Thursday, June 26, 2008
Francois Truffaut's Pocket Money
I highly recommend Francois Truffaut's Pocket Money (L'argent de poche, called Small Change in English), which I saw this week, for a fascinating glimpse into daily life in France and the life of children anywhere. This unusual film concerns pre-high school children in the town of Thiers in central France. The movie was filmed in 1976, and Thiers' own residents are the actors, particularly the children. Truffaut's daughter, Eva, who was then 15, also has a part. The film deals with the interactions of middle and working class children with their parents, their teachers, and their friends. Almost like a documentary with stories, the film seems to confirm things I have read about French family and school life and the famous style of French women, even in a small provincial town. Of course, given that Pocket Money was produced 32 years ago, I cannot vouch that the film is a window into French daily and school life today.
First Fashion ...
Well, sure enough, all the women are dressed to go to market. No sweat pants, no t-shirts, no dishevelment on the street. Nice dresses with shoes and purses that match each other. Although the clothes are not out of the ordinary, they look nice. The women are filmed wearing mostly the same dresses in different scenes. So the idea would appear to be that you carefully assemble an outfit, which looks good; however, the outfits are few. The clothes are modest. Almost all the women have beautifully kept nails--even the teacher who otherwise seems to be dressed very demurely, has brightly polished long red nails, and Truffaut shows mothers painting their nails in two scenes. The little girls also wear very nice dresses all the time--many of them very nicely designed with lively fabric.
The interiors of the homes seen in the film are sparsely furnished by American standards--albeit often with some pieces of beautiful antique furniture. By our middle and working class standards, their homes or apartments are small and uncomfortable.
We get to see the famous five-course French meal--a weekday meal--when one boy, who has only a paraplegic father and no mother, is invited to stay at a friend's house for dinner. The mother--who comes fresh the kitchen wearing a ruffled blouse, heels, and a necklace with her hair coiffed and perfect nails--serves pot au feu (meat, potatoes, and some vegetables in one pot with broth), followed by a green salad with vinaigrette, followed by an assortment of cheeses, followed by different fruits, with a cake as the grand finale. The first three courses are accompanied with bread and When the guest leaves, he thanks his hostess for a "good frugal dinner"--reflecting the significance in France placed on the frugal housewife.
Women speak in a feminine way: They speak softly and their intonation (enhanced by that of the French language in general) adds to their femininity. Those women happy in married life are soft in manner with husband and children alike but are relaxed and not afraid to voice their wants or ideas. In the ordinary interactions of daily life, the adults are polite to each other (unless there is conflict). As in 1950s America, they greet each other as "Mr." or "Mrs."--not by first names. Children are also expected to be polite, addressing their elders with titles and not by first name.
I feel a bit ridiculous writing about French daily life in a blog that might be read by French people! French daily life is definitely different from that of Americans but I believe has much to recommend it. In posts to come I will write on the public school portrayed in Pocket Money and then about the different relationships of children with adults shown in the film, the subject that is Truffaut's true concern.