Back in April, I joined Duolingo the free language learning app. This was early on in the pandemic, when I still saw it as a great opportunity to become more productive and focused . My plan was to have 5 or 6 basic things on my to-do list that I always completed, giving me a sense of daily routine and accomplishment. Along with re-learning to play the ukelele, doing an at-home gym workout, writing my morning pages and putting collagen in my coffee, I also committed to at least 5 minutes on Duolingo. Not surprisingly to anyone that knows me, I chose to learn French. It was a toss-up between French and Russian, but given I could already ask ‘en Francais’ for the window to be opened or to buy a red skirt I thought this headstart would propel me further along in the lesson plan.
After all, I should be French, as you’ll know if you’ve seen my show ‘Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower’. And having spent 40 years being French it’s franc-ly (that was funnier pre-single European currency) impossible to give up. In my heart and wardrobe I am decidedly Parisian. In my 20s I even gave myself a French name, LouLou, though I didn’t admit to this in the show. I was obsessed with this 1987 parfum ad for Loulou. I especially loved the perfume’s signature line ‘C’est Moi’ and because I was also a lot more pretentious back then I went through a phase of answering the phone with ‘Oui c’est moi’. But I was working in PR and wore a beret indoors so I fitted in quite well.
Side note: I’m now at an age where I can appreciate the beautiful piece of music used in the advert. Listen to Pavane, Opus 50 by Gabriel Fauré.
I really liked the name Loulou and had some vague fantasy about giving it to my first child until I remembered that I hated children. I just learned that the name Loulou was inspired by the silent film actress Louise Brooks in her role as Lulu in G.W. Pabst’s 1928 classic Pandora’s Box. Yes, Pandora’s Box! I know. I know. (If you haven’t seen my show, désolée).
From April to around September I kept up with my Duolingo practice, whizzing through the lessons and getting suckered in by the gamification tactics. I got to the point where I could quite readily understand someone who goes to work in their car, lives in Brazil and also in a house, and enjoys pizza but not oranges.
But then I started slacking on my lessons and the Duolingo people finally stopped trying to shame-remind me into continuing. Not even with their 5 extra lingots offer. But I’m thinking about coming back thanks to my discovery of Call My Agent aka Dix Pour Cent on Netflix. Actually it’s thanks to my friend Karen, an actor in England, who raved about this show recently. I watched the first episode a week ago and became immediately obsessed.
Yeah, I know late review for a show that first aired in 2015.
It’s a French show. No, not just because it has English subtitles, more as in attitude and just a general French-Fantastiqueness. It’s set in the offices of ASK, a fictional talent agency in Paris and is all about the relationships between the agents and their talent, and the agents and each other. Lots of famous French stars appear in cameos as themselves, including Isabelle Adjani, Guy Marchand, Juliette Binoche, and Béatrice Dalle. I have a deep crush on many of the women in the show.
The agents aren’t inept by any means, this is no French version of The Office. And if you’ve spent any time as an actor or worked as a publicist, casting agent, PR consultant or any similar endeavor where you’re representing clients then a lot of this will feel wonderfully spot on. Jealousy, revenge, lust, and panic are all on display and the characters are brilliant. It’s funny, clever and the whole show exudes charisma and wit. And the character names make me wish I didn’t hate children so that I too could name my son Hippolyte or Hervé. But best of all, the actor playing Matthias Barneville is the spectacularly named Thibault de Monthalembert. A fantastic actor (see also The Tunnel) who I just discovered is the French voice of Hugh Grant in Love Actually, and Bridget Jones Diary. I am desperate to find and watch this.
I’m rather thrilled to have discovered the show as I was running a bit low on Netflix options and I need new things to put on my daily to-do list to go along with ‘1. put bra on by noon’ and ‘2. eat something that requires a plate and a fork’ in order to feel a sense of accomplishment. Watching an episode a day is very doable. Watching 3 in a row makes me a winner.
It’s also ideal pandemic viewing because I have to concentrate. I have a tendency to put TV on in the background while also writing nonsense blog posts and fussing over the dog and wondering whether she’s suddenly gone lame or if her leg has gone to sleep again. So I miss bits of programs which is a problem when watching Keith Morrison solve a murder on Dateline.
But with subtitles I have to pay attention. Look away for just a second and you miss a big chunk of the story because the writers of this come from the Aaron Sorkin school of punchy dialogue and multiple storylines. Early on I made the mistake of testing my French fluency by ignoring the subtitles to see how much I could figure out from the actions, facial expressions and about one in every ten words. Quel idiot.
I’ve now finished two seasons of the show – the finale with Juliette Binoche was sublime – and am trying to hold off on starting the third before I know when season 4 will air. So instead as I type this I have Dad-a-like Charles Aznavour singing ‘She’ in the background. Erik is out so I am free to dance around my transformed rue Saint-Honoré living room, being Loulou and waiting for Thibault to call. Oui, c’est moi?