Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lady's choice: Choix de la dame

It was my wife's turn to pick the movie again last night, as part of our bi-weekly Lady's Choice Movie Night series. (I'll probably have to keep explaining this every post, but "lady's choice" is not gender specific. It's an inside joke I explained in detail here.)

Although it's fun if the movie can be a surprise to the off-week person right up until we watch it, sometimes that's just not possible. Like, for most of my weeks, I'll probably be scheduling a DVD to arrive from Netflix. Since she gets those emails from Netflix, she'll know what's coming. She, on the other hand, will choose from our instant queue most weeks, meaning I can be totally fooled. After she floated the idea of watching Gomorrah a couple nights ago, I was expecting that might be the choice. But she decided that the 2 hour and 17 minute running time might kill us last night, so her ultimate choice was indeed a surprise after all.

In fact, I had her press play on the movie without me knowing what it was, so I could see how quickly I could guess. I'm proud to say I got The Visitors (or Les Visiteurs) within the first five seconds. (It helps that I've grown pretty familiar with the 150 titles we have in our instant queue.)

Well, I'm certainly glad we didn't watch a 2 hour and 17 minute foreign film, because a 1 hour and 47 minute foreign film proved long enough for me. See, my son had given me another miserable night the night before, and even though we started watching around 8:15, I was ready to pack it in for the night at the half-hour mark. Fortunately, I struggled through, because it's against the very spirit of this film series to cop out of a movie for any reason. Pleading exhaustion is just not cool. (So if I'm fuzzy on the details of the last 20 minutes of the film, forgive me.)

Actually, The Visitors was an interesting choice for me because I had already seen its Hollywood remake, the 2001 film Just Visiting. Which also stars Jean Reno and Christian Clavier as 11th century knights who are transported to the present day by a sorcerer, but features such American-friendly presences as Christina Applegate and Tara Reid. And I actually had a limited affection for that widely reviled film, so seeing its source material seemed like a natural fit for me.

And it was -- to a point. The exhaustion was definitely a factor, but I also assumed I was missing some of the finer wordplay due to the fact that the knights are actually speaking in old French, which was not necessarily being translated very well in the subtitles. Both of us -- my wife is basically fluent in French, and I'm actually pretty good -- were picking out mistranslations that didn't even seem like they needed to be translated incorrectly for American audiences to understand.

But overall I found it funny enough, considering. The woman who played Applegate's role, Valerie Lemercier, had terrifically snappy comic delivery that just made her a joy to watch. (Interesting, though, how relatively plain-looking Lemercier is -- you would never see that in a Hollywood movie.) She also has a put-upon husband (Christian Bujeau) whose annoyance with the visitors is pretty comical. (But he has to tolerate them on some level -- since his wife is Reno's descendant, the physical similarity causes them to conclude he's a long lost uncle with amnesia.) Unfortunately, much of the humor put forth specifically by Clavier as Reno's manservant is pretty broad and physical, and didn't work as well for me.

When I wasn't sure how well the whole movie was working for me overall, it occurred to me to wonder whether there was a ceiling for how funny you could find a comedy that's not in your native tongue. I quickly surveyed my favorite foreign films, and few if any of them are comedies. Then I thought about the converse, about whether the French and other foreigners find American comedies to be particularly funny. Which got me thinking about Jerry Lewis, whose films I am watching this month as part of my Getting Acquainted series. The fact that the French love Jerry Lewis could have something to do with the fact that very little of his comedy is linguistic in nature -- the physical stuff translates much better.

This thought momentarily disappointed me -- it made me question the idea that cinema can be a universal language. But then I quickly remembered that I have seen an absolutely hilarious foreign film -- in fact, a French film -- just within the past month. Having enjoyed Jean Dujardin so much in The Artist, we watched his second collaboration with director Michel Hazanavicius, the spy spoof OSS 117: Lost in Rio, streaming off Netflix about three weeks ago. (The first OSS 117 movie -- subtitled Cairo, Nest of Spies -- had temporarily disappeared from Netflix instant, though it is back now.) We were in fits during Lost in Rio, and not just because of Dujardin's undeniable gifts with physical comedy. In fact, the wordplay was some of that movie's funniest bits.

Okay, so maybe The Visitors just doesn't scale the heights of what a French comedy can offer.

Or, maybe I was just on the verge of slipping into a coma the entire time.

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