Cinderella’s foot fits the shoe perfectly and she meets her Prince Charming. Elle Woods wins her court case and finds a new-found sense of self. Harry Potter defeats the Death Eaters and stops the darkness. The guy gets the girl. The good people win. And they ALL live happily ever after.
According to American film historian David Bordwell, “of one hundred randomly sampled Hollywood films, over sixty ended with a display of the united romantic couple” (MacDowell, 2013).
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Not so in France. In fact French films are so notorious for their realistic and even tragic endings, that they have earned the name “French endings”.
Hollywood films are more obsessed with the happy ending, the “one-day’s”; the “what-ifs”. Perhaps this is because America prides itself on the 'American Dream' – that anybody can do anything in America, even if they come from nothing.
French cinema, on the other hand, seems to leave the viewer always a little shaken. For example, La Belle Personne (The Beautiful Person) and La Vie d'Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour) are beautiful pieces of cinema, but definitely do not abide by the standard Hollywood ending.
Divines, a French-Qatari drama film directed by Houda Benyamina that came out in 2016, depicts the issues within the banlieues. It is certainly no “happily ever after”. The movie is raw, authentic, and doesn’t end with a set solution. Perhaps this is because there isn’t one yet, and the French know this. No matter the reason, this is a perfect example of a French ending.
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Another great, yet very opposite of Hollywood movie, is Juste la fin du Monde (It’s Only The End of The World) released in 2016 directed by Xavier Dolan. In this movie, a man returns to his family after years of not seeing them to tell them that he is dying.
The movie is very beautiful, but if you have learned anything about French endings, you may be able to guess exactly how this movie ends. In American film, we would expect a unique, out-of-the-ordinary cure to happen and save his life – but with French endings that is not the case.
The World War II film Jeux interdits (Forbidden Games) released in 1962 directed by René Clément, showcases the harsh realities of wartime and is certainly no fairy tale.
For years, there is something so prevalent in American film that has shaped so much of American culture. The most magical place on earth. Yup, you guessed it – Disney! Disneyfication is based on a western-style consumerist lifestyle and contributes to our desire for happy endings. Try to think of a Disney movie, fairy tale, or television show that does not end in a happy ending.
Yet France has proved resistant to this trend, instead concentrating on being content in realism work together in cinema. Maybe a film that combined the result of the two differing views would be pretty amazing.
Charlotte Jolley works for Lost in Frenchlation, a Paris-based cinema club that shows French films with English subtitles. Find out more here.