Sunday, April 29, 2007

Let them eat cake! And other lessons from a French film set...

Marie Antoinette may have said “Let them eat cake!” but Sophie Marceau is all about eating cake with them. And me.
Okay, so I didn’t exactly share a forkful of cheesecake with the famous French actress, but I spent the day in her shadow on the set of “Women of the Shadows” (“Les Femmes de l’Ombre” en français), a WWII drama about female Resistance fighters directed by Jean-Paul Salomé and starring Marceau, Marie Gillain, Julie Depardieu, Deborah François and Julien Bosselier. The set was on an airfield in East Bumblefuck, France (yes, that’s just south of WherethehellamI, west of Imisselectricity and just a quick train ride away from Farfromcivilization. Call the tourist board for more info.) I was just a little over one hour away from Paris, but I felt like I’d traveled back in time. Perhaps it was the men dressed as French soldiers, the 20th century cars driving by, or the map of occupied France that threw me off, but I could sense that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Every few minutes, I heard “Action!” (pronounced “ack-see-oon”!) then “C’est coupé, Merci!” (“Cut, Thank you!”). Isn’t that so very kind of French directors to say “Thank You” after they yell cut? It’s so much more civilized isn’t it? And so rude of American directors with their simple “Cut!” without bothering to thank the hundreds of other technicians, actors and extras for their amicable participation in the project. None of them said “You’re Welcome” of course, but I could sense that the positive reinforcement was good for business. Note to Spielberg, Tarantino and co.: Say “Thank you!”
Then, there’s the lunch break…
Brett Ratner called me recently (sorry, I just liked the way that sounded, actually I think I’ll say it again.) So my friend Brett rang me on the tele and – (no, too British). So, the Rat dialed me up and – (no, too cheesy) So, B.Rat scored my digits and – (no, too ghetto. But I am from New Jersey, so please excuse me) Anyway, so when I asked Monsieur Ratner about working with the French while he was in Paris filming “Rush Hour 3,” he told me that he found it wonderful working with the Frogs, but he seemed to be flabbergasted by the differences in the lunch scene. “In Hollywood, you have a buffet, everyone lines up, eats and it takes around 45 minutes and you’re done,” he said, “In France, they have table service which is nice, but it takes forever. You sit down, they bring you an appetizer, then they bring your main course, then a dessert and there’s a glass of wine open on the table the whole time. It’s nice, but we lost so much time doing that.”

Yet, while the lunch may be longer and more refined, everyone eats at the same table (or, in the case of the “Femmes de l’Ombre” shoot, under the same tent). From Sophie Marceau, famous French actress, to Fophie Karmeau, random extra from West Bumblefuck, France (the town next to E. Bumblefuck obviously – great real estate, call your broker), everyone breaks bread together. No fancy schmancy trailers. No “I’d like a diet coke with lemon shipped from Africa” or “I’d like a black truffle foie gras-flavored caviar lobster with champagne sauce delivered to my trailer by Alain Ducasse and Justin Timberlake s’il vous plait.” Just the lead actresses, the 17th unit cameraman, the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the director, and Sophie Marceau’s dog’s sister’s dog trainer’s mother, sitting at a table, sippin’ some Chablis, cutting through some steak and talking about Segolene Royale’s chances for the second round of elections. I mean, it’s only natural. Our forefathers differed in the same way. For the French, it’s always been “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), but for Americans Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. So basically, if I’ve gathered correctly, liberty seems to be a popular national sentiment, but the French believe in liberty, brotherhood and equal opportunity for all, and the Americans just liberty, staying alive and being happy even if happiness means eating lobster in your 8000-ft trailer while your technical team eats McDonald’s on a dirt floor.
Then there are the mandatory cigarette breaks. “C’est coupe, merci!” is actually just French director-speak for “Jesus, I haven’t had a cigarette in over 10 minutes, Jean-Pierre fetch me my Galouises!”
Speaking of smoky fumes, I filmed my TV segment next to a WWII fighter jet (yes, that’s right, I don’t think Katie Couric or the women of “The View” are exposed to these conditions. Or maybe they are and that’s why Rosie left?) So, there I am, airplanes flying by, soldiers walking by with large guns, a production crew all with cameras pointed directly at ME, a microphone in my hand, four producers yelling directions at me in French, the sun beating down on my face through 13 layers of thick makeup and…3…2..1…”Action!” No pressure, right? It’s a wonder I even formed a complete sentence. (Or maybe I didn’t, it hasn’t aired yet, who knows what rare form of Franco-English vocabulary left my lips, it’s all a blur.)

After a nice ride through the French countryside (as it turns out, the Bumblefuck region’s scenery is simply magnificent), I arrived back in Paris … and back to the 21st century (although my phone, television and computer seem to still be functioning in 20th-century mode). I’m sure Sophie Marceau is sitting down right now to write on her blog, “My day on set with Rebecca Leffler…”

French Word of the Day: “Pétaouchnok”: “In the middle of nowhere” (aka “East Bumblefuck)

French Dessert of the Day:

Today’s French dessert of the day is actually not French, well it’s New Yorker but with a French twist (sort of like me, only this is perishable.) The cheesecake at Market (Jean-Georges’ Paris restaurant on the Avenue Matignon) is quite simply delectably deliciously divine. It puts my mother’s cheesecake in the corner (and, “Nobody puts my mother’s cheesecake in the corner!”) – really, it’s that good. Light, yet tasty, served as a small round piece with a scoop of fruity sorbet on top, a fruity red coulis, and some fresh strawberries and raspberries sprinkled with sugar. The perfect balance of lightly whipped cheesecake, its perfectly crisp crust and the refreshing sorbet – all I can say is “Msdksdiusifsuifsuisuijimmm” (sorry my mouth was full.) The irony is that, though I always swore that it must be some special French crème fraiche made by Jean-Georges’ little French grandmother that gives the Market cheesecake its amazing flavor, I have recently been informed by a mole (disguised as a French waiter named Emmanuel) that the secret is in fact, Philadelphia Cream Cheese! Sacré bleu! I feel betrayed – here I go out of my way to move to France, suffer through French bureaucracy to be able to stay and then I find out that my favorite dessert is made from Philadelphia cream cheese? Apparently I’m not the only US import bringing flavor to this city… ;)


Anonymous said...

Hi Rebecca, I enjoy your article very much. Sophie Marceau is my favorite French actress. IMHO, she's the most beautiful and talented French actress. I've known her since the early days, when she was in "La Boum". I'm still trying to watch and collect all her movies.

I came across your blog because I subscribed to Google alert in Gmail. Your blog just came up today in the alerts.

Sounds like you are having a good time. Keep up the good work. Merci!

Polly said...


This is so cool. I live in Paris too and am awed by the filming that goes on here. May I interview you for my new blog on Real Americans in Paris, to be launched this month?

My other current blog is


erwan said...

....and ze ozzzer famous partner of zat biouuutiful restaurant is simply Luc B.... my dear !
Zis is it !