HAVING received an A grade for my ceramic alligator in high school art class (so good my Mother never believed I made it) and able to change guitar strings unaided, it did occur to me that a film destined for a predominately English speaking market, should present a majority of English speakers, writes Christopher Strong.
So, in a Provençal village, one sweltering July day, I posed the non-musical question: "Yo dude. Where be da English speakers?"
About six houses away, was the answer, according to the two exuberant pre-teen boys who answered the door I knocked on.
Scrambling to their bikes, they led me to the house of Rene. Solidly built. Early fifties. Expensive haircut. I hit him with my two best lines: "Bonjour. Parlez vous Anglais?"
Rene's answer was affirmative. But with a strangely guarded tone. Unsure of his level of comprehension, I went slowly, trying not to sound like I was explaining television to a caveman.
As Rene began to understand my cinematic mission, a soft smile lit his face. "You've come at exactly the right time," he replied, in perfect English.
Beckoning me to follow, we mounted a gently sloping hill, away from the village. Rene was born here. But, every winter, he returns to his restaurant, in Miami Beach.
So no worries about his English ability. Approaching the crest of the hill, a rambling Provençal mas came into view.
With an equally rambling yard, dotted with long rectangular tables. Gleaming with silver, and most importantly, glasses. Obviously a party waiting to happen.
As we started down the driveway, a very relaxed cluster of folks ambled forward with big smiles and generous glasses of rosé. I was half right.
It was going to be a party, but not today, tomorrow. And it was more than a party. It was a baptism celebration, which would take place wisely before the corks popped.
So after introductions and three more glasses of rosé, lunch, and an invite to film their historic event, I toured the village to shoot what worked now, and scope things out for the big day.
It was warm, but not muggy that night, with glistening stars hovering above. The village was silent, except for occasional faint conversations ebbing and flowing like programs colliding on short wave radio.
And dogs exchanging the day's news.
Filming the baptism was definitely one of my top five 'most challenging cinematic moments'. Ok, I am invited, but this is for them, a very solemn and important occasion, so I've got to be as invisible and quiet as possible. Yet somehow still get the shots.
Problem is the small church is basically a dungeon. Small windows at the back, no light overhead, and a few altar candles. The faithful are assembled on wooden pews in front of your standard issue balding padre.
He will be on a small stage in front, with tiny windows behind. Additional lights, which I don't have anyway, would be a definite faux pas.
So as unobtrusively as it's possible for someone of six foot two, with a purple mohican, in a sequinned day-glow orange tracksuit slinking around with a tripod to be, I must find a way to shoot the audience from the Priest's point of view and the Priest from the audience's point of view.
And of course capture the baptism of two blissful free spirits, who have not yet been programmed to realize, dropping your bottle in church (even if it is plastic) is a big no-no.
But must now confess, dear reader, that it was luck, not skill, that must be credited for the last shot of the Priest mock tossing one of the kids in the air.
The only difficulty filming the fiesta that followed, was the constant admonition of my hosts to: "Put that camera down and enjoy yourself!" No worries.
In a party that was to last thirteen plus hours, I did manage a few non-camera moments.
Here's one. I'm submerged in a lawn chair by the pool. Rosé in hand chatting up a very attractive mademoiselle perched languorously à côté.
Ok, I'm a little toasted but I can still speak in coherent sentences, without slurring words, drooling, or having eyes close without being asked.
It is then, glazed by the warm Provençal sun, the Eureka Moment arrives. I am flirting with this girl, in French, and she understands.
She understands. But she has an early train. Ah love. Seventy litres of rosé, who knows how much Champagne, two spit-roasted lambs, accordion music up the yin-yang, tons o'talk, mirth, merriment, bonding, and thirteen hours later the baptism bash is history.
One that no doubt will be repeated in twenty-five or so years time, by the two guests of honour. Who have, somehow, managed to sleep through it all.
Other articles by Christopher:
A bicycling tour of French treasures
Taking a tour of Chateau la Verrerie
The Pope of biodynamic wine
US-born video film maker Christopher Strong produced the Bicycle Gourmet's Treasures of France tour, which fulfilled his dream of cycling around the country visiting interesting places and meeting entertaining characters.
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I would like to baptize my son in France (in English). Could you kindly give me some info (village, name of the church or priest you contacted)? Thank you SO, SO much!
Posted by: Camila Renault Falcao | 10 March 2009 at 02:19