(photo by: facetsfeatures.blogspot.com – image of famous, iconic French film “A bout de Souffle”)
It’s my first day of French 132 and I want to fall asleep to the sound of my professor’s voice. Or maybe that’s because it’s 7:40 p.m. and I’ve never taken a night class before. But time aside, our actual first class was supposed to be on Tuesday evening. Thanks to Winter Storm Janus’s impending doom that didn’t happen and I got to Duolingo my night away. Before any of us could address her as Madame Portier, she insisted that we call her Francesca (the Americanized version of Françoise). I always find it a little unsettling when a professor prefers to be addressed on a first-name basis, but here we are. With a riveting round of “Bonsoir, je m’appelle…” out of the way, we dove right into Francesca’s doctoral thesis topic: jazz in French film. Well, sort of. She mentioned it, receiving a chorus of “ooahs” and perky, first-day smiles.
Most of us were struggling to keep up with her perfect accent. I tried to remind myself that this was nothing new, nothing new. I stopped myself from mentally translating her French into English and, instead, let the words flow in their native form. My sleepiness aside, I think it worked. I always knew generally if not exactly what she was saying. I even answered a few questions. She then asked us to fill out a small survey about our interests outside of school. I was a little embarrassed to realize I’ve only seen three French films: Amélie, Le scaphandre et le papillon, et Le fantôme de l’opéra. The class compiled a list of at least 25 titles, which I hastily copied down in my notebook. The apparently popular and/or interesting ones I’ve yet to watch include: Léon, Delicatessen (“très bizarre!” she warned), et Le voyage dans la lune.
To my delight, she kicked things off by giving us a taste of French culture. Not literally (though I wouldn’t have minded un petit croissant avec un café between inevitable, très impoli yawns). We began the second hour of class by dabbling in the evolution of film. I was immediately excited about the change of pace. No grammar? No tedious vocabulary words thrown up on the chalkboard? What was this heaven? We began by comparing a short documentary from the 1890s (L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat) with a short comedy sketch from the same era (L’Arroseur arrosé). Then, we met Georges Méliès. His work was bizarre, quirky, and completely amazing — for the 1900s. He was one of the first filmmakers to use special effects, like multiple exposures and hand-painted color. A lot of it was experimental. A lot of us were laughing. Maybe I’m trop sérieuse, but I was in awe. Francesca joked about how we probably couldn’t wait to go home and download the entire movie from the internet, right? But that’s exactly what I plan to do with my Friday night. All good things must come to an end, I suppose. She closed class by telling us that Janus hasn’t snowed in our syllabus. Our first composition is due in class on Thursday. Apparently it will be a short one, though.
So, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Get more sleep on Wednesday night, because Thursday is my longest day (three classes plus working on The Daily Targum, our campus newspaper).
2. Eat dinner immediately before class, or at least bring some almonds, or something.
3. Finish watching Le voyage dans la lune, and about a dozen other French masterpieces.
I think that’s it. Happy spring semester!