Quotes for the jaded

5 pseudo-profound French quotes about the movies


I’ve been at the Sundance Film Festival all week, so I thought I’d find a nice quote about the movies. But hélas! I kept coming across quotes that seem profound but are in fact quite stupid. So, here are 5 of them. What do you think? Am I being too harsh?

First, from celebrated cinéaste Jean-Luc Godard:

« Quand on va au cinéma, on lève la tête. Quand on regarde la télévision, on la baisse. »

What does that even mean? What if you sit in the balcony at the movies? What if you have a TV above your fireplace or you sit on the floor while watching the télé?  What if you watch a movie on TV? I could go on, but I won’t.

Next up, a quote from René Clair:

« Réclamons pour le cinéma le droit de n’être jugé que sur ses promesses. »

The right to only be judged on one’s promises? As in, I promised this would be a good movie, but I lied? 

« Si on a du génie, on fait pas de cinéma, on écrit un grand livre. »

Maybe Michel Audiard, who was a screenwriter after all, was just attempting to be self-deprecating when he said this? Let’s move on to a quote from director/screenwriter André Téchiné about how cinéma can lapse into navel-gazing. 

« Un cinéaste, ça se demande comment va le monde. S’il ne pose pas cette question, il fait du cinéma qui se prend le pouls. »

It sounds poetic, but it’s a fairly trite statement. Basically, he’s saying that if you don’t ask what’s going on in the world, then you’re not asking what’s going on in the world. Deep.

Let’s finish things off with some American bashing from Bertrand Tavernier.

« Un film n’est pas seulement une histoire que le cinéma vend, mais aussi une culture, un pays, un autre type de consommation. Cela, les Américains l’ont pas très bien compris. »

If America isn’t selling an entire culture and a country with its movies then I don’t know who is.


Ask Mark Twain

Dear Mark Twain,

I’ve been studying French for quite a while now, and I really want to visit Paris and see all the sights. It just sounds so romantic! You’re a famous, beloved author who’s traveled all over Europe. What were your favorite sights to see in Paris?



Dear absurdly-named person,

Anywhere is better than Paris. Paris the cold, Paris the drizzly, Paris the rainy, Paris the damnable.

-Mark Twain

(Editor’s note: that’s a real quote from the man.)


Impossible is very French, but failure is not an option

Whenever I hear someone say “Impossible n’est pas français!” I want Dwight to come to my defense:



Not only is “impossible” a French word (via Latin, of course), but it is one of the French people’s favorite words.

In the negation chapter of What The French?!  I speculate the Napoleon coined the expression simply to be contrarian. If there’s one thing the French like as much as negating sentences, it’s asserting that things are pas possible. 

Customer service in France can be summed up like this: Non! Ce n’est pas possible. C’est impossible. Impossible. Non. (insert a squirrel-like clicking noise signifying “no” here for complete authenticity.)

English translation of an actual conversation at the shop of famed ice cream maker Berthillon:

Customer: Could we get that in a cup instead of a cone?

Berthillon employee: No.

Customer: But you have cups right there.

Berthillon: No. It’s impossible.

Customer: It’s for our child. He’s only 18 months old. He can’t hold a cone without dropping it.

Berthillon: Sorry, but it’s not possible.

Customer: We can pay for the cup.

Berthillon: Next.

To be fair, there are situations in which the chief reason that French people like to tell you that something is “impossible”is so that they can demonstrate their power to overcome the impossible (the Berthillon incident was not one of those times). In other words, “impossible” is the perfect straw man for the bureaucrat with a God-complex. Nothing is more French than creating impossibilities for the sole purpose of overcoming them.

Impossible, therefore, no matter what Napoleon thought, is decidedly French. Failure, however, is not an option.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of having dinner with designer, Adrien Gardère. Earlier in the day he had given a presentation about some his projects such as his design for the interior displays of the impressive Musée du Louvre-Lens, his work for the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art, his successful lighting and furniture design, and, well, so many amazing projects, that during the Q&A, someone in the packed museum asked him if he could talk about one of his failures. He was stunned—not because he would have been unwilling to talk about failure, but because no one had ever asked the question before. “Only in America,” he said, “is value placed on failure.” In America, people like to talk about how many times you must fail in order to succeed. In France, people don’t talk about failure (at least not their own). In short, failure is not an option. And if it occurs, you certainly don’t celebrate it as part of your narrative of success. The fact that this curious cultural difference was still on his mind five hours later at dinner shows you just how stunning the thought of even asking that question is to a French person. It stunned me as well. I had honestly never thought of the different value that France and America place on the idea of failure.

In America, we can be like Thomas Edison, failing 3,000 times or so before inventing the next big thing, making failure part of the eventual success. In France, instead, you have Napoleon’s famous dictum: Impossible n’est pas français—the perfect example of a mentality that refuses to value failure.

No better place…

the metro

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