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January 2016 Movie of the Month – French Musicals

82e2ef75c1466e50d57cc3a149daf714September is all about classic French stories that have, over time, been turned into musicals.   Now we know that not everyone enjoys belting out a song from the Broadway stage, so we’re also okay with you watching a non-musical version of any of these timeless stories instead (if you can find them).

We’re not just looking for fun sing-a-longs, though.  We also want you to focus on story and history while viewing your selection.  Try to pay attention to art, architecture, costumes, culture, or even the historical context of the story.  Just like last month, if you’re lucky enough to be able to see one – we’ll also count it if you are able to see a live theatre version of one of these stories.

No matter what you choose, you’re sure to learn a ton about French history and find a fun song to sing on the bus as we travel through Northern Europe.

  • One of the most obvious options here is Les Miserables.  Several different versions of Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel have been filmed, but the most popular was the 2012 musical version starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.  There was also a 1998 non-musical adaptation that was pretty true to the novel starring Liam Neeson and Claire Danes.  You can find nearly a dozen other versions of Les Mis, even including a Manga cartoon re-telling of the story.
  • Another classic novel by Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, has been made into nearly a dozen different movies.  The most famous of these versions is, by far, the Disney cartoon musical. Although it changes the ending of Hugo’s novel, the Disney cartoon is a fun adaptation with fantastic animated views of Paris.  There are other versions as well, so if the cartoon isn’t for you – go ahead and try a different one.
  • The 2001 Academy Award nominated film Moulin Rouge starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman tells the story of a writer and a dancer in Paris’ Belle Epoque era of the early 1900s.  The title refers to a cabaret in Paris that is still popular today. The movie is loaded with fun songs, but also gives you a great look at the Montmartre district of Paris during the city’s golden age.  If you liked Midnight in Paris, you may enjoy this one, because this is set in the era that Gil and Adriana travel back to (remember Gil is from modern times and travels to the 1920s where he meets Adriana, and together they travel to her favorite era in history – the Belle Epoque).  There was also a 1952 movie called Moulin Rouge set in the same time period with an entirely different story – it was not a musical, but if you’d like to watch this one instead, feel free.
  • Another film set in the same time period as Moulin Rouge, also revolving around the nightlife in Parisian cabarets and dancing is Can-Can (named after a popular dance of the era).  The film stars Frank Sinatra and Shirley McLaine, and is based on a musical play by Cole Porter (who appears as a character in Midnight in Paris). 
  • Gigi is yet another musical set in the early 1900s in Paris.  This one is the story of high society in France during that time period.  Based on a novel by the French author Colette, Gigi is considered one of the best Hollywood musicals of the 1950s.

Please note – We intentionally left Beauty and the Beast off the list, because most of you have likely seen it before, and we’re trying to encourage you to watch something that’s new to you. 

To participate in the January Movie of the Month conversation, use the comments section below to add your thoughts to the discussion.  Make sure you do the following things:

  1. Start off by telling the group which movie you watched.
  2. Tell us what you thought of the movie, and why.
  3. Most importantly, tell us what you learned that you think will help you be better prepared for our trip to France.

Then, come back often to share ideas, ask questions, or gain insight from your fellow travelers.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Scotty Thompson permalink
    February 14, 2016 12:32 pm

    I watched this movie because my mom made me. First, I don’t like musicals but I got the basic idea. There is an area in France where there was dancing and singing and from what we talked about anything else that you wanted. It is considered what is called a red light district which in this day and age means where prostitutes are available. It has a long history in every country throughout the world especially in Europe and in France. Although I did not enjoy watching the movie because its not really the kind of movie I like, I did learn a little more about the history. It even used terms form that time period that described the types of people that lived back then. It seems like the Moulin Rouge is a part of the history of France.

  2. Caitlyn Dixon permalink
    February 15, 2016 8:54 pm

    I watched the 2001 Moulin Rouge and I loved it!! I thought it was fantastic even though it was strange at certain parts like in the beginning when they drank what ever it was and made them see the green fairy dancing and singing the Sound of Music. It started off kind of sad, but when Christian (the main character) got to Moulin Rouge it became crazy! Even though none of the music was original it still was really good. I loved the romantic story line and how it was sort of like star-crossed lovers. I feel like when some of their dancers were sick, like with what happened to Satine when she fell in her song, they weren’t really taken to doctors and they continued on with the show. I learned a little what Paris was like in their Golden Age which was the Belle Époque. I was starting to wonder if people did fall in love with the dancers like how Christian did with Satine. I learned what the Moulin Rouge was like back in the 1900’s when it opened and the type of dances some of the dancers did like the Can-Can. The ending I was not expecting, it wasn’t bad just unexpected. It did explain the mood in the beginning though. I thought is was great and I recommend this to everyone in our group to watch.

  3. February 22, 2016 8:41 pm

    In the movie Les Miserables you meet JeanValjean, who at the beginning of the movie was in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his sisters starving daughter. Once he is released from prison he has to live his life as a criminal. Eventually a priest bring him in and he steals from the priest and gets caught. The priest quickly forgives him to teach him about forgiveness. In the end he becomes a better person and starts forgiving people for their mistakes. He becomes very successful and respected and the movie follows his entire life.
    I thought the movie was good because it shows how when you have good morals and treat people well you can have a good life no matter how bad it was before.
    I learned why they fought the revolutionary war and how France became the place it is today. I also got a glimpse of the Notre Dame Cathedral and how beautiful it is.
    The French Revolution is a very important part of French history. They celebrate it every year on Bastille Day which is similar to our 4th of July.

  4. Hannah Jackson permalink
    February 25, 2016 5:21 pm

    I watched Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I really enjoyed the movie especially since it was a musical because the music made it more enjoyable and entertaining. The music was beautiful. I thought it was a good depiction of the story about The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a children’s cartoon. I thought that the beginning was sad when the hunchback was considered to be some sort of “devil” child, and was taken to be hidden in the Cathedral after he lost his mother. It was also very sad when at the festival, people laughed at him for being an actual fool and threw tomatoes at him. It was inspiring when the gypsy girl stood up for him. The commander was great as well, by standing up for what he believed in even if it went against his employer. I liked the ending, it was very happy, portraying a theme of acceptance.
    I learned a lot from this musical that prepares me for our learning experience in France. It was very interesting to learn the history from the Late Middle Ages. The conflict shown throughout the movie was the confusion of control between the more military style rulers and the religious rulers. They had opposing views on how to handle things and were able to outrule the other on various levels. This was probably what it was like during the middle ages, causing much conflict for the country. The movie also showed the community of gypsy people and how they struggled to live during this time period. They were treated very poorly, forced to live hiding underground in the catacombs. The festival of fools displayed their culture pretty well, showing that they used witchcraft and enjoyed celebration. There were many stereotypes about them that portrayed them as scary to the rest of the country, but these stereotypes said more about the rest of the people than the gypsies. The movie also showed a lot about what life was like that was as well, which was very insightful and interesting.
    The movie showed many scenes too that helped prepare me for what we will be seeing during our travels. The cathedral was beautiful, especially on the inside with the stain glass windows. I am very excited to see that in person. The catacombs were also shown, as the place where the gypsies lives. It is very interesting that they (might have-you never know what they make up for these movies) lived underground as community of outcasts. Overall the streets of paris were beautiful, shown as they would have been back then, it’s interesting to know the history.
    Lastly I learned a lot great lessons from the characters. The main theme portrayed was acceptance. To accept people for who they are and for what makes them special. It is important to have this in mind on our travels as we learn about different people. We must first be able to accept everything for its differences and uniqueness.

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