Do you remember your first real French Film? Mine was Les Fugitifs – the Francis Veber comedy, which was already a classic when my first year university lecturer decided we needed educating, back in the late 80s. Having learned my French at a country high school, and being 200km from any cinema that showed foreign films, I really had very little concept of modern French cinema culture. SBS was TV that happened to other families. I thought ‘zut’ was a rude word.
In a darkened lecture theatre, all of that was about to change. Although I could barely keep up with the subtitles, let alone the dialogue, I realised that a new world was opening in front of me. I fell in love with Gerard Depardieu, I learned a few more effective swearwords (although I wasn’t brave enough to use them), and I discovered a visual language that told as much about its people as the spoken language I had been studying for 6 ½ years.
If you get the chance, Les Fugitifs has stood the test of time and is worth a watch. The gentle clown Pierre Richard is Francois Pignon, a miserable failure as a bank robber, while Gerard Depardieu is an ex-con with a heart of gold. There are some gloriously 1980’s moments such as the arrival of hoodlums with boombox-on-shoulder, not to mention the fabulous hair and shoulder pads.
The situations in Veber’s comedies are original and clever, and many of his films have been re-made for the American market. Richard Pryor’s star turn in The Toy (originally Le Jouet, 1976) grossed over 50 million at the box office in 1982, while 3 Men and a Baby (Trois Hommes et un Couffin) did three times that for Tom Selleck and director Leonard Nimoy (oui!) in 1987. Veber is a prolific writer and director – and credits include La Doublure (The Valet – in US pre-production) in 2006 and Dinner for Schmucks (Le Dîner des Cons) in 2010, and plenty of comic classics you may not have realised were his. It’s always fun to see what kind of scenario Veber will throw us in to.
The first one I saw stole my cinema heart.