Written by Beth Friday

Lifestyle

A new wave affair

How French cinema made Beth Friday better at sex.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

I’m both a long-time fan of French cinema and a deluded romantic. I considered it inevitable, therefore, that at some point in life I’d have a soft-focus, black-and-white tryst with a Gallic anti-hero.

It’d be a confusing but stylish liaison, doomed from the start. I’d sit with misfit friends, dissecting every poignant non-event, with verbal jump cuts and brutal authenticity. It’d signify The Apex of My Entire Existence while ultimately meaning absolutely nothing. I’d definitely need to take up smoking.

For a long while, The Great French Film Romance (TGFFR) remained elusive. (By the way, TGFFR is like The Great British Bake Off but with consistently good pastries.) Then it happened. Without warning or opening credits, I found myself flung into a series of intense and disjointed scenes with an amorous someone from Marseille.

To be clear, I didn’t seek this out by way of dubious positive discrimination. I wasn’t screening suitors, like, “Hi, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is me and 10 is The Eiffel Tower, how French are you?” Non.

TGFFR was actually attributable a bit to bon chance and a lot to my co-star’s open-minded (drunken?) swiping right. And to my skilled use of Google Translate and #lotsoffilters. Also, in a bid to find common ground early on, I may have (wildly) exaggerated my ability to cook. What? They could cook; it seemed to matter. I know a relationship should be built on honesty but when opportunity knocks, you can’t let a sunken soufflé stand between you and destiny.

And so it was. A first date, followed by a second, followed by… let’s say a respectable number of dates more, before… The Love Scene. And, of course, New Wave required it to be nothing less than distilled meaning, unadulterated smoulder and the sort of nonchalance-infused dexterity you just can’t teach. This is a tall order when only 50 per cent of the cast is French. Can you imagine the pressure? I even got a directional haircut.

“In each argument, I exhausted all my vocab two minutes in and just resorted to repeating my three favourite terms in quick succession, with increasing vehemence: ‘Doryphores… pression des pneus… ALLEZ TOUT DROIT!’”

Against the odds, it was an episode that lived up to the hype. So good, in fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was directed by Jean-Luc Godard himself. There may have been an Algerian jazz score; I can’t be sure. It’d be indiscreet to go into detail but suffice it to say, I still go all black and white just thinking about it.

Real life was punctuated by cinematic brilliance for a bit after that. I even dug out my A-level notes in order to make soulful, mid-coitus attempts to be sexy in foreign.

While initially successful, I quickly reverted to the mother tongue after ruining an otherwise perfect mise-en-scène by forgetting how to say “go down”. Turns out “go underground” is not an acceptable replacement and will instantly terminate all sexual activity.

Sure, there were also some passionate French arguments (textbook). In each case, I exhausted all my vocab two minutes in and just resorted to repeating my three favourite terms in quick succession, with increasing vehemence:

“Doryphores… pression des pneus… ALLEZ TOUT DROIT!”

Beetles. Tyre pressure. Go straight on.

I recommend this approach to debate within the context of TGFFR. You won’t make sense but you will bore your opponent into submission. Then you can have make-up sex in Franglais. And this’ll be worth the argument given that (based on my highly scientific sample of one) their Doing It skills will be of a calibre normally found only in fiction. I did once point this out. The compliment was met with an unfazed shrug and the words, “Oui… Yes… I mean, I’m not arrogant… it’s just, this I know.”

I suppose it could just as easily have been a letdown. Remember Blue is the Warmest Colour and take heed: critics’ choice or not, no one needs to be spanked from that many different camera angles. I was lucky, for sure.

Jump-cut to a few months later and the end of the movie. Like all the greats, it was of its time. I guess I never was that good at dealing with ambiguous narratives. But hey, we’re friends, and I learned a lot. I still can’t have sex in French and you wouldn’t want one of my soufflés but I’m definitely better at love scenes. This I know.

@fridaybeth

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Written by Beth Friday

Beth Friday is a writer and comedian. She’s also nearly a doctor, doing her PhD thesis on why people fancy each other.