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In the French Style

In the French Style(1963)

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Synopsis: Christina James (Jean Seberg), an art student from Chicago, has moved to Paris to study painting and art history. While there she falls in love with Guy (Philippe Forquet), a French engineering student, but the romance ends when he confesses he is only sixteen-years-old and still in high school. On the rebound, Christina embarks on a series of casual affairs but experiences true happiness when she becomes involved with Walter Beddoes (Stanley Baker), an international journalist. When Christina's father flies to Paris to try and convince her to come home, she refuses but also realizes that a future with Walter isn't realistic either due to his unsettled lifestyle. Christina's eventual decision to return to the U.S. becomes one of practicality, not romantic illusion, but her ties to Paris remain unbroken.

Based on two short stories by novelist Irwin Shaw, "In the French Style" and "A Year to Learn the Language," In the French Style (1963) marked Jean Seberg's first American film in three years, even though it was filmed entirely in France. Seberg had fled Hollywood after her traumatic experience of working with director Otto Preminger on Saint Joan (1957) and Bonjour Tristesse (1958), both of which were box office bombs and savaged by the critics, many blaming her inexperience as an actress. In spite of that, Seberg re-emerged as the darling of the French New Wave when she appeared in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) and embarked on a new career in Europe, working mostly with French directors.

In the French Style was a collaboration between director Robert Parrish and screenwriter Shaw, who also served as the producers. It was Shaw's attempt to work independently from the Hollywood studio system and bring his own work to the screen without compromises; he hadn't been completely satisfied with past film adaptations of his work (The Young Lions [1958], Two Weeks in Another Town [1962]) but felt confident he could realize his vision for the film with Parrish. (They had forged a good working relationship on Fire Down Below [1957] and were also fellow snow ski enthusiasts).

Seberg was in the midst of a passionate relationship with novelist Romain Gray, still married at the time, when she was approached by Parrish for the lead role in In the French Style. She agreed to meet with him in Barcelona to discuss the project but faced a major dilemma. She was in the final stages of pregnancy, a condition she had carefully hidden from the press, and she was afraid she would lose the role if the fact were known. Her solution was to pretend she had broken her leg and to receive Parrish in her bedroom where her husband had "placed a protective arch over her leg and the sheet formed a tent, which concealed her ballooning shape." The ruse worked. Seberg won the part and after giving birth was soon rehearsing the script at Shaw's villa in Klosters, Switzerland.

Shaw later commented, "We didn't find out until after the picture was made that she had been pregnant and given birth. She seemed flustered at first when she arrived at Klosters, and I thought she looked a little plump. But I assumed it was from the summer. I remember asking her, 'Jean, you're not pregnant, are you?' She just laughed and said she'd lose the weight by the time we started shooting."

Most of In the French Style was shot in Paris with some additional filming on the French Riviera and in the Studios de Billancourt. Seberg's role was in some ways autobiographical since she was playing an American girl who was on the run from her past and living the life of an expatriate, a character much like herself. Addison Powell, who plays her father in the film, commented on one of Seberg's most effective scenes in the movie. "It was a fairly deep and heavy scene," Powell recalls. "The father sees that his daughter is like a chip on the waves and wants to probe the extent of her injuries. She argues that she's no longer a child and knows which end of a man is up. We filmed it at night on a steep incline in Montmartre. Jean and I talked a lot about it beforehand. She admitted she'd had similar discussions with her own father. I mentioned that to Ed Seberg when I was teaching one semester at the University of Iowa. Ed nodded sadly and said the scene had been very real to him, too. But he liked the way Jean called me "Papa," in the film, "Papa that's what she always called me, too,' he said.

In the French Style proved to be one of Seberg's most satisfying film experiences even though she was feeling the pressure of carrying most of the film as she was in practically every scene. Parrish, who always felt she was ideally cast for her role, remarked "She really had absorbed an amazing amount of knowledge about the art of film making for one so young. On top of that, just for sheer beauty on the screen, she was a joy to photograph. She was great for a camera she acted with her eyes and mouth, all the things that are suited to close-ups. It was an up time in her career. She really pitched in and worked harder than anyone else."

Though the film was a modest box office success, Parrish and Shaw were both gratified with the final results and many critics praised the picture, particularly Seberg's performance. Variety deemed it "a sophisticated love story" and noted that "Seberg brings life and brilliance to her portrayal, registering strongly both in the more dramatic and lighter moments."

Some final trivia to note: James Leo Herlihy, the actor who plays Christina's husband to be in In the French Style, is better known as a playwright and novelist whose work includes Blue Denim, All Fall Down and Midnight Cowboy, all of which were made into films. French actress Claudine Auger who plays Clio would gain international exposure when she played Bond girl Dominique to Sean Connery's 007 in Thunderball (1965).

Producer: Irwin Shaw, Robert Parrish
Director: Robert Parrish
Screenplay: Irwin Shaw, based on two of his short stories
Cinematography: Michel Kelber
Production Design: Rino Mondellini
Music: Joseph Kosma
Film Editing: Renee Lichtig
Cast: Jean Seberg (Christina James), Stanley Baker (Walter Beddoes), Claudine Auger (Clio), Jacques Charon (Patrini), Philippe Forquet (Guy), Jack Hedley (Bill), James Leo Herlihy (Dr. John Haislip), Addison Powell (Mr. James).

by Jeff Stafford

Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story by David Richards

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