Two men are sitting at a table in an outdoor café. Both are wearing turtlenecks and smoking. The Eiffel Tower is visible somewhere in the background of the shot. They say things like, “Jean-Pierre, it is vital that we stick to the plan!” But it sounds like “Zhon-Pierre, eet eez vital that we steeck to zee plahn!” A mime mimes by on the sidewalk
Later as the argument becomes more heated, Jacques (the speaker from earlier) will gesture with a glass of red wine, a cigarette, and a large piece of cheese, simultaneously.
Jean-Pierre will jab at Jacques angrily with a baguette, or emphasize a point by donning a beret.
All of this is so that you, the viewer, will understand – it may sound like they’re speaking English, but they’re actually speaking Movie French.
Movie French is a unique language with its own unique culture (though it sounds very similar to Movie Italian, Movie Russian, and Movie Arabic). You can recognize Movie French by its similarity to English, its random nods to a cartoonish French accent, and the fact that why the hell would these people be speaking English right now?
Movie French helps when your audience is too young to read subtitles, or when you’re worried they could distract from your cool explosions. But I think the main reason for movie French is that you can’t just take an English script, pop it into Babel Fish (do the kids today still use Babel Fish?) and get a French script. You have to hire people to make sure that it actually makes sense, and that you’re not using phrases that don’t even exist in the other language. Then you need actors who speak the language. With Movie French all you need is a vague understanding of French pronunciation and a can-do spirit. As someone who just barely has either of those things, I can accept that sometimes, Movie French is the way to go.
The thing about Movie French that drives me crazy is that at some point in all off this, Jean-Pierre will remember that before they can carry out their big plan, he needs to take little Colette and Nannette to ballet. Then as he and his friend part, Jacques will say “Au revoir, my friend.”
What the hell?
If we were supposed to pretend that that entire conversation already took place in French, then what are we supposed to think they’re speaking when they speak actual real-ass French? Are we meant to assume they're now speaking some arcane, long-forgotten Mega-French? Or maybe if the English was French, then the French is English?
Or maybe, like that one a-hole in your college dorm, they figured it would class up the joint to pepper in the five to ten French words that everyone knows?
Also, do they do this in other countries? If they do, what are the English words that pop up in the middle of a ten minute conversation in like, Russian or Cantonese? I have a sneaking suspicion that either "Buddy" or "Dude" is on the list when the characters are American.