Les Bancs publics (film)
lay bah pew-BLEEK (FEELm). Click below to hear this.
Park Benches (movie)
Recently, we watched a French movie from 2009 on TV: Les Bancs publics (Versailles rive droite), with Emmanuelle Devos and Catherine Deneuve and a whole stack of other actors I’ve never even heard of, since we rarely have the opportunity to see a foreign film without a long, annoying trip downtown. So. It’s a somewhat surrealistic film, divided into three panels like those of a triptych.
In the first panel, we see Lucie (Emmanuelle Devos) on her commute to work. At some length, we follow her across streets, through underground passages, up escalators and down, and onto le Métro. A group of young people are singing the popular Georges Brassens song Les Amoureux des bancs publics. (If you aren’t familiar with the song, see my March 19, 2011 post.) As the camera pans the passengers, we realize that their lips are moving; they know this song. They are singing along.
The middle section of the movie transitions from inside Lucie’s office, where she and her coworkers are fascinated by a huge banner hung from a window across the street: HOMME SEUL, which can be translated to mean Man alone or Lonely man. Which is it? Who is he? Is he advertising for a mate, or considering suicide? Lucie and her coworkers head for the building across the street in an effort to find out.
Third panel of the triptych: Lucie meets her mother in the park at lunchtime. The park benches, the edges of the fountain, the pathways are full–it’s a beautiful sunny day: a pair of young lovers glaring at each other at opposite ends of a bench, a middle-aged woman begging someone via cellphone to come to her, a little girl playing out a child-sized version of the wiles of woman, Lucie herself with her mother, a man making paper airplanes for children and trying to attract Lucie’s attention.
Who are all these people? They are the same ones who inhabited the subway, the office, the hardware store, interacting with each other within the circular confines of the park.
So: Why this song? It talks about the lovers on the green park benches, who kiss and cuddle without regard for the opinions of others, who imagine their life in the future (“she sewing, he smoking, in safe and certain well-being, choosing the names of their first baby”), and who someday will realize that these days spent kissing on park benches were the best days of their lives. It’s a sweet but ironic song.
The movie is in some ways the negative view (in the photographic sense: the opposite) of those park benches, which anchor life in a French community. So much drama plays out there: loss and finding, bereavement and hope, play and work, closeness and distance. An odd film, perhaps, but one which makes more sense when played against the invisible/inaudible musical backdrop of the song.