A good year

I’m off to the La Rochefoucauld chateau for the heritage days after my morning teaching – so I’m holding off on Silent Sunday because I just know I’ll end up with about 200 photographs. I hate too-rigid schedules!

A couple of people had advised I watch A Good Year with Russell Crowe. It’s a film about a callous stockbroker who inherits the home of his whimsical uncle in Provence. Written by Peter Mayle, it’s exactly the kind of thing you might expect from the writer of A Year in Provence. 

I can see why those people thought I might like it. It starts with a too-busy worker, albeit a whole load more mean than I ever was, but still just as dedicated to his job. Kind of different, though. His dedication comes from the desire for money and to get one-up on everyone else. Mine came from wanting to be the best for the students I worked with. Still. Different ends, same means. He inherits a house that he remembers fondly from his youth, and eventually comes to realise he can have it all – the good life AND the money. Lucky, lucky guy.

Despite the Hollywood views and schmaltzy storyline, it was enjoyable. We don’t all end up with a chateau, an exclusive boutique wine, acres of vineyards and a beautiful girl like Marion Cotillard to boot. But the essential idea in there – that you have a different life over here – is definitely true. Although I have never, ever seen a bustling town square or restaurant. Never. Not even today in Angouleme, where it’s the most hectic event of the year – the Circuit des Remparts. The only time I ever see people is in the supermarket or the petrol station. And I never saw a waiter hurry up to please the crowd. If anything, French people are finely in tune with having to wait for food. Marion Cotillard was right about one thing, though. The customer is always wrong in a restaurant in France. Or, more, the chef is always right. He is the chef  – the boss. He decides what you might want to eat, and you go along with it. He’s right too. That menu du jour is always better than a la carte. He looks after you by giving you the very best he has to offer. Mostly.

It doesn’t hurt that the film is directed by Ridley Scott. He’s one of my favourite directors. Let’s just say, this isn’t Blade Runner or GladiatorI like Russell Crowe as well. He was great in 3:10 to Yuma and of course, he was great in Gladiator. I love Albert Finney too – have done since I first saw Tom Jones. It’s not very comfortable from Scott and Crowe – it’s not their usual thing. Maybe that just adds to how awkward he is in France, though. I don’t know. I don’t know enough about this type of movie to comment. It was a pleasant-enough way to spend two hours, though, if not a film I’d watch again. If you watch too many films like this about France, you might forget what it’s really like. 

I can see why it would appeal to Americans, though. I think they love this vision of England and France that they have. At one point, Russell Crowe is walking through Piccadilly Circus with an umbrella and a suit. All that’s missing is a copy of the Daily Telegraph and a bowler hat. And a black cab and a red bus. It’s the same in France. Mostly, I don’t see girls like Marion Cotillard on bikes. I see old ladies on knackered old Peugeots or whip-thin men in racing gear on bikes that cost 5,000€. Still, thinking France is full of girls like Marion on bicycles, their hair flowing, their panniers full of fruit, a baguette sticking out of the top, it’s how rural France is in the movies. Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Chocolat. 

And, if the truth be told, often, it’s like that. Just with sweat and old men with their tops rolled up over their bellies, with insects and old ladies in pinnies. But I wouldn’t live here if it weren’t just a bit Chocolat as well.


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