I am lucky enough to have family friends who live in Toulouse and have given me a warm welcome to “La Ville Rose”. One Sunday in February, they kindly invited me to their Desmoiselles apartment for lunch. I will not even get into the details of our full-course meal, which was very different from the simple meal I had expected. That is a cultural analysis for another day. What caught my attention the most was that after lunch, they took me to see a movie. Going to the movies is, of course, a staple activity of many cultures. So, why was I thrown off by this? In fact, I have noticed a subtle yet important difference in the way movies are perceived between the two cultures. In the United States, there is a sort of stigma around going to the movies. Our culture is one that is constantly centered on screens, and simultaneously, the fight against screens. We are seeing a push in favor of more face-to-face interactions and an emphasis on the preservation of classics. I personally love films, but for me, it is a guilty pleasure. Sometimes I opt for seeing the movie version instead of reading the book. Other times, I see it as an indulgence, a way to step out of my life for a moment, with buttered popcorn in one hand and Twizzlers in the other. It is a leisure activity that allows me to momentarily escape my responsabilities : I should be writing my paper, I should be interacting with my mom instead of sitting next to her while on my phone, I should be taking advantage of the beautiful weather or being active.
I do not mean to say that the American film industry is not vibrant. On the contrary, American cinema is booming and setting precedents. From Hollywood to Cannes, I truly believe that both cultures greatly appreciate film. However, I cannot help but notice that cinema has a different place in culture in France. Here, it is seen as an art form, a base for discussion. We go to the movies with the intention of sharing our ideas and reflections afterward. In general, I see an overarching appreciation for the art of film that is not the norm in the United States. Of course, there are exceptions in both cultures, but it seems that the American film fanatic is an average French person. My hosts often go to the movies and it’s a topic that regularly comes up in our conversations. Another family friend told me she goes to the movies several times a week. Movies are often mentioned in my classes and I have even discussed film with the French college students I volunteer with.
After we went to the movies that Sunday afternoon in February, we had a discussion about how we could relate to the characters and themes in the film. Unlike in the U.S., going to the movies is respected and not seen only as an indulgence. While American cinema is often associated with well-known actors, junk food, and special effects, in France, I see an emphasis on talent and storyline, artistic expression and depth. I really appreciate the centrality of film in French society. The difference between the two cultures is not immediately obvious, but it has changed my own perception of going to the movies, a mentality that I will be bringing home with me to the United States.