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REVEALED: The French in-jokes from TV series Call My Agent

The global success of the French TV series Dix pour cent (Call My Agent) is all the more remarkable for it being choc-a-bloc with rapid-fire jokes that you need a thorough knowledge of French culture to understand.

REVEALED: The French in-jokes from TV series Call My Agent
The stars of TV series Dix pour cent (Call My Agent). Photo: AFP

As well as being an excellent and funny watch, the TV series set in a Paris talent agency is also highly educational.

While the series mostly follows the lives and loves of the agents, each episode has a guest star, playing themselves. These are all big names in France so the show provides a crash course in the big names of French TV, film and music, from the obvious like Jean Dujardin to the less internationally well known like Audrey Fleurot.

READ ALSO Five Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it

 

But while some jokes are funny wherever you are from – like Jean Dujardin 'going full Day-Lewis' and gnawing the head off a live rabbit – there are also plenty of French 'in jokes' that people who grew up elsewhere are likely to be oblivious to.

Here's a selection of some you might have missed:

Get thee to a nunnery

Actress Beatrice Dalle refuses to play a nude corpse at the start of her episode, abandoning the morgue for the convent to take time out from an industry she says is dictated by the lascivious male gaze.

Fair enough. But for decades Dalle has excelled in extreme and outrageous roles as an object of desire, from her breakthrough in the racy “Betty Blue” to sex-crazed cannibal in “Trouble Every Day”.

In real life, Dalle often hangs out with nuns enjoying convent retreats and speaking openly about her faith and love for Jesus.

Abracadabra

The first episode of the fourth series features what would seem a random bit of fantasy, with a dwarf snapping her fingers and a lift door closing like magic. The gesture comes from a long-running French TV series, “Josephine, Guardian Angel”.

In it diminutive angel Mimie Mathy helps the needy with empathy and magic and at the end of her mission disappears with the same finger-click she makes in the lift.

But in “Call My Agent!” Mathy is no benevolent spirit. Mischievously flipping type, she plays a nasty piece of work looking to settle a score with ASK.

Forever Godefroy

Jean Reno may be familiar to world audiences from “Leon” and the cool pilot holding his own against Tom Cruise in the original “Mission: Impossible”.

But as far as the agents at ASK are concerned, Reno will forever be Godefroy de Montmirail, the idiotic medieval knight who time travels to the 20th century and drinks water from the toilet in the slapstick “The Visitors”.

That is the name that keeps getting repeated at the agency, much to Reno's dismay.

Because Godefroy de Montmirail to many in France is synonymous with numbskull.

Old foes

A decades-long rivalry between two of France's most enduring female stars appears several times in the series, with the bickering silver fox duo Francoise Fabian and Line Renaud.

Why they're arguing draws on their contrasting reputations in real life and the opposing attractions of money and intellectual cred. Fabian the heavyweight film actress is known for cerebral classics such as “My Night at Maud's”, while Renaud the much-loved popular singer cozied up to rightwing president Jacques Chirac.

One word changes everything 

There is a world of difference in France between who you use the polite form of address “vous” to and the informal one, “tu”.

READ ALSO When to drop the vous and get friendly in France

 

The grammatical minefield can lead to all sorts of embarrassing faux-pas and unintended insults.

Its power to define the pecking order comes out in the affair between hot-shot agent Mathias and his secretary Noemie. Not even their years of secret bonking can apparently break down the formal manner in which they address each other.

The critical moment comes at the end of series three when Noemie, clutching a bunch of folders after fleeing the office, is asked by Mathias if she will join him in his new agency.

“Oh, are we using the tu now?” she replies, taken aback, that after working their way through the “Kama Sutra” together they were now finally getting grammatically intimate.

What's in a name 

Jean Gabin, the dog, has been in the series from the beginning, at the feet or in the arms of Arlette, the matriarch of the ASK agency who walks the corridors doing minimal work but making razor-sharp comments about the lives of her younger colleagues.

For the series, Arlette is the spirit of golden age cinema, and so her dog is named after one of its great French male stars.

But Gabin was no heartthrob, and her growly dog sounds very much like the gnarled Gabin, whose most famous role was the brute train engineer of “The Human Beast”.

So there you have it – slumping in front of the TV is educational. There are also lots of great external shots so people know Paris can also have fun spotting famous landmarks or even their own neighbourhoods.

 

Originally shown on French terrestrial TV, all four series are now available on Netflix as Dix pour cent in French or Call My Agent in English.

Member comments

  1. So frustrating that in France Call my Agent only has French subtitles!! Netflix say thia at the request of the producers. But why???

    1. yes I totally agree! My family & friends in Australia have watched it on Netflix, so why can’t we? How is it possible to watch it otherwise? do we have lobby the producers???

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TOURISM

Discover 13 of France’s most beautiful villages, plus the town the French love the best

Every year, the TV channel France 3 runs a competition to find the best-loved villages in France. It's one of the most popular events of the TV calendar, attracting around 2 million viewers, and it's also a great way to discover some more off-the-beaten track places to visit in France. So here are the 14 finalists for 2021.

Discover 13 of France's most beautiful villages, plus the town the French love the best
Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP

The final of Le village préféré des français (France’s favourite village) was screened earlier in the summer, but we reckon that each of the 14 finalists are well worth a visit.

1 Hérisson – Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Its name means hedgehog in French, but locals say there will be no spiky welcome for people who come to see the many historic treasures of this village, from the remains of the 10th century castle overlooking the village to its Roman remains and village houses dating from the 13th century.

The village is situated deep in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France, which is less well known for tourists but well worth a visit to explore its stunning scenery and many excellent cheeses.

READ ALSO 10 reasons to visit Auvergne

Villerville in Normandy is a popular holiday spot, but a lot less busy than nearby Deauville. Photo: JOEL SAGET / AFP

2 Châteauneuf – Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

This medieval village is generally agreed to be one of France’s prettiest, with its limestone houses huddling beneath a 12th century castle.

Situated in Burgundy wine country, it’s also close to the beautiful Morvan natural park.

READ ALSO Morvan: Why you should visit one of France’s most beautiful and least-known areas

3 Île d’Houat – Brittany

This tiny island off the Quiberon peninsula of Brittany is just 4km in length and has 230 inhabitants. There are no cars on the island, which is all the better to enjoy the peace, long sandy beaches and wildlife. The island was classified as a Natura 200 zone due to its unspoiled wilderness.

Nearby is the slightly larger island of Belle-Île-en-Mer if you fancy an island-hopping trip.

READ ALSO The 20 essential maps to understand Brittany

The circular wash house in Auvillar, south west France. Photo: PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

4 Sancerre – Centre-Val-de-Loire (the winner)

This is the heart of wine country and Sancerre is best known for the white wine of the same name. Surrounded by 3,000 hectares of vineyards, the village itself perches on a hilltop around the remains of a medieval castle.

There is also the House of Sancerre visitor centre which tells you more about how the wines are made, and a local goat’s cheese that goes particularly well with a glass of wine.

Maybe it was the wine-cheese combination, but Sancerre was the winner of the public vote and is now officially France’s favourite village (until next year, when the competition starts all over again).

5 Saint-Florent – Corsica

This former fishing port in the north of the island of Corsica shows much of the influence of the Genose who ruled the island before it became French territory in 1768, in particular the large coastal citadel.

It also has beautiful beaches.

6 Rocroi – Grand Est

This village, right on the Belgian border, is arranged in a highly unusual star shape around its 17th century fortress – the only village apart from Palmanova in Italy to have such well-preserved star-shaped fortifications and layout.

It is in the beautiful Ardennes national park and close to Belgium so combines well with a trip over the border to sample beer and chocolate.

7 Le Désirade – Gaudeloupe 

This 21km island lies off the coast of the French overseas territory of Gaudeloupe and has the white sandy beaches and coral reefs common to that part of the world. The island is also criss-crossed with hiking trails which are the best way to see its lush vegetation and diverse fauna before heading to the beach for a cocktail. 

8 Long – Hauts de France 

This village in northern France is located next to marshland which is described as a ‘fisherman’s paradise’. In the marsh you can also see the wild Camargue horses from the Camargue marshes in southern France as well as numerous other wildlife.

It’s also the site of one of France’s first hydroelectric power stations.

The architecture on Corsica shows the island’s Italian past. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

9 Samois-sur-Seine – Île-de-France

An easy day-trip from Paris, this village borders the Fontainebleau forest and contains the former home of writers Châteaubriant, Alfred de Musset and George Sand. 

As the name suggests, it sits on the banks of the Seine, which offers some spots with a lovely view to enjoy a glass of wine in.

10 Villerville – Normandy 

The neighbouring Normandy towns of Deauville and Honfleur are much better known and, correspondingly, much busier during the summer season, but this small former fishing village perched on the clifftop is just as pretty.

It’s been a favourite haunt for artists over the years including musician Gabriel Fauré, the singer Mistinguett and the playwright Georges Feydeau and if you’re a fan of old French movies you might recognise it as the setting for Un Singe en hiver with Jean Gabin and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

11 Domme – Nouvelle Aquitaine 

This is a bastide, a fortified village from the 13th century that is perched 200m over the Dordogne river. As well as being exceptionally pretty with well-preserved fortifications, the village also has the region’s largest caves with an impressive collection of stalacmites and stalactites.

It’s in Périgord, which is duck country and the local cuisine is heavily based on duck and foie gras and is also delicious.

The village of Auvillar is on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim route. Photo: PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

12 Auvillar – Occitanie

Auvillar was, until the 19th century, an important river trading post, after which it sank into obscurity. This combination has given it some impressive historic buildings – including the boat masters’ houses in the village centre – which have been well preserved as the village gradually became a backwater. 

It’s still a stopover point on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrim route, so you will see travellers heading though the village on their way to Spain, some of whom do the pilgrimage the traditional way with donkeys.

13 Fresnay-sur-Sarthe – Pays de la Loire

The village forms one of the ‘gateways’ to the Normandie-Maine natural park, this is another fortified village – originally a town build on the hemp trade (cloth, not cannabis). It also has a 9th century castle keep.

14 Saint-Véran – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

No, the health minister didn’t get sainthood, this is a village perched in the Alps on the French-Italian border – it’s the highest commune in Europe at 2,042m above sea level.

Unsurprisingly its views are stunning and it is popular with tourists in both winter and summer, especially as the village has kept its traditional centre with a communal bread oven, fountains and church that is a historic monument.

If these have inspired you to do some exploring, you can also check out the shortlists from the favourite village competitions in 2020 and 2019

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