France, a country known widely for its cuisine and fantastic history. I am currently learning French at school. Today I will be letting you know about some of my favourite films that are set in France.
Beauty and the Beast 2017 Film
Firstly, I would like to talk about the new remake of the Disney Classic: Beauty & The Beast [DVD]  Emma Watson, (who also starred as Hermione Granger in The Harry Potter Series) took on the role of Belle in the new Disney film. This is a live CGI animated and live action version of the now classic 1991 animated Disney cartoon. It was very popular and millions of tickets were sold! The film is based in a small, yet beautiful village called Villeneuve in France and it is about treating people equally like the old phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover!” Belle is very keen on reading in the film and perhaps serves as a metaphor for this phrase. Belle is clever and spirited and kind and is less concerned with vanity even though she is naturally pretty herself. She is not interested in the most handsome man in the village; ‘Gaston’ who is vain and arrogant. Belle is also extremely loyal to her father making several sacrifices for him. Even though it seems that she is a prisoner in the Beast’s castle she makes the best of the situation and looks for things to occupy her mind whilst she is there.
Les Miserables 2012 Film
Another of my favourite films set in France is Les Misérables [DVD]  adapted from the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. Although many people think that this story is set in the time of The French Revolution it is actually not! It is set in Paris in between 1815 and 1832 (the time of the June Rebellion). This was a time of great social and economic difficulty; there were poor harvests, food shortages and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera. These difficult conditions exacerbated the revolutionary feeling of the poor in France who then fought the rich for equality. This may be why some people think it is set during the French Revolution. In Les Miserables you see scenes where the rich feast on expensive food, whereas the poor struggle to even buy a loaf of bread! Although originally a book, this was adapted for the stage into a musical in 1985 and has been running ever since (it is the longest running musical in the West End and the second longest running musical in the world!) The film is adapted from the musical keeping most of the songs. I like the way that this story uses music and acting to highlight the difficulties of this turbulent time in French history.
These are two of my favourite films set in France that I have watched so far. I look forward to watching many more in the future!
France has a rich and well known history of gardens and gardening, from the large palace gardens to the wonderful potager gardens. However there are some very well known and some lesser known elements of the French horticultural scene and we will explore some of these today.
Santiago de Chili
The Square Santiago de Chili is a wonderful green retreat in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. A kind of oasis in the city with magnificent Oriental Plane Trees and a bust of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French writer, poet and pioneering aviator. Not forgetting the gorgeous marble fountain, the garden makes for a welcome change to the busy urban environment.
Lavender Stoechas (French Lavender)
French Lavender is one of the most recognisable lavenders as it has distinctive petals at the top of each flower, somewhat reminiscent of butterfly wings, and typically they will flower earlier than common lavender, with flowers appearing as early as May. One important thing to note however is that they are far less hardy than the common lavender, so if winter is very cold it can be the death knell for them.
Jardin botanique d’Èze
The Botanical Garden of Èze, in Èze not far from Nice has the most wonderful array of exotic succulents and cacti. It is situated in a steep area that falls over 400 meters towards the sea and has magnificent panoramic views of the coast. Amongst the plants you will find an impressive variety of Agaves, Yuccas, Aloes and various species of Cacti.
Garlic (Allium Sativum)
Garlic, often associated with France and French agriculture has been cultivated for thousands of years over the Mediterranean region and is a firm favourite with growers and chefs alike. It is a close relative of onions, chives, leeks, shallots and ornamental alliums.
Overall there are many elements that give France a long and exciting horticultural history and today we have touched on just a few.
Our new theme is France and all things French relating to culture. I have chosen to write about Delphine De Vigan, an author that I have recently discovered, who is causing a bit of a buzz on the literary scene with her latest title ‘Based On a True Story.’ She is Parisian and captures a very personal view of France that resonates with many readers.
No and Me
No and Me is DeVigan’s first title translated into English and was chosen as a Radio 4 book of the week. No and Me tells the story of Lou Bertignac an Autistic teenage girl who experiences a disruptive home life due to her parent’s unhappy marriage. She embarks on a school project about homelessness where she meets ‘No’ another teenage girl who is homeless and persuades her parents to let No live with them. This charming novel is reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye as it reads as if it was written by the protagonist. A really innovative book that highlights homelessness and humanity.
This was the first book of De Vigan’s that I read and is the beginning of her move into what we now know her for, her autobiographical fiction or ‘Autofiction.’ Underground Time is based around the story of two principle narrators; Mathilde a single mother of two boys who works in a market research firm and Thibault who is an emergency doctor on call who has a complicated romantic relationship. Mathilde owns the bulk of the narrative as she experiences the most awful experience of ostracising and workplace bullying from her boss Jacques. The incidences of bullying are so realistic that you cannot help to feel that De Vigan has gone through something similar in real life. You want these two to end up together but this book may not guarantee a Disney-fied ending!
Nothing Holds Back the Night
Nothing Holds Back the Night was my most difficult read of De Vigan’s work as it is imbued with such melancholy. It concerns the difficult life of her mother Lucile and comes across as a painfully real account. Lucile suffered from Bi-Polar disorder and alcoholism. She was from an extremely large family and had many siblings who experienced neglect and tragedy in their midst. The house was extremely chaotic and full of anxiety. Lucile’s mother Liane preferred her children when they were babies, turning cold to them when they grew up. (At one point she is described as physically pushing the elder children away when they wanted attention). The children also experienced neglect with the mother regularly going out in the day leaving them alone in the house. Liane and her husband even went away for a business trip to London leaving the children alone in France when the eldest were not even teenagers yet! The figure of De Vigan’s grandfather is presented as another story altogether. He was a classic Narcissist and most probably had Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as he demanded attention from all of those around him and frequently got into heated arguments at social gatherings with those who dared to contradict him. He was consistently unfaithful to his wife and inflicted his criticisms and moods on to her and their children. As if this was not stressful enough, De Vigan obliquely references that he may well have committed sexual abuse with his children and children’s friends. De Vigan strongly points this aspect as being a key one which may have caused her mother’s mental state to freefall into chaos. This is a difficult read as it is quite depressing at times but hopeful for the future in that De Vigan has clearly chosen to raise her children very differently and break this dysfunctional family cycle.
Based On a True Story
The most recent book to be translated into English is the aforementioned Based on a True Story This fascinating tale explores the character of L, an immaculately presented female who infiltrates the life of Delphine the protagonist. This book is a really innovative twist on the hugely influential and popular psychological thriller genre in that it is written in the style of autofiction. So, you are not sure what is true and what is not. De Vigan has a very distinctive writing style that has been cleverly maintained by the excellent translator George Miller. I have read some reviews that feel that this book is not as exciting as some of the more conventional psychological thrillers as it is not completely action packed with twists and turns. That is true to some extent in that it is less action focused but what it does offer is a detailed character study and fascination with the topic of identity that I really enjoyed and would recommend that you seek it out.
Overall, these books represent just a small slice of contemporary French literature, but De Vigan is a fascinating author if you are at all interested in psychological aspects and the merging of the genres of autobiography and fiction. I look forward to seeing what she has in store for us next!