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Mr Chatterbox - en français!

I spent last evening in a warm, Francophone hum. First, I watched Arsène Lupin. Then I read Le Prix de l'Argent, the latest installation - and a half-installation at that, to be continued, if you please! - of Largo Winch's adventures. (Well, it's not the latest, I see. It was,  though, when I put it in my shopping basket!) The two pastimes went together very well.

Jean-Paul Salomé's 2004 adaptation of the Arsène Lupin stories was never released in the United States, and therefore no DVD was produced for the North American Region. Having finally purchased a DVD player that reads discs from all regions, however, I can now order DVDs directly from France - or from anywhere! - as long as I want to watch them in the bedroom, which is where the special player is installed. Even before I hooked up the new machine, I had a few DVDs that wouldn't play on a regular American player. Le chat, for instance. I have no idea why this classic study of marital discord, starring Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret, has not been reissued by the Criterion Collection, much less overlooked entirely. I bought a copy of Keeping Mum while it was still in the American theatres - what a moron. Had I but waited... And there's a Spanish film in the new-disc basket that I don't even remember ordering. You know how that is.

But Arsène Lupin justifies the new DVD machine as no other movie could. I can understand why it was not released here, even though it stars Romain Duris, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Eva Green. It is a very good film, of its type, but that's the problem. The type that it belongs to could best/most misleadingly be described as "Gallic Indiana Jones." You're right: at the end of the day, "Gallic Indiana Jones" just does not compute. It will take me weeks to be more articulate, but for the moment I'll just say that Arsène Lupin is, from an American marketing perspective, toxically melodramatic. (You'll find something about Arsène Lupin here.)

And then there are the subtitles.

There are subtitles.

But they are in French. In French only. Thank heaven! Because I would never have been able to follow the story without French subtitles. I'm not entirely sure that, even with their help, I did follow the story. But I think I did. Let me tell you: it was GREAT FUN to watch Kristen Scott Thomas underplay a semi-supernatural villainess out of Edward Gorey. If nothing else, Arsène Lupin taught me that Ms Scott Thomas was put on this earth to enact all the great Gorey roles, even if, being for women, they are rather brief. But La chauve-souris dorée - how magnificent she'd be! And the original Gorey title is already in French! (It means - and, really, the humor of the thing totally hangs from the difference between the music of the French title and the brutal English - "The Gilded Bat." There's something about that "Bat" that's like an insect smashed on a windshield.)

And yes, I did say "underplay." The lady is exquisite.

Monsieur Duris, on the other hand, rivals Johnny Depp for swashbuckling, although he is not the least little bit camp. This movie was made before his "breakthrough" (I'm not sure that it was), De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, but it's an enormous vote of confidence, and he tackles the part with the self-assurance of Cary Grant. Eva Green, who stole my eyes, if not my heart, in Casino Royale, gets to play the innocent girl, and, being Eva Green, that means that she makes innocence interesting.

A costume historian would have a field day attacking the outfits. The gowns are almost willfully anachronistic. Ms Scott Thomas's character appears to favor 1910 for daytime wear and 1885 for the evenings. Major hoot. You think the French don't know what they're doing? About couture?

As for Largo Winch - the wonderful thing is that I can really read Largo Winch now. Only rarely do I have to look anything up, and even then I don't, really; I've caught the sense. This evening, I had to look up "comparaître" and "surenchérir," among a very few other words. For those of you who've never heard of this series of bandes dessinées - comic books for grownups - Largo Winch is a hunky blond who inherits a vast conglomerate, which he thereupon tries to run on idealistic lines, while treating décolletée ladies with the most thoroughgoing chivalry. On one level, it's Playboy fantasy. That is, not only are the babes stacked, but the "article" is worth reading! On another level, the series idealizes a certain fantasy of American life. Creators Jean van Hamme (writer) and Philippe Francg (drawings)* have clearly expensed a lot of quality time on this side of the pond, looking and listening, and the Largo Winch series almost reads like an American cartoon that has been translated into French. In that sense, the series is the complete opposite of Arsène Lupin. In the end, though, only a French (all right, Belgian) writer would come up with the hero's totally super name. Largo Winch! Is that studly or what? The one invention that I can find in these books is the headquarters of Group W, a tower on Central Park West, next to the Dakota. Everything else is scrupulous. Le Prix de l'Argent, for example, will tell you what the Waldorf-Astoria looks like, and how far it is from the Helmsley Building at the bottom of Park Avenue. Better than a photograph, I assure you!

In Le Prix de l'Argent - the story is completed in La Loi du Dollar - Largo is upset to find out that a subsidiary of a subsidiary of a subsidiary in his vast holdings has fired all its employees and moved its operations to the Czech Republic. How could this happen? Cooked books and stock options, of course! I expect that many Continental readers will pick up the ABCs of executive enrichment from this book's very plausible plot. There's lots of action along the way, because - did I forget to say this? - Largo Winch went to the James Bond School of Management. He is forever being shot at and handcuffed. I know; I said "Playboy fantasy." I meant - and what's probably the selfsame thing - "B School fantasy." If only quarterly meetings were like this!

* I probably have these accreditations completely backward. Pardon!



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