FRANCE: Swimming Pool (2003)

On French Stereotypes

by Camille Bakker

After seeing a face for one tenth of a second people make assumptions and judgements about who the person in front of them is. Making judgements about another culture occurs in the same manner that one may judge a person. The film industry has created a bubble in which certain countries become familiar with only some aspects of another country’s culture- the problem is that some of the aspects portrayed on screen are not realistic. The French recognize Amelie as a French film, however, they consider it entirely unrealistic, while other nations idolize Amelie for its Frenchness. Consequently, films such as Swimming Pool are less popular in foreign nations because they do not include as many stereotypes.

The film Swimming Pool represents French culture through the eyes of a British woman. There are some aspects of the film that are not recognizable in the foreign nation’s eyes because they are not familiar with the French culture and language, therefore they rely on the stereotypes they are constantly exposed to to understand the culture. The film is realistic to the French because they can see themselves through Julie’s lifestyle. Julie is topless most of the time, she smokes cigarettes and stocks the fridge with cheese, charcuterie and foie gras, and she does not drink sodas. While Sarah eats yogurt, drinks sodas, and is prude. The contrast of these two women portray the typical French woman through the eyes of the British culture.

The film Amelie includes so many of the stereotypes recognized by other nations which makes the film unrealistic in the eyes of the French, while the film Swimming Pool is too realistic, in that other cultures cannot apply their knowledge of the French culture because it does not include the stereotypes they are familiar with. Stereotypes are defined as “a way in which people impose order on the social world” (Pickering, 2001). Assigning a stereotype is similar to placing certain ideas in boxes, but without having the flexibility to change those ideas.

Stereotypes accented parts of a culture that, now, many people identify countries and certain cultures through. The American media created an image of the French as people who wear berets, even though they have become less popular in France (Morgan 257). The film Amelie shows Amelie wearing a red beret which fulfils the American image of the French. The idea that soccer is very important in France is shown in Amelie, but not in Swimming Pool. Additionally, throughout the film we see that Paris is clean and empty. Amelie is heavily influenced by the Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s artistic views: “I believe that every shot should be a painting” (Andrew 38). However, viewers without French contact will not know whether to interpret the representation of the film with a critical approach or to be engulfed in the fairy-tale-like representation of Paris. In Amelie there is a lack in population for the artistic purpose to convey that love is blinding, which, realistically, Paris is not nearly as empty as it is portrayed in the film.

Even though one film includes more stereotypes than the other, Swimming Pool still embraces French traditions such as the tendency to ridicule religion, the food they eat, nudity, and using a café as a landscape. At first in Swimming Pool Sarah eats yogurt, but later on the viewers see her enjoying a plate of cheese and saucisson. Moreover, in both films we see the characters using a mobylette, a model of a moped; it is typical for the French to use a mobylette to go to the street markets. In both films, we see the idea that food brings people together- in Swimming Pool we see it when Julie and Sarah have breakfast together, and in Amelie we see it when Lucien brings a case full of traditional foods- such as Campagne et Foie Gras- to Raymond Dufayel. Finally, nudity is not taboo in France which is why many scenes in both movies are nude and the are not intended to be sexualized. Swimming Pool includes the necessary amount of stereotypes to make it French just not some foreign nations. While Amelie includes too many stereotypes that add to the artistic purpose of the film. Both films normalize sex and nudity: Julie is casually smoking in her bath and in Amelie’s crush is casually talking about finding her with his coworker while putting price tags on dildos.

The idea of a French woman is portrayed differently in the two films, such that Amelie is dressed in red with thin sunglasses and a foulard, a cliche femme fatale, while Julie is seen through the eyes of a British middle aged woman, Sarah, as French teenager who is libertine. While Amelie is dressed as French women would dress in 1960s, she is still recognized by other nations as a French woman. On the other hand, Julie’s fashion does not resemble the stereotype that is considered as French; she has big earrings, long wavy hair and in a denim outfit which resembles more the American fashion of the 2000s. The French recognize that in 2001 it was unrealistic to see women dressed like Amelie, while foreigners may not know this, hence, believe Amelie’s reality.

Works Cited

  • Andrew, Dudley. “Amélie, or Le Fabuleux Destin Du Cinéma Français.” Film Quarterly , Vol. 57, no. No. 3, 0AD, pp. 34–36.
  • Morgan, Daniel. “Chapter Title: Cinema after the End of Cinema (Again).” Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema, University of California Press, 2013, pp. 253–261.

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