This Yale University-produced French-language telecourse, which pendulums back and forth between the prosaic and the surreal, gets my vote for the most mellow TV show ever. Yes, it even beats Mr. Rogers because the late and lamented Mister R. always tries to engage you, however gently. You feel obligated to pay attention. French in Action seems not to care if you're even watching. It simply pursues its merry course, almost entirely in suave, Parisian French. You are left alone to either comprehend or not and, unless you already have a bit of Francais under your belt, it will be largely not. The series' philosophy is to immerse you in French, inviting you to pick up what you can. There will not be a quiz. Tres jolie, non? The series probably works best as a classroom adjunct and, indeed, each episode does include a bit of classroom simulation, all in French of course. Watching it cold, you may pick up a few snippets but the series' true value possibly lies in showing you exactly how hard it will be for you to communicate effectively in French if you are not fluent, and to be cool and do your best. According to travel writer/TV host Rick Steves, your brave attempts to speak French will usually be rewarded with good will, at least so it was before the Iraq War. Now, who knows? You could go to Montreal but, in truth, many Canadians dislike Les Americains just as much as the French, for many of the same reasons. Just go and don't speak to anyone. You'll be fine.
The series boasts a semblance of story line. A young `American tourist', equipped with a perfect command of French (because the actor who plays him is, in fact, French), arrives in Paris and eventually crosses paths with the, evidently, prosperous middle-class Belleau family and their circle of friends. Sights are seen, excursions are taken, dinners eaten, gentle angst is released now and then, and we, presumably, learn something. French is a lovely wind-chime of a language and just to hear it spoken so beautifully, as it is in this series, especially when proffered with a feminine lilt, is worth the watching, even though barely a word is understandable because the French is spoken with native inflection and rhythm (however, you should soon be able to comprehend the word, Merde!). The conversation and narration forges ahead, swallowing Rs and packing mysterious French usage into sonorous sausages of incomprehensibility. Periodically, key phrases are extracted and repeated but, as there is no comparative context with everything being in French, you still probably won't understand much.
But hey. there are things to see as well, especially for Les Boys, primarily in the form of the Belleau ladies if you're straight, and the pretty Charles Mayer (as Robert the tourist) if you're not. From the sleek Madame Belleau through the youngest, future-jailbait daughter, Marie-Laure, all are tres charmant. Most of the action centers on the middle daughter Mireille, played by the bounteous, walking vanilla sundae, Valerie Allain, a girl who really knows how not to wear a bra. Mireille simultaneously chaperones and participates in a chaste relationship with Robert (they obviously have the mutual hots, but this is a telecourse.) Marie-Laure frequently tags along. (There is also, from what I have been able to gather, a French porn star also named Valerie Allain who, purportedly, is not this same lady. I have tried but have never succeeded in confirming this duplicity one way or the other. The Ms. Allain of this series, who, it is rumored, perished in a motorcycle accident, is/was an actor of moderate note in France, who starred once with Claude Chabrol. Hopefully she is still with us.) Several of the players have fairly stout French film and TV resumes.
Even if you are not actively trying to learn French, you will pick up a bit here and there, especially if you watch regularly and really pay attention. You'll also get a lot of exposure to the high-end French accent. I'm not a regular, yet still managed to eventually grasp that the Cecile character is actually Mireille's older sister, not just a family friend as I had previously thought. Although produced under the auspices of Yale University, the series is French in origin and is as quirkily Gallic as a Citroen 2CV. It even offers a strange trenchcoat type with a major facial tic who seems to be stalking (in a benign, Chaplinesque way) Mireille and Marie-Laure for, apparently, entirely French reasons. Just when you may be drifting off, comes the scene in which Mireille, out for a stroll with Robert, gets a passing comment from a young soldier. We don't hear it but she does. Mirielle decks the soldier with a girlie right, then plants her boot toe where the sun seldom shines. Mon Dieu. If French in Action airs in your locale (in the Frisco Bay Area it's on KCSM, channel 60), check it out, It's fun in its own way; a great show to watch when burned out, if nothing else, and certainly easy on the ears.
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