Dec. 11, 2009

filmsgraded.com:
In the French Style (1963)
Grade: 68/100

Director: Robert Parrish
Stars: Jean Seberg, Philippe Forquet, Stanley Baker

What it's about. Pretty American girl Jean Seberg is in Paris to soak up the scene in the hopes it will inspire her painting. The unchaperoned Seberg is soon accosted by opinionated but cute young Frenchman Philippe Forquet. A three month courtship follows. Seberg wants Philippe moderately but he is too awkward to bed her.

A few years pass, and Seberg is still in Paris, and continues to paint. Her paintings don't sell, but she gets by with occasional work as a model. She has a series of lovers, each affair intense but eventually destined for failure. Her current beau is newspaper reporter Stanley Baker, who loves her but is committed to his livelihood, which requires him to leave her for long stints in foreign backwaters.

Seberg's father, Addison Powell, pays her a visit. He catches on quickly, and informs her, as gently as he can, that her paintings stink and that she should put an end to her real career as somebody's mistress. This dose of unwanted medicine takes root, and she decides to marry unromantic but promising surgeon James Leo Herlihy.

How others will see it. In the French Style lurks in obscurity. At imdb.com, it has garnered a mere 68 user ratings. Compare that to From Russia with Love, made the same year, which has nearly 30,000 votes (as of this writing). The title may be partly to blame. They should have called it An American Beauty in Paris.

Few have seen this movie. Those who seek it are typically fascinated with actress Jean Seberg, whose increasingly troubled life ended at age 40 from an overdose of pills. The user ratings are widely clustered between 5 and 8, indicating that about half of those who see it are disappointed. Perhaps they were suspecting a slick color Hollywood production instead of a thoughtful drama.

How I felt about it. The director is Robert Parrish, whose career was more successful than remarkable. He is best known for the strange 1967 version of Casino Royale, the Bond film that isn't one. In the French Style is a much better movie, but the credit principally belongs to bestseller author Irwin Shaw ("The Young Lions", "Rich Man, Poor Man"), who wrote both the screenplay and its source novel. Alas for Irwin, the soap opera audience demands heavy drama instead of ironic observations of human behavior, no matter how apt or well written they might be.

In addition to a cogent script, In the French Style also benefits from a fine (albeit little-known) supporting cast. Baker, Forquet, and Powell are ideal for their roles.

The curiosity of the story development is that as Seberg's life becomes more decadent, her personality moves in a different direction. By film's end, she is more honest, more pleasant, and more understanding, and no longer lives under the smug delusion that she will have splendid romances, marry a wealthy count, or become an important painter. In other words, she grows up, something most of us fail to truly accomplish by age 23.