French Roast

"In a Parisian café an uptight businessman discovers he forgot his wallet and can’t pay the bill."

French Roast is a short film directed by Fabrice Joubert about a businessman who finds himself in an embarrassing situation at a café and the mismatch between people’s appearances and their actual behaviors.

Staged in a café in the 1960s in the city of Paris, the short can be regarded as homage to the French city. It was initially conceived while Fabrice was living in Los Angeles and working at Dreamworks, due to his nostalgia for Paris. When Fabrice moved back to France production was started, first with students from Georges Méliès school and later with Bibo Films.

One main character with a cast of elaborate supporting characters, strong internal conflict, an emphasis on blocking and staging, a focus on appearances as a theme and an accent on comedy are the key elements of the short.

French Roast is a notably ambitious film: the work done on its stylized aesthetic is remarkable, with great effort dedicated to character design (by Nicolas Marlet) as well as to set design, including the 1960s café and its urban environment. The attention to detail and quality point to the number of people that worked on the film, which in turn points to a country where aesthetics are an important cultural value.

Staging and blocking play a prominent role in the film, editing is minimal and the distribution and movement of characters within space resembles that of theater, a style which permeated the first decades of cinema in directors such as Louis Feuillade and Kenji Mizoguchi. In the case of French Roast this choreography is combined with camera moves that change shot sizes (adding expressive shots and visual rhythm) as well as the use of a mirror, which allows for including a kind of reverse shot without editing (a sort of montage within the frame).

Performances and the varying expressiveness of characters are well combined to build conflict, with their actions triggering situations that raise the tension. Objects also play a significant role in the film, especially the one that is missing (the wallet).

Framing employs two-shots and three-shots to capture the interaction between characters, as well as tighter shots to transmit the actions of the main character and his emotions. Long shots are used for the street on the opposite side, when showing what goes outside through the mirror.

The camera maintains a frontal position regarding the main character for most of the film, in line with theatrical staging, and crane camera moves are used to capture the action, help convey the main character’s expressions, follow characters, reveal surprises, etc. Long takes abound. Visual rhythm varies, increasing towards the climax of the story, and is handled through motion within the frame, camera moves, a few transitions, etc. Sound design uses a non-realistic approach inspired by the cinema of Jacques Tati.

What makes French Roast work so well? Highly creative script, polished and original staging, fun characters, strong internal conflict, plenty of surprises and a subject that will appeal to a wide audience.


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