Watching French movies is one of the best ways to improve your oral comprehension, especially when it comes to understanding real, everyday French. As you know, I love sharing my favorite recommendations with you!
Which is why I can’t believe, after more than 8 years of making French lessons for you, this is the first time that I’m talking about one of the biggest movies in French history: Intouchables (2011)
You’ve probably heard of this film, as it quickly became the biggest box office hit ever in France when it was released. It was also seen more than 51 million times in cinemas around the world!
In today’s lesson, we’ll break down a scene from this famous film together, so you can train your ear, work your brain, and refresh your understanding of modern spoken French.
1) The movie
Intouchables, by filmmakers Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano, was a massive box-office hit when it was released. It got quite popular abroad as well. Its English title is simply The Intouchables. Hollywood produced an American remake in 2017 called The Upside, with a poor critical and popular reception.
The story is quite simple. It’s a growing, unlikely friendship between Philippe, a quadriplegic millionaire, and Driss, his medical assistant from the poorer Parisian suburbs. They each learn some things from the other, and grow.
The movie relies heavily on the charisma of actor Omar Sy, and the fish-out-of-water scenes of a poor man upsetting the stuffiness of the aristocrats.
** Le truc en plus *
From the same filmmakers, I also recommend the movie Nos Jours Heureux (2006), or “Those Happy Days” in English, set in a French summer camp.
Intouchables is heavily inspired by the friendship between the real-life quadriplegic millionaire Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his medical assistant Abdel Sellou.
The movie characters that appear in today’s scene are:
- Philippe, played by François Cluzet, seen in Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One, 2006) or Les Petits Mouchoirs (Little White Lies, 2010)
- Driss, played by Omar Sy, seen in Lupin (2021, Netflix)
- Magalie, Philippe’s secretary and assistant, played by Audrey Fleurot, seen in Engrenages (Spiral, 2005) and Le Bazar de la Charité (2019, Netflix)
Click here to learn more about these other shows:
2) The scene: subtitles
Tendre l’oreille = “stretching an ear” = to listen carefully
→ “Tendez l’oreille” = “Stretch your ear!” = Listen carefully! (imperative)
First, listen to the scene in the video lesson and try to catch some key elements of real spoken French. Such as:
- Saying “Faut l’appeler” instead of “Il faut l’appeler”
- Using “Bon” as a filler word
- Using le vouvoiement as a sign of respect
- Cutting the “e” in small words like “de”, as in “son numéro de téléphone”
- Using “‘tain” as a swear word
- Using the expression Allez !, “Come on!”
Click here to learn more: French Vocabulary: “Allez” en français !
After you watch the scene in French without subtitles, we can break down the dialogue and its translation together:
– Alors, euh… Et dans cette nature étrange et symbolique…
– So, uh… And in this strange and symbolic nature…
→ Alors (= so, then) and euh (= hum) are two common French filler words. For when you’re looking for the exact words to use.
– Et dans cette nature étrange et symbolique…
– And in this strange and symbolic nature…
– Faut l’appeler.
– You have to call her.
→ In everyday spoken French, “Il faut” (= there needs to) very often becomes “Faut.” The “il” here is an impersonal pronoun.
– Où l’ange inviolé se mêle au sphinx antique.
– Where the inviolate angel mingles with the ancient sphinx.
→ These poetic lines are from a poem by Charles Baudelaire, the very famous, fantastic, dark and genius XIXth century French poet, in his masterpiece volume Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil.) This poem itself is little-known by the general public, we’re not expected to know about it in the movie. But we can hear the chiseled, grandiose images, and les alexandrins (= twelve-syllable verses, the most classic verse in French poetry.)
Click here to access the full volume online, with English translations – for free: FleursDuMal.org
** Le truc en plus : **
Looking into it, it might not be the best poem to send in a love letter. The poet uses descriptions of grace and gold to describe a woman… before violently ending with: “like a useless star, such is the cold majesty of the barren woman.”
Avec ses vêtements ondoyants et nacrés,
Même quand elle marche on croirait qu’elle danse,
Comme ces longs serpents que les jongleurs sacrés
Au bout de leurs bâtons agitent en cadence.
Comme le sable morne et l’azur des déserts,
Insensibles tous deux à l’humaine souffrance,
Comme les longs réseaux de la houle des mers,
Elle se développe avec indifférence.
Ses yeux polis sont faits de minéraux charmants,
Et dans cette nature étrange et symbolique
Où l’ange inviolé se mêle au sphinx antique,
Où tout n’est qu’or, acier, lumière et diamants,
Resplendit à jamais, comme un astre inutile,
La froide majesté de la femme stérile.
– Faut l’appeler j’vous dis !
– You have to call her, I tell you!
→ Driss cuts the “il”again in “Il faut l’appeler”, and the “e” in “je vous dis.” In written French, we would always write it “je vous” (except in, like, text messages and Internet comments), but I wanted to make the pronunciation shortcut explicit. Driss also uses “vous” for “le vouvoiement,” a sign of respect and professionalism towards his rich boss.
Click here to learn more: Tu or Vous? How to say “you” in French
– Bon, Driss je fais passer beaucoup plus de choses par l’écrit, d’accord ? C’est incroyable, non ?
– Well, Driss, I convey a lot more in writing, okay ? Unbelievable behavior, no?
→ L’écrit (= writing, the written word) / L’oral (= speaking, the spoken word). Here, Philippe uses Bon (= Well, Good), as a filler word. Notice also:
- D’accord (= agreed) → Je suis d’accord. (= I agree)
- ,non ? (= no? Isn’t it?) → A common tag, to turn an affirmation into a question, to ask for a confirmation
Click here to learn more: Understand Fast Spoken French: Questions Aren’t Obvious
– D’accord, mais moi j’vais trouver son numéro d’téléphone parce que ça commence à m’stresser vot’truc là.
– All right, but I’m going to find her phone number because your thing is starting to stress me out.
→ Notice all the informal French in this line:
- Cutting the “e” in “je vais”, “numéro de téléphone”, “me stresser”, “votre truc”.
- Informal French: Un truc = a thingy = une chose = a thing → Quelque chose = something.
- “Ça” (= This thing) itself is kind of familiar. In formal French, it should be “cela” (= this thing.) But “cela” has become an egregious sign of formality.
- Grammatical construction: “ça commence à me stresser, votre truc.” instead of : “Votre situation commence à me stresser.” → Using “ça” (= This thing) as a subject, and then placing the full subject at the end.
- Adding Là (= here / at this time) as a punctuation at the end of an assertion, adds strength to a sentence in everyday spoken French.
– Eh, oh !
– He, oh !
– ‘Tain elle vient d’Dunkerque, c’est pas bon, ça.
– Damn, she comes from Dunkirk, that’s not good.
→ Notice all the familiar French in this simple line:
> Swearing: “Putain” is a rude swear word, originally used for a sex worker. Don’t use it, but it’s everywhere in everyday French. For all kinds of situations and emotions! Including (but not limited to) :
- La frustration = frustration
- La colère = anger
- La joie = joy
- La surprise = surprise
- L’incrédulité = disbelief
- L’admiration = admiration
- La tristesse = sadness
- Se plaindre = complaining
> Cutting “e” and syllables: Putain becomes ‘Tain, a common shortcut to make it a little less vulgar. And “de Dunkerque” becomes “d’Dunkerque.”
> Cutting the “ne” in a negation: very, very frequent in spoken French. “Ce n’est pas bon.” (= This is not good.) becomes “C’est pas bon.”
– Reposez c’t’enveloppe.
– Put down the envelope.
→ Philippe is losing his nerves: for the first time, he’s using informal pronunciation! Cette enveloppe (= That envelope) becomes “c’t’enveloppe.” Pronouncing “cette” (feminine article “this”) or cet (masculine article “this” before a vowel) as “c’t’e / ste” is a common spoken French shortcut.
– J’ai jamais vu d’Miss France qui v’nait d’Dunkerque, moi. En général elles sont cheum là-bas.
– I’ve never seen a Miss France who came from Dunkirk. In general they are ugly over there.
→ Miss France is the winner of the famous annual French beauty pageant.
Notice all the informal spoken French here:
- Cutting the “e” : de Miss France, venait, de Dunkerque are pronounced as d’Miss France, v’nait, d’Dunkerque.
- Cutting the “ne” in a negation: “Je n’ai jamais vu” becomes “J’ai jamais vu”
- Grammar construction, la répétition : Je… , moi. (The subject “Je” gets repeated as an object pronoun “Moi” for added emphasis.)
- Slang: “cheum” is le verlan slang for moche (= ugly)
- And of course, calling women ugly (especially all women of a whole area) isn’t formal or des bonnes manières (= good manners), even as a joke.
Click here to learn more: French Phrases: Using and Understanding Verlan (You Didn’t Learn This In School)
– Allez, reposez ça immédiatement.
– Come on, put that down immediately.
– ‘Tain elle a mis son numéro d’téléphone. Elle l’a rajouté à la main, c’est un signe ça, c’est sûr, elle veut qu’on l’appelle.
– ‘Damn she put her phone number. She added it by hand, that’s a sign, that’s for sure, she wants to be called.
– Allez, reposez ça, s’il vous plaît !
– Put that down, please!
→ We end our scene with a basic of French politeness: S’il vous plaît ! = Please (with “vous.”) With tu, it would be of course: S’il te plaît.
By breaking down a short scene of a popular French movie, we’ve just covered a whole swat of informal spoken French. Now, you can learn and practice with your own favorite French movies or TV shows at home.
Or you can get your next Fast Spoken French Practice lesson right here.
Click here to learn more French with movies and TV shows:
- Learn French with Netflix: An analysis of “J’ai perdu mon corps”
- Understand Fast Spoken French: Netflix’s A Very Secret Service
- How to Understand Spoken French with ‘Call My Agent’ on Netflix
- Practice Your Oral Comprehension with French Netflix Series Lupin
- Learn French with Netflix: Tips to make it less mentally draining – Comme une Française (commeunefrancaise.com)
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!
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