Le 14 julliet
Being the Francophile I am, every year on July 14th, I try to celebrate Bastille Day. I know I’m American, but I feel a special affinity with France, so it’s fun to make some crepes and pop in a few films that are somehow associated with the country. Usually, I’ll watch a musical. The most obvious choice? An American in Paris, bien sûr. What better way to celebrate the romantic France than to watch the joyous dancing and singing of Gene Kelly as he falls for Leslie Caron? Director Vincente Minnelli and Kelly were both Francophiles, and boy, does it show in this film.
Another great Minnelli-Caron musical to watch is Gigi. The main cast is almost entirely made up of French natives (Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan), and since it was actually filmed in their home country, you get to see some great locations. If you want a third Leslie Caron choice, you can do no wrong with the marvelously underrated Daddy Long Legs. Sure, a good chunk of it takes place in the U.S., but the story concerns the French orphan Julie and the anonymous benefactor who pays for her to come to school in America. It helps, naturellement, that said benefactor is played by Fred Astaire with his usual grace and charm. Daddy Long Legs is just one of the trio of movies Astaire did in the 1950’s that are considered his “Paris pictures”.
Another one is the delightful Silk Stockings with Cyd Charisse. A musical remake of Ninotchka (which incidentally is another film you could watch for Bastille Day), Stockings features great Cole Porter tunes—my favorite’s “All of You”—and a supporting cast featuring Janis Paige, Jules Munshin, and Peter Lorre (!). You’ll be humming “Paris Loves Lovers” all day, believe me.
The third in Fred’s Paris trio is Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn. If you haven’t seen this movie, slap yourself and then see it immediately. The photography is gorgeous; the Gershwin songs are fantastic; Kay Thompson is magnifique; and Fred and Audrey are divine. There is no better way to see Paris from a distance than during the photo shoot montage---it's incroyable.
Don’t want to watch a musical? That’s fine. How about a serving of Breathless instead? French cinema has done a lot for American films, and you couldn’t find a better example than this New Wave masterpiece directed by Jean-Luc Godard and based on an original treatment by Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol. The performances by Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo are mesmerizing, and particularly heartbreaking towards the end.
Speaking of heartbreak... Casablanca makes for a good Bastille Day film, too. We all know how important Paris is to Rick and Ilsa, and the theme of sacrificing to help during a time of war is particularly potent on a day that honors a win for the French people during the Revolution.
Interestingly enough, Audrey Hepburn movies are great for July 14th. There’s Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon, which starts out poking fun at the amorous image the French have and then ends by embracing the stereotype. And Maurice Chevalier as Hepburn’s father is pure perfection. If you feel like going meta with this celebration thing, I suggest you see Paris When It Sizzles, starring Hepburn and William Holden. The comedy actually takes place the day before and the day of July 14th. Holden plays a screenwriter who has until Bastille Day to finish his script with the help of his newly-hired assistant (Hepburn). Many celebrity cameos are sprinkled throughout the film: Marlene Dietrich, Mel Ferrer, Noel Coward, the singing voices of Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire (on two separate occasions, unfortunately), and my favorite of the bunch, Tony Curtis.
My final Audrey suggestion is Charade, but beware: this one has that awful-looking Cary Grant in it. And there's even a reference to An American in Paris! However, if you don’t want to see Audrey and Cary look totally fabulous while running around the City of Lights, then maybe you’ll enjoy seeing Cary and Grace Kelly look totally fabulous while running around the south of France in To Catch a Thief. If you don’t care for either of those…well, I don’t think we can be friends.
Have a great Bastille Day, mes amis! Don’t forget your berets, striped shirts, croissants, and poodles! (To all the French people I just offended, “Désolée.”)