must be these gorgeous water and mountain views. Edmonds is a happy town. 

Edmonds roundabout, with one of the four stop signs.
Apparently, the fountain in the middle had to be protected with steel bars...
It had been hit by crazy drivers too many times!

Would I live there? You'd better believe it. As soon as I learn how to steer my favorite car (and faithful sidekick) through le roundabout...

A bientôt.

Post dedicated to Tonks, my little black witch:
My field trips would not be the same without you!

All photos by French Girl in Seattle.
Please do not use, reprint or Pin without permission.

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