1FE6FC6E-3AB5-4BF1-B4D8-7628D3EA0B66Sometimes, I find myself rewatching a film many years later and enjoying it even more the second time. Joueuse (shjoo-uhz), means “player,” but specifically a female player; it was originally released in 2009 and I think I must have seen it shortly therafter. I really prefer the English title, Queen to Play, as it is much more evocative of the story line.

The movie is set in Corsica, and the scenery is simply gorgeous. It’s the story of Hélène, a hotel chambermaid who also cleans house for an American ex-pat. After watching some guests at the hotel play a game of chess that was charged with sensuality, she bought a computer chess game for her husband’s birthday, apparently hoping to strike the same sparks. When the gift falls terribly flat, Hélène tries to teach herself.

E74B9CD9-FD1B-48C6-8018-4C9F61344AD4When she finds that she can only get so far on her own, she trades housekeeping services for chess lessons with her reluctant, grumpy American client. Hélène is very gifted and makes such great progress that her teacher urges her to enter a local competition. The title comes from the fact that the Queen is the most powerful piece in chess, which stands in opposition to Hélène’s relative powerlessness. The film deals with social class, relationships, pursuing dreams, and the role of women.

FB7F939F-A021-4997-A91A-C66EB2842DE3Sandrine Bonnaire plays Hélène, but I must confess she’s not an actress I am familiar with. Her American ex-pat client, however is the much more famous Kevin Kline. He must have an affinity for France, as he played a Frenchman in French Kiss with Meg Ryan (1995), in which he speaks English with a heavy French accent. In this film, the situation is reversed; Kline speaks decent French, but with an American accent.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a woman-power moment that I hope you will enjoy. I found Joueuse on Amazon Prime.


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Ce qui nous lie

A0B2DFBB-B088-4C7E-AD01-4EBD8357B6E0I recently enrolled Amazon Prime for the free grocery delivery (life changing – don’t even get me started) and have been exploring their film options as they have some options not available on Netflix. I had just had the film Ce qui nous lie (2017(suh key new lee) recommended to me (the English title is Back to Burgundy) and decided to check it out.

720A9360-6B24-4B15-85B7-B36C40DAE12B.jpegThe title means “what connects us” and in this case, the connection was the inheritance of the family vineyard by three very different siblings as well as all of the heavy emotional bagage of their childhoods. There are heavy death taxes to be paid and insufficient resources. The will stipulates that all three must be in agreement to sell all of the land, or certain parcels, or just the house – and agreement is not easy to come by.

9C97D1F9-1376-4E53-953F-D4FEBE3D51DDI’m the fourth of five siblings, and I doubt that we could come to an agreement of the day of the week, so their struggles rang true to me. The film is directed by Cédric Klapisch, who made his name with L’Auberge Espagnol (2002). English subtitles are available and you’ll get the bonus of new words to add to your wine tasting vocabulary. The ending is realistic, but probably not one that you had anticipated. Blood is thicker than wine, as well as water.

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Le Fabuleux destin de Vigée LeBrun

203672FD-E98A-4BD1-957D-46506C99B1D3I’m fascinated by the life and talent of 18th century portrait painter, Elizabeth Vigée LeBrun. I’ve written about her a number of times on this blog. A few years ago, I bought a video about her when I was in France to show to my students. Its production coincided with a major traveling exhibit dedicated to the artist that traveled from Paris, to New York (where I saw it), and then to Ottawa. I just found the video, voiced over in English, on Amazon Prime, with the title The Fabulous Life of Vigée LeBrun (the French title is Le Fabuleux destin d’Elizabeth Vigée LeBrun). It’s a 90 minute introduction to the life, technique, and turbulent times of this incredibly talented artist.

E8B66C48-3040-4964-B072-B56DBCA968F7The film intersperses clips of actors portraying the story with commentary by world-renowned experts on Vigée LeBrun. It reminded me of a few interesting stories, for example, she was refused access to the Royal Academy by the traditional route because her husband was an art dealer. Women were considered to have the same occupation of their husbands, so Vigée LeBrun was also considered to be “in trade.” When she did get accepted, through her connection as Marie Antoinette’s portraitist, her recption piece, an allegory of La Paix ramenant l’Abondance (Peace Brings Back Prosperity), used female figures as women painters were not allowed to paint from male nudes and recption pieces required historical or allegorical subjects.

364847A3-6330-4F13-9417-3FE0DC519BBBSo many of her male subjects from her earliest years have a far-off gaze as she found that this kept them from leering at her during the long hours of posing, even though her mother was there as a chaperone. When Vigée LeBrun was in exile in Rome, she was invited to paint the Pope, but declined as she would have had to do so while veiled. She struggled against sexism and carved her own path in a country that was headed full-tilt to a time of extraordinary malice and blood lust. If you enjoy learning about French history or art, I think you’ll really like this film.

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Le siècle d’or de l’éventail

E636D197-E0B6-4AAC-8A46-841F045DC2BF.jpegI think I’m now the greatest expert on 18th century French fans in the Boston area. I just finished reading Le siècle d’or de l’éventail: du Roi Soleil à Marie-Antoinette (luh see-ek-luh dor duh lay-ven-tie), which means “The Golden Century of the Fan.” I bought the book after having seen this beautiful exhibit at the musée Cognaq-Jay when we went to Paris over the Thanksgiving break in 2013. The fans were dazzling and several had remarkable extra features, such as tiny perfume vials, thermometers, and magnifying glasses. I enjoyed the exhibit so much that I bought the exhibit book.

27080A11-DD6B-451B-8974-1BFFBE766FC9I started reading it when I got home, but then I misplaced it. I looked high and low to no avail. When Christmas morning came, the book reappeared – wrapped as a present from my husband. He somehow thought he’d bought it for me. I haven’t let him live that one down. Since then, our daughter has taken him in hand to help him at Christmas.

4CAA3AE4-7626-4853-8E7D-5CDEBA8A944AOnce I had the book back, I didn’t dive right back in. Since I’ve beed trying to read through my backlog of books before buying any new ones, it was time to finally become an expert on fans. Here are some fun fan facts:

  • The philosophe Denis Diderot insulted painters who exhibited at the Salons by saying their canvases would “make good fans”;
  • Although they were unsigned and undated, they can often be dated by examining buildings, bridges, and monuments in the background;
  • Famous 18th century painters like Wateau, Fragonard, Boucher, and Le Brun and didn’t paint fans, no matter what the auction catalogue says, so don’t pay extra for fans that make such a claim;
  • Sometimes fans were done first in draft form for important clients, to get the details just right. One design has handwritten notes made by Louis XIV, with lots of spelling mistakes.
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Toujours Provence

0893A20F-D6AA-4887-AA68-E882C3B819E7I mentioned a few posts ago that I had recently listened to the Sam Levitt series by Peter Mayle. I moved on to A Good Year , ( I had previously seen the movie), A Year in Provence , and Toujours ProvenceA Good Year is fiction, strongly based on Mayle’s life, and the othe two are memoirs. I think the memoirs are hands-down winners over Mayle’s fiction. The memoirs are full of funny tales of truffle hunting, Napoleonic coins found in the garden, and cleverly manipulating builders to make it a priority to finish renovations on the Mayle home.

Toujours Provence could be translated as either Always Provence or Still Provence and either one would work here. Once you have been to Provence, you will always fantasize that you are still there. I couldn’t help contemplating another visit to the south of France this summer – maybe to Aix. I haven’t been there yet and it feels like an oversight that requires attention before another Polar Vortex hits New England.

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À cheval

249C75EB-FA7F-4F41-A17E-D0DBBBE66074I continue to work through the backlog of unread books so that I’ll be able to buy new ones with a clear conscience. I bought Pardon My French: Unleash Your Inner Gaul, by Charles Timoney, back when Borders books was selling off its inventory. Timoney is an English attorney married to a French woman. They decided to relocate permanently to Paris and Timoney found himself perpetually at a loss when his school boy French proved inadequate to the conversation. He created this humorous guide, divided by theme and in alphabetical order, to aid others. I knew most of the expressions, but still got a chuckle out of his witty explanations and illustrations. Did you know that while à cheval  (ah shev-ahl) technically means “on horseback,” when applied to food it means “with a fried egg on top”? That’s really not the type of meaning you could simply intuit, and Timoney’s guide has many more such expressions. What’s a French expression that confused you?

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Château l’Arnaque

3BDA3988-AA74-4063-A31E-70033611CC68When Peter Mayle passed away in 2018, I realized that I had never read any of his books; my only connection was having watched A Good Year, with Russell Crowe, when it came out. The British ex-pat wrote prolifically and with great humor about life in the south of France, most famously, A Year In Provence. I added all the Mayle titles to my wishlist on Outlook, the free audiobook service through my library.

Eventually, I worked my way to The Vintage Caper, which turned out to be the first of the four volume Sam Levitt series. The others are The Marseille Caper, The Corsican Caper, and The Diamond CaperIn French, the title of The  Vintage Caper is Château l’Arnaque (sha-toe lar-nak), which means “Swindle Castle.” I have listened to all four books now and many of the characters reappear, allowing for a little more development than in a typical caper tale.

E2DC147C-D73D-4B13-8781-67AF88C5FB9CSam Levitt is an investigator who seems to be a modern Sam Spade. All the usual tropes are there: guns, gangsters, and a beautiful gal on his arm. This is NOT high literature and the sexist banter may set your teeth on edge at times, but overall it’s a lighthearted read or listen. Along the way, Mayle drops restaurant, wine, and hotel recommendations as Levitt wrangles bad guys who have some high-class connections. It’ll make you itch to book your next trip to the sunny south of France, particularly if you are living through winter in New England!


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