A Continuing Influence
French with English Sub-Titles
by M. Sedlof
We recently lost an old friend. Old in years but not in spirit. One of the many takeaways from his 95-year-long life was his love of film. The repertoire included hundreds of cassettes and DVDs purchased at discount from overflowing bins at local supermarkets, drugstores and garage sales. The kinds of bins that looked picked over before anyone else had had a chance to do so. The shake from these troves bore titles such as “The Damned,” “Dune” and “Poison Friends,” a French film with English subtitles.
The movie depicts a group of French college students at the critical junctions of their lives, nearing graduation, working on their theses, preparing to take on the world at large that stands ready with its mouth open to chew them up and spit them out. It is the existential story of success and failure that calls up the work of other popular existential writers and thinkers.
The contrast between this story and the blunt stupidity of a recent American politician’s remark citing a “three-day French work week” struck me as I reflected upon the movie’s characters’ struggles with mortality, their fatigue with the seemingly pointless and absurb nature of being, and their abilities if not to rise above, at least to file away that pointlessness in an intellectual file cabinet that disallows the dislocation of Fate to interfere with them getting on with their lives, and whatever life choices they may have made — or will make — that set them apart from one another. How can a person who evidences such ignorance of a foreign Culture (and then insults it) expect to be elected President of Anything?
From a strictly educational standpoint, this film is counterpoint to many mainstream American values. American high school students need to see these contrasts to better understand and deal with what life itself often seems – overbearing, inconsequential. “Poison Friends” stands shoulder to shoulder with “Waiting for Godot,” from which it seems drawn, a child of the 20th Century born into the New Millennium. The French have already seen it. They’ve lived it in this iteration and others, in literature, cinema, art. Their so-called three-day work week is drawn from the knowledge that life should not be all about work, but about Living. What Truth is there, really, in “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work will set you free”)?
While one can readily appreciate the inventiveness characterized by the Brave New World that is 21st century America, this film demonstrates how far short we fall without the parachute of Deep Thought to soften our landing. We deal daily with aging, the fragility of the working man as in “Death of a Salesman,” but more often with in-your-face televised ordeals predicated on fiction, fantasy and hearsay. Tales told and retold ad nauseum by storytellers who weave words into repetitive stageplays and predictable scripts that presented once are often more than sufficient to repulse the most avid television viewer.
Does it always have to be this way? I wonder what DVD will be left in my drive when I die. When movies make me think this way, I give them five stars.
About the author:
M. Sedlof is an occasional contributor to Ragazine.CC.