All the Oscar talk about this year's Best Foreign Film, Amour, has me thinking about the many French films I watched during my yearlong experiment of importing certain French parenting lessons to use on my two daughters. My aim with the Frenchifying was to see if I could improve my kids' behavior, and my intense relationship with the foreign films section on Netflix was just a byproduct (research!)
It -- the movie part -- was not at all painful, as the French have a long and remarkable history when it comes to film production. A list of some of the country's top directors reads like a masters of cinema class syllabus: Godard, Truffaut, Renoir, Chabrol, Rohmer, and on and on.
I admit, I got a little sidetracked with the nation's greatest cinematic gift, the French New Wave, but I also learned a lot from the films featuring relationships between parents or teachers (or mayors!) and children. The below movies all contain excellent parenting insights and epiphanies, and they go down easy with great production values! Now butter up that popcorn -- or, better yet, warm up your croissant -- and dim the lights.
Ponette (1996) This heart-twisting film shows just how independent and resilient kids can be -- or have to be, as the little girl at the center of the story must carry on when her mom dies. Stock up on Kleenex -- it's worth it!
Small Change (1976) Known as "Pocket Money" in France, this is François Truffaut at his mischievous best, along with a cast of incredibly clever and cute kids. One teacher offers a line revealing how the French refuse to sugar coat the world for children: "Life is hard, but it's wonderful." A good lesson, non?
To Be and To Have (2002) If this documentary about a very rural school, the 13 children in one class and an acutely inspirational teacher doesn't warm your heart, then... your heart is really, really cold. See a doctor or something!
L'âge de Raison (2010) In France, the age of reason starts at 7 years old. So watch it with your 6-year-old! The kid in question writes in a letter: "Dear Me, Today I'm 7 years old and I am writing you this letter to help you remember the promises that I've made during the Age of Reason..." I mean -- swoon.
Les Enfants du Marais (1999) This movie, on the other hand, portrays three badly-behaved kids and serves as a reminder that not all French children are tiny miracles. Then again, it takes place in 1918, so we can assume if there's a remake, the kids' parts will be re-written and sweetened.
My Father's Glory (1990) You know how a lot of French films feature impossibly cute kids gallivanting across gorgeous country vistas while lit perfectly by award-winning cinematographers? This is one of those. Prepare to want to move to turn of the century Provence and to raise your kids there.
Mon Père, ma Mère, mes Frères et mes Soeurs (1999) The heroine of this film is a single mother who has three kids by three different fathers. In the U.S., this character might be called a degenerate suck on society. In the film, she's considered a free spirit. And she's a good mother who is living the life she wants -- so I salute her.
Le Papillion (2002) A kind-hearted old man, a gentle, precocious kid, a hunt for a rare butterfly -- what more could you want? Well, Jean Paul Belmondo, sure, but other than him? Not a thing.
Our Children Will Accuse Us (2008) In this doc, a mayor fights to ensure that kids only get organic food in schools in southern France. You read that right. As you've probably heard, they take food seriously