Films by French filmmakers about America?
March 18, 2019 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Preferably filmed in America.

I'd like to watch movies made by French filmmakers about America (any aspect of America). Preferably filmed in America or "set in" America. From any time period. Documentaries or feature or short films. Any language.

I'm curious about how the French perceive America through film. If there are any books or articles about that, I'm also curious about those.

posted by Cwell to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, there's the famous 9/11 documentary.
posted by Melismata at 9:22 AM on March 18

Two Days In New York, perhaps? Julie Delpy is a Parisian living in NYC, Chris Rock is her fairly-new boyfriend, and her family comes from Paris for a visit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on March 18

The Chinese Puzzle
posted by vacapinta at 9:35 AM on March 18

Bruno Dumont's Twentynine Palms (he doesn't come to any good conclusions about the US).
posted by cakelite at 9:39 AM on March 18

Luc Besson’s Leon / The Professional and, to an extent, Fifth Element take place in New York. Louis Malle has a number that take place in the US.

Do you count Polanski? Chinatown is iconic.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:46 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

Le gendarme à New York.
posted by mkb at 9:47 AM on March 18

Jacques Demy made Model Shop in L.A. in 1969. Agnes Varda went along and made three films during that period (Uncle Yanco, Black Panthers, and Lions Love), and then went back and made two more films in the 80s (Mur murs and Documenteur).

Some others:
Arnaud Desplechin's Jimmy P.
Chris Marker's The Sixth Side of the Pentagon
Jean-Pierre Melville's Two Men in Manhattan
some sequences of Vietnam War protests in Far from Vietnam

Of course, there were also several prominent French directors who worked in Hollywood during World War II, including Jean Renoir and Julien Duvivier.
posted by Awkward Philip at 9:52 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

This is not quite on point, but you can see a lot about the French "film view" of America by looking at French New Wave films like Breathless, which consciously evoked various American film archetypes. Especially Bogie. Bogie everywhere!!!
posted by praemunire at 9:52 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

There's also the documentary work Jean-Xavier de Lestrade has done on the U.S. criminal justice system (mostly presented in mini-series format): The Staircase, Murder on a Sunday Morning, Sin City Law.
posted by praemunire at 9:54 AM on March 18

Louis Malle visted Glencoe, Minnesota in 1979 and again in 1985 and turned the experience into a very fine documentary called "God's Country." It's a fascinating exploration of the economic impact of Reaganomics on agricultural communities in America.

Not a film, but perhaps you'd enjoy Baudrillard's America.
posted by thenewbrunette at 11:06 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]

Yep, Louis Malle's Atlantic City. Great performance from Burt Lancaster.

Malle also did Pretty Baby.
posted by Bron at 11:10 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]

Jean-Pierre Gorin's Routine Pleasures is a joy and part of his Southern California trilogy.
posted by spibeldrokkit at 11:32 AM on March 18

The Artist
Two Men in Manhattan
The Gendarme in New York
posted by Ideefixe at 6:59 PM on March 18

Jean-Luc Goddard's Made in U.S.A. is based on an American book, The Jugger (by Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark), and appears to be set in the USA ("Atlantic-Cite" to be precise), but with Godard who can be sure? It might be a little hard to find. I saw it once and found it incomprehensible, but I was probably laboring under this misconception that it should have something to do with its source material, of which I was a fan.
posted by ubiquity at 6:27 AM on March 19

There have been many French Westerns, notably comic book adaptations (Blueberry (2004), several Lucky Luke movies). The Sisters Brothers is the most recent one.

Lots of French comedies have been shot (or at least set) in the US: a great one is Fantasia chez les ploucs (1971), a comedy/thriller set in Alabama but shot in France (it's adapted from a book by US author Charles Williams). More recent (and not very good) ones include Hollywoo (2011), Les Tuche 2 (2016), Le Flic de Belleville (2018). Just visiting (2001), the remake of the box office hit Les Visiteurs with the same director and actors, but set and shot in the US, is considered to be a disaster. Liza Azuelos remade her own LOL comedy in the US in 2012.

A few thrillers have crossed the Atlantic, such as Blood ties (2013), a French remake of a French movie, with the story transplanted in the US. Also: In the electric mist (2009), a "mystical thriller" set in Louisiana, which seems to have been a bitter experience for director Bertrand Tavernier, a long-time admirer of American movies, as the movie wasn't even released in the US. John Carpenter's Assault on Precint 13 was remade in 2005 by Jean-François Richet.

The truth is that French directors have often a hard time dealing with US producers (final cut issues) and US crews (language, union issues), and it's common that their American Dream turns sour. Jean-Pierre Jeunet had some trouble making movies in the US (the fact that he doesn't speak English doesn't help): Alien Resurrection was terrible (it's not about the US anyway), and his adaptation of The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet went unnoticed (a kid-oriented movie with lots of F-words = no). Mathieu Kassovitz has done Gothika and Babylon A.D. in the US, with mixed results. In fact, it's often simpler (and cheaper) to adapt US novels to French settings and shoot them in Europe than trying to make them in the US (see for instance Tell no one, The Moon in the Gutter, or Coup de torchon).

With the exception of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004, The Green Hornet, 2011) and to some extent Quentin Dupieux (Rubber, Wrong, Wrong cops), successful French directors in the US are commercial ones like Louis Leterrier, Olivier Megaton and Pierre Morel, who churn out English-language action movies that are sometimes set in the US (the Transporter, series, the Taken series). Of course, they have nothing much to say about the US.

Now here's a really obscure one: L'An 01, a 0-budget, left-wing utopia from 1973 that features a short segment shot in the US by Alain Resnais, and narrated by [ta-daaaa!] Stan Lee (who was friend with Resnais at the time).
posted by elgilito at 6:04 PM on March 19

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