One thing that often surprises and intrigues me is how different movie subjects and methods can be from one country to another. This plays an important role in culture shock, and the unfolding discoveries you start understanding when you move to a new culture.
For example, the typical (and I am talking about averages here as there are of course exceptions) American film is “Action Adventure”. There are lots of special effects, explosions, characters that want something more – money, power, fame – and “the good guy” (or girl!) who saves the world from impending doom. Women are often as powerful as men in films, and often have assumed what could be considered traditional male jobs and roles.
On the comedic front, movies seem to follow a specific pattern of “everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, and then it all works out”. With some exceptions, comedies seem to be a connection of scenes, each designed to make you laugh with a funny line or situation, but disconnected from the central theme (if you’re fortunate enough to watch a comedy that actually has a point).
French films tend to fall into two categories, from what I have seen – the “Experiential” and the “Comedy” film.
The movies I refer to as “Experiential” leave me with many questions and become fodder for a fascinating dinner or drinks conversation with the person I’ve seen the movie with. Not everything is obvious. In place of exploding warehouses, are intricate circumstances and conversations, and sometimes we follow a seemingly “boring” day someone is having, but it’s shown with such detail or poignance that it becomes fascinating.
French comedy, is another experience onto itself. Though there is again a certain rhythm or model that is followed, rather than disconnected moments of laughter, everything rolls up to the climax of the film and each scene builds upon the other, until you are enraptured in laughter at the unbelievable sequence of events that unfolds!
French cinema, to me, leaves it to the viewer to connect the dots, whereas the American film spells everything out for you. A typical example could be that you watch a man cross the street, and later another character says, “So, the man crossed the street,” just to make sure that you realize the event happened!
When it comes to TV series, you can also see crucial differences. One major area is sex. In American TV series, main characters dance around their attraction for each other, and often delay any sexual involvement for months, and potentially years! In French TV series, if there’s an attraction, it is often acted upon much more quickly, if not immediately. Then, looking at game shows, American game shows get right to the game, often introducing players in the middle of the episode, and each person gets about 30 seconds to say what they do, announce their marital status, and talk about possible children. In France, not only do players get to introduce themselves, but throughout the show, there is often conversation between the game show host, and the player as they perhaps debate a given topic, or answer.
Though I mention only America and France, I am attempting to show you how important cinema and TV are to a culture, and how you can also begin to understand local customs and behavior through these vehicles. Note – I’m not advocating you stay home all day and watch TV, simply that when you do, you should notice the intrinsic differences in how stories are told, and what’s considered popular and mainstream, and why.