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THE BIG MIX : Video : So Many Video Stores, So Many Languages. . . : French Hits for Le Cinema Buffs

The articles on these pages, plus those to follow in daily Calendar, explore the multicultural spheres of Homeland Video.

February 05, 1989|GREGG BARRIOS

One recent Saturday afternoon in West Los Angeles, three French-speaking kids held a heated discussion in Video France's children's section over whether to rent a French-dubbed version of Disney's "Alice Au Pays Des Merveilles" ("Alice in Wonderland") or "Cendrillon" ("Cinderella"). They finally settled on "Alice" along with two Spielberg classics, "Fievel et le Nouveau Monde" ("An American Tale") and "E.T., L'Extra Terrestre."

While it isn't de rigeur to speak or understand French to browse through this store located near the West Side Pavilion, it's almost imperative that one appreciate le cinema Francais. After all, nearly half of this video store's 1,500 titles are French movies without English subtitles.

Originally an apartment building, the small store has a quaint, almost provincial exterior that is fresh and inviting. Inside, rental videos are displayed on open shelves in a large (900 sq. ft) room. Tapes are categorized into comedy, children, drama, and directors--notably Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Smaller sections are devoted to a sizable number of Italian films and general interest videos on French art, cuisine, history and language study.

At the checkout counter, Jacques Decottignies returned a Louis de Funes tape. De Funes' brand of comedy is virtually unknown to American filmgoers, but his films and other Gallic comedies are the store's biggest draw.

Later, Decottignies and his wife scanned the shelves for more videos--"nothing too profound"--for a long weekend. "I like to keep up with my native culture." he said. "I was born and raised in France, but I've lived here for 20 years. I prefer the classic Godard and Truffaut. We come here as often as every other week."

Myriam Lemarchand, who usually rents two tapes on weekends, voiced a similar preference. "My family speaks French. My children are bilingual. We come here to get a fresh breath of Paris air, so to speak. It's convenient." She finds comedians De Funes and Fernandel a bit old hat--preferring new comedies or dramas that star the new wave of actors like Gerard Depardieu. "He's good; I use him as a barometer."

A video catalogue and a computer-based list keep Video France customers abreast of its 1,500 titles and newest additions including "Le Gran Chemin," "Tenue de Soiree (Menage)," "Jean de Florette" and its companion film, "Manon Des Sources/Manon of the Spring"--all of which were in the Gallic store in French-only versions months before their English-subtitled release on domestic home video.

"Most of our customers have different tastes," Bernard Decaillet, Video France's owner and manager, said. "Quite a number of people love Alain Delon, Jean Belmondo and Brigitte Bardot, so we have many titles on them. A national fan club for Bardot in Kansas City even sends members to our store."

According to the Algerian-born Decaillet, his customers fall into distinct categories. "Sixty percent are a cross-section of French people. The rest are American: either Francophiles who barely speak French but like our style and culture or film buffs who are usually students from local universities."

He mused about some unusual browsers, "mostly producers looking for French films that they can remake as American movies. In fact, 'The Fugitives,' which we currently stock, was never released in the States, so that it could be remade as an American film." (The Francis Veber comedy, retitled "Three Fugitives" and starring Nick Nolte and Martin Short, is in current release.)

While most classic French titles are available, a few aren't. Marcel Carne's "Les Enfants du Paradis," Godard's "La Chinoise," and Robert Bresson's "Mouchette" are among the most requested missing gems.

"These films may be available in France, but the French video recording system isn't compatible with the U.S. system. It makes importing them quite difficult," said Decaillet. Video France has licensed several hard-to-find titles through its own home video subsidiary. The store also offers a mail rental service for schools and colleges and isolated customers throughout the U.S. In a similar vein, Decaillet is planning to place French videomat machines in outlying areas of the Southland to lure potential customers.

Videos rented were good, clean copies. Most surprising was a black-and-white De Funes comedy, "Duke of the Derby," which had a shadow-box format and subtitles below the picture. Others such as "Therese" and "Et La Tendresse? . . . Bordel!," a Video France release, weren't recorded in VHS-hi-fi. Beta copies are available on some titles.

While some customers have requested hardcore X-rated French films, Decaillet doesn't carry them. "At present, we carry only the tamer erotic titles like the 'Emmanuelle' series." (These titles are listed in a "private collection" catalogue, out of reach and sight of children.)

This special issue was edited by David Fox, Sunday Calendar assistant editor.

Video France, 2345 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 474-8078.

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