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  French Postcards A Little Learning Goes A Long Way
Year: 1979
Director: Willard Huyck
Stars: Miles Chapin, Blanche Baker, David Marshall Grant, Valérie Quennessen, Debra Winger, Mandy Patinkin, Marie-France Pisier, Jean Rochefort, Lynn Carlin, George Coe, Christophe Bourseiller, François Lalande, Anémone, Véronique Jannot, Marie-Anne Chazel
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is the story of four American exchange students who spent a year in Paris, but things did not work out for them the way they expected them to. They were introduced to the city by Madame Tessier (Marie-France Pisier), the female half of the husband and wife leaders of the institute where they would be studying, and although Joel (Miles Chapin) was keen to get his head down and learn as much as he could, his best friend Alex (David Marshall Grant) was keen to concentrate on other things - such as how he could possibly romance Madame Tessier...

After they wrote American Grafitti and presumably made a lot of money and won a lot of respect, and before they lost all that respect by making Howard the Duck, husband and wife team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz made this nearly forgotten, but amiable comedy on the subject of American students abroad. In spite of how surprised the characters are about how their year goes, you probably won't be as taken aback because there are no massive shocks here, and even the traumatic stuff is kept on a light level so as not to throw the humour off balance.

In fact, this is a very neatly constructed film, with an obvious affection for the characters that translates into a likeability you will feel as well. At first it seems as if the two boys will be the main source of the narrative, as the two girls - Laura (Blanche Baker) and Melanie (a pre-fame Debra Winger, looking to be on her way to bigger things) - get pretty short shrift as far as the attention awarded to them goes. This isn't much of an issue when you're genuinely interested to see how Alex's stalking of Madame Tessier will go, and if Joel's romantic attempts with one of the locals will succeed, or will leave him looking silly. Again.

That local is Toni, played by Valerie Quennessen, a once-promising starlet of the day who left the business, never to return when ten years after filming this she died in a car accident. Although Toni does not start off as sympathetic, we warm to her as she warms to this bumbling American who has taken a liking to her as much to make a connection with someone over there as anything else, and it's testament to Quennessen's charm that her initial frostiness thaws convincingly. Also charming is Pisier, wanting to get back at her aloof husband (Jean Rochefort) by having an affair, yet not quite the sophisticate Alex thought.

Soon it does become clear that the two boys will not be able to carry the film on their own, so Laura's thread comes into play. Every so often we will hear what she has been writing to her boyfriend back home on those French postcards of the title, and she is keen to soak up the culture when all around either want to party or simply get the lectures and essays and whatnot over with. She ends up going to a medieval festival that is held in a village every five years, though as nobody wants to go with her she ends up with a opportunist Iranian (Mandy Patinkin among many of the cast making a favourable impression) who gets drunk on the drive there and tries to rape her, the only truly wrong note in the movie, although nothing that seriously derails the amusement. There's nothing really heavy about this film in spite of its tales of life-changing experiences, but it wins you over long before the end. Music by Lee Holdridge.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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