Okay, this is our second post today for French Language Day (here’s the first). I’m just kind of in that place, and I must tell you bluntly, it’s not likely to wane at any time before I die. In my dreams I’ve always wanted to be master of about ten languages, and have always dabbled in several with the intention of getting serious about them at some point. During the pandemic I realized I had the opportunity to get serious thanks to the internet and many various apps, and I prioritized French because the greatest number of non-English philosophers, authors, artists, film-makers, and comedians who I admire communicate in that language, and (as we wrote here), have influenced stuff I love in our own culture. (My next priorities are brushing up my Italian, Latin and Greek, followed by German and Spanish, if I live so long).
At this writing, I have reached the “intermediate” level of French. I spend an hour or two a day on it and hope to be proficient enough in a year or two to communicate with French critics and scholars etc about our mutual interests. That’s literally what I’m doing it for. As I’ve written many a time: the French gave us the word “vaudeville“! Anyway, naturally I’ve always enjoyed French films, as does my wife, so that’s a frequent staple of our viewing diet. But a particular joy of late has been French television, enabled by streaming services and youtube. It’s very handy indeed for the learner to listen to spoken French accompanied by English sub-titles. I’ve written about a couple of these shows on Travalanche. My piece on Le Bazar de la Charité (The Bonfire of Destiny) is one of my most popular posts, #25 out of over 7,000. I also really loved Dix Pour Cent (10 Percent) a.k.a Call My Agent. A third one I’m planning to write about is Lupin, having as it does the obvious connection to the Belle Époque.
Today, I just wanted to give a little plug to a youtube show I discovered recently called Frennemis Jurés (Sworn Frenemies). I’m a codger, so I don’t know if there’s a name for this newish form — sitcoms with episodes under five minutes? (It’s funny how cinema has come full circle, eh? That’s how long the first movies were, now we seem to be returning to that). Sworn Frenemies calls to mind American shows like The Odd Couple, Perfect Strangers, and Mad About You. Written by and starring Alexandra Guerineaud and Weetus Cren, it depicts a playfully contentious relationship between a pair of mismatched Paris room-mates, an uptight French woman (Guerineaud) and a devil-may-care American dude (Cren). It’s amazing how much can be contained in a 3 and 1/2 minute episode without seeming crowded and cluttered. There’s the culture clash of Cren’s clumsy attempts to acclimate, for example, and his bad pronunciation. (If you hit the T hard in “chat”, I’ve learned, you say the French vulgarism for “vagina” rather than the family pet that catches mice. He also hilariously mixes up “salle de bain” vs. “toilette” which results in him pissing in her sink. This is invaluable information for someone just learning the language. This show is not designed as some kind of teaching aid, by the way, it just happened to be perfectly suited to my needs. Cren’s French sounds only slightly better than mine, and I feel like I am just on the verge of being able to understand the show without the subtitles. It think I may watch it several times for that very purpose).
But the new room-mate’s behavior is kind of reflective of the larger personality conflict between the pair outside of the cultural differences. Esther (Guerineaud’s character) is very precise, right down to having written a special manual on how she likes things done in her house. And Rex (Cren) is the kind of guy who likes to put his sweaty stocking feet up on the coffee table. And there is of course the natural sexual tension that arises out of a man and woman, both heterosexual, living in close quarters together. The show plays with that a lot, and whether the two actually do eventually hook up has (to date) not yet been revealed! And yet another intriguing element is that there are…secrets. Esther first claims to be an anger management specialist (which is in itself hilarious, given her personality) but (spoiler alert) she turns out to be a cleaning lady, which is equally appropriate. Rex claims to be in France on a writing fellowship, but a dozen episodes in, there has been no evidence of him doing any writing (he spends all of his time playing video games). Oh, and he paid six months rent in advance in cash! And lastly, there is the subterfuge of Esther pretending that Rex is her boyfriend, in order to impress her vivacious mother (Pascale Roger-McKeever) who proceeds to have better chemistry with Rex than Esther does)! Oh and I did I mention that Esther is a hardcore Star Trek nerd as well as a cat lady?
So it all seems to be leading someplace intriguing although the last episode premiered two years ago! More please, I want to see where it goes! Both Guerineaud and Cren are funny and appealing and there’s even some slapstick. Je recommande fortement! Check it out here.
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