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Why is America not keen on a ‘French ending’?

The guy gets the girl, they ride off into the sunset and the movie ends. If you're watching Hollywood films there's a high chance that's how it will conclude, but not so with the notorious 'French ending', says Charlotte Jolley.

Why is America not keen on a 'French ending'?
La Vie d'Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour) has a classic French ending. Photo YouTube

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 was writing with Lost in Frenchlation, a Paris-based cinema club that shows French films with English subtitles. Find out more here.

Member comments

  1. The films mentioned above show one aspect of French life. There are just as many French films with happy, “American” endings as there are American films with “French” endings.

  2. Poor journalism. Narrow minded, badly written and poorly researched view from someone who evidently doesn’t watch many different films, doesn’t travel much and has a typical americentric view of culture.
    ALL world cinema has varied endings, it’s USA that is the exception with it’s predictable Hollywood ‘happy’ endings for an audience that is uncomfortable with being asked to actually think.

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FILM

French films with English subtitles to watch in December

The Lost in Frenchlation film club has organised a series of screenings in Paris this month. If you find Christmas films cheesy, don't worry - they haven't made the shortlist.

Cinemagoers wait for a film to begin. Lost in Frenchlation screens French films with English subtitles.
Cinemagoers wait for a film to begin. Lost in Frenchlation screens French films with English subtitles. (Photo: ABDULMONAM EASSA / AFP.)

The cinema group Lost in Frenchlation runs regular screenings of French films in the capital, with English subtitles to help non-native speakers follow the action. The club kicks off every screening with drinks at the cinema’s bar one hour before the movie, so it’s also a fun way to meet people if you’re new to Paris.

These are the events they have coming up this month:

Friday 3rd December 

Les Magnétiques – this award-winning film came out last month and captures the zeitgeist of 1980s provincial France. The story follows two brothers caught between the rebellious world of pirate radio, work at their father’s garage and the looming threat of military service. 

The film will be shown at 8pm in the Club d’Etoile – the projection will be followed by a live Q&A with the film crew. Arrive one hour before the screening for an on-the-house apéritif .

Tickets cost €10 with a reduced price of €8 for job seekers and students. 

Thursday 9th December

A Good Man – Aude and her trans partner, Benjamin, are desperate to have a child. Aude cannot. Benjamin, who has not undergone a hysterectomy, can. This touching drama was selected for screening at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. The production was controversial because a cisgender woman played the role of a transgender man. 

The film will be shown at Luminor Hôtel de Ville. Drinks start at 7pm, followed by an 8pm screening and a Q&A with the director – there will be plenty to discuss.

Tickets cost €10 with a reduced price of €8 for job seekers and students and can be booked here

Sunday 12th December 

Julie (En 12 Chapitres) – This is a dark Norwegian romantic comedy and an exception to the Lost in Frenchlation tradition of showing French films. The film tells the story of Julie, a woman in her late twenties who doesn’t know what to do with her life professionally and romantically. It subverts the coming-of-age genre by telling the story of someone who… never comes of age. Renate Reinsve won the Best Actress awards at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival for her protagonist role. 

The film will be shown at Luminor Hôtel de Ville, with drinks at the cinema bar from 7pm and a screening at 8pm. Tickets cost €10 and can be bought here

The organisers have also proposed a Women in Paris walking tour. This tour will illuminate the fascinating lives of Parisienne writers who challenged societal boundaries, helping to realise major milestones in the Women’s Liberation Movement. You will be guided through Saint Germain-des-Prés where many of these women lived or are paid tribute to. Tickets for this walking tour can must be purchased separately online here.

Friday 17th December 

Aline – This French-Canadian film is a fictionalised portrayal of the life of Céline Dion – the Canadian singer who became an international sensation. The lead actor, Valérie Lemercier, plays as the role of  ‘Aline’ from childhood to middle-age, meaning that a lot of post-production had to go into making her appear realistic. This casting choice drew a mixed response from critics – some of whom praised the innovation, while others asked why a child hadn’t been cast instead. The film was shown at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and is worth a watch. 

The film will be shown at the Entrepot cinema, but the time has yet to be confirmed. 

Christmas break 

Lost in Frenchlation will be taking a break from December 18th to January 7th but promises to have plenty of new screenings in 2022. 

Full details of events can be found via their website or Facebook page. In France, a health pass is required in order to go to the cinema and masks must be worn. 

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