Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gyms and Lighthouses

How to Look like Jean-Claude Van Damme
It’s one of life’s greatest mysteries: eating nothing but butter, cream, bread, cheese and pastry, French people somehow manage to retain their lithe figures. Where do they put it? Are those little holes in the ground that we think lead to the underground metro trains really just fat deposits? Do rich French ladies actually feed their croissants and their quiches to the tiny little dogs they carry around? Or have French scientists simply not leaked their formula for fat-burning crème fraiche to the rest of the world? Because it’s certainly not from exercise. While Central Park and its environs are swarming with joggers and bike-riders, seeing a French person working out is as uncommon as a solar eclipse; i.e. it does happen, but, when it does, millions of people come out to watch in awe. I remember running through the 11th arrondissement a few years back and, not only inhaling massive quantities of cigarette smoke into my lungs, but also being looked at by said cigarette smokers sitting in cafés as if I were a 4-headed witch doctor on stilts coming to collect their first born child. However, as the times change, so do the French. Or at least some of them anyway. Contrary to popular belief, some French people do, in fact, engage in physical activity other than lovemaking. And they all belong to the Club Med Gym. Let me rephrase that: the rich exercising French population belongs to the Club Med Gym. Club Med gyms are ubiquitous throughout Paris, boasting over 17 locations in the city. I recently became a member of the Club Med gyms and discovered that, once again, the French have their own way of doing things. Here is your guide to pumping iron à la Française:
1. Bring your own towel. First of all, membership rates rise 80 euros if you want to use their towels instead of bringing your own. Secondly, you must, at all times, cover the equipment with said towel. (I didn’t have a towel the first day – silly American I am – and was nearly decapitated by furious Frenchman when I attempted to lie down on the public mats to do a few crunches. Be warned.)
2. When waiting for a treadmill (and, unless you are Jacques Chirac or arrive when they first open in the morning, you will have to wait) stand against the wall behind the line of treadmills and wait your turn. If you stand in front, others will think you are simply watching other people run and will not allow you use a treadmill until you walk behind the row.
3. There is no such thing as “sharing” a machine, a common practice in the U.S. whereby one person does a couple of reps, takes a rest while someone else does a couple reps, then they continue to take turns using the machine. In France, you must simply wait your turn while the resting work-out-er stretches slowly, taking 10 minute intervals in between reps and stares at you blankly as you wait your turn.
4. Do not wear shorts. Spandex are the only way to go. Men included.
5. Lockers are only for use during your workout. Despite the fact that your club membership is costing more per week than interns in France (cough cough) make in a month, you are not given a locker. You must purchase your own lock in the vending machine down the hall and squeeze your belongings into the tiny, P-shaped lockers large enough to fit little more than a baguette and an extra pair of spandex.

I saw something last night I never thought I’d see: Sandrine Bonnaire starring in a “normal” movie. And, by “normal,” I mean that Bonnaire did not shoot and kill an entire family (à la Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie), nor was she found frozen in a ditch (Agnès Varda’s Sans Toi, Ni Loi) nor did she form an intimate relationship with a man she mistook for a psychiatrist (Patrice Leconte’s Intimate Strangers). This was the first time I’ve left the theatre feeling neither depressed, uncomfortable or horrified after seeing Bonnaire on the big screen. In fact, I felt wonderful. L’Equipier, while far from being a feel-good romp of glee, reaffirmed my faith in the movies. Philippe Loiret provides an aesthetically pleasing landscape highlighted by subtle yet powerfully moving performances by his actors, and complemented by a resounding chemistry between Bonnaire and the scintillating Grégori Derangère.
L’Equipier follows Camille, a young woman who returns to her childhood home on a small island in France to sell her deceased parents’ house. While there, Camille discovers a family secret. The film is almost entirely a flashback to 1963 when Antoine, a former soldier injured in Algeria, comes to the island to help Camille’s father, Yvon, guard the lighthouse called « La Jument. » Antoine’s presence changes the lives of everyone living in the town, especially that of Camille’s mother, Mabé. While the story may appear to be ostensibly cliché – a stranger comes to town and changes the lives of everyone in said town – the film itself is in no way ordinary. The characters are incredibly believable, the landscape shots of the Ile d’Ouessant breathtaking and the film quietly moving. The movie isn’t just about the love that develops between Mabé and Antoine, but also the unlikely friendship that eventually forms between Antoine and Yvon. As other contemporary French directors aim to shock (Gaspard Noe and Catherine Breillat for example) or to excite (Kassovitz’ latest love affair with technology and science fiction) or simply to please everyone (à la Jean-Pierre Jeunet), Loiret has provided his audience with a refreshingly literate and subtly comic novelistic approach to filmmaking.

1 comment:

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