Have you noticed that so many French films seem to be about couples going through divorce? There’s a reason for it, writes Manon Kerjean from Lost in Frenchlation, and it shows that Paris really shouldn’t be called the City of Love.
French dramas and comedies alike often focus on a certain unexpected circumstance of life: divorce.
In France, 55% of marriages end in divorce. Essentially, chances are you are more likely to separate than stay together if you get married here. It is no wonder that the number of marriages performed in France each year is the lowest per capita in all of Europe.
You’re not much better off in the US or U.K, where divorce rates are 46% and 42% respectively, but at least the odds are in your favour. In India only 1% of couples get divorced.
Based on these statistics, it’s no surprise that divorce is a more common theme in French films than those produced by Hollywood and Bollywood.
Hollywood divorce films often have serious and emotional undertones, (Eat, Pray, Love, Kramer vs. Kramer, etc.), leading to the conclusion that French films such as Papa ou Maman (Daddy or Mummy), would not do well with an American audience.
Papa ou Maman is a comedy about two parents who fight over NOT getting custody of their children in order to have the freedom to pursue career opportunities.
This works with a French sense of humor, but Americans would be turned off by the idea of parents actively pushing their kids away and would not appreciate the humour. Americans are much more sensitive when it comes to what they will laugh about, while comedy in France has less restrictions. This leads Americans to believe that the French have a darker and twisted sense of humor.
Their divorce movies cover a wide range of situations, through films that focus on men and women of varying ages, and through the perspectives of both parents and children. Divorce films are a hit in France, with films such as Le Passé and L’amour Flou being nominated at The César Awards and the Cannes Film Festival.
L’Amour Flou is a particularly interesting divorce film, because it is based on a real life divorced couples’ unique solution to their common problem: maintaining a life together for their children while being separated.
After a real estate agent shows them two separate apartments joined by a common space Philippe Rebbot and Romane Bohringer, who play themselves in this film, realise that it is the perfect way to raise their children in an undisruptive manner. They call this special living situation a “sépartement”, a pun based on the French words for “seperate” and “apartment”. The personal touch of Rebbot and Bohringer being the creators and stars of the film, and the relatability of the issues that arise in the story makes L’amour Flou the perfect French film.
Another noteworthy French divorce film is L’economie du Couple.
This tells the story of a couple who is divorced, but continue to live together due to financial issues.
This particular story is less concerned about the love lost and more focused on the economic troubles faced. It’s not even clear what it was that tore their marriage apart, only that now they must continue to cohabit their house because one half of the couple can’t afford to live on their own, which only leads to further resentment. It’s a look into the reality that many divorced couples in France face due to the rising costs of living.
It is ironic that Paris is so romanticised in American cinema and television, and depicted as the perfect place for a couple to be in love. When thinking about classic Hollywood, it is only natural to imagine Humphrey Bogart looking at Ingrid Bergman and uttering one of the most well known lines in cinema, “we’ll always have Paris”. This reinforces the stereotype that regardless of the state of a couple’s relationship in any other part of the world, all will be right in Paris.
French films destroy the stereotype created by American films that everyone in France is happily in love. They represent a more accurate picture of what married life is like, which appeals to their audience by giving them a story they can relate to. Paris may be the city of love, but as statistics and French films show, the love doesn’t necessarily last.