This is—no joke—the title of a serious little book on Clint Eastwood published in France earlier this year (if you don’t believe me, see here), which I was reminded of this morning after hearing the news reports of Eastwood’s skit at the RNC last night (which fell flat, so it seems). The book, which I have admittedly not read, is authored by former Cahiers du Cinéma critic Stéphane Bouquet and takes up a matter that I have been puzzling over for many years now, which is Eastwood’s outsized reputation and popularity in France (Télérama—the French TV Guide for lefties—called Bouquet’s book “un bon fucking livre“). Americans have this cliché about the supposed French love for Jerry Lewis—a notion that exists only in the American imagination (and that I have written about here)—but it really is the case when it comes to Clint Eastwood, whose films invariably receive stellar reviews from Paris critics and are box office hits from Dunkerque to Perpignan.
I first became aware of the French Eastwood phenomenon in 1995, with the release of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, which French critics praised to the high heavens, calling it a chef d’œuvre almost on a par with ‘La Règle du jeu’ and ‘Citizen Kane’, and whose gushing sentiments were shared by the film-going public (US reviews were mostly positive, though some were tepid, indeed mixed). Personally speaking, I thought the pic was cringeworthy schlock. I likewise found ‘Million Dollar Baby’ schlocky, disliked ‘Changeling’, and gave the thumbs down to ‘Gran Torino’. French audiences—including friends and family—loved all, needless to say (and particularly ‘Gran Torino’, which was systematically applauded at the end in Parisian salles).
In his book, Bouquet, who is not a fan of Eastwood, seeks to understand and analyze why his films so resonate in France. In an interview in January, he thus explained
L’idolâtrie partagée tant par le public que la critique est un phénomène typiquement français, c’est vrai. Malgré son image de conservateur, Clint Eastwood s’est construit une figure mythique d’anti-héros, ou plutôt de héros résolument anti-macho et anti-raciste. Tous ses films accueillent des gens appartenant à des minorités défavorisées. Il va jusqu’à recueillir dans son propre corps de transplanté cardiaque le cœur d’une femme appartenant à la communauté latino. En ce sens, Eastwood apparaît comme une figure de réconciliation nationale, auxquels les Français sont sensibles.
For the French, Clint Eastwood in effect incarnates l’Amérique qu’on aime… The French, in their majority, like America, or at least admire it, and when America gives a less than positive image, Clint Eastwood, via his films, brings that positive image back. The fact that he likes France in return also helps.
I don’t dislike all of Eastwood’s films, il faut le dire, at least those he directed (as an actor, he’s one-dimensional, sans intérêt). I thought ‘Mystic River’ and ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’ were excellent and liked ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ (which was a hoot), ‘A Perfect World’, and ‘Flags of Our Fathers’. ‘Play Misty for Me’ was creepy but not bad as a film. ‘Unforgiven’ was entertaining, as was ‘Invictus’. I never did see ‘Bird’ and deliberately skipped ‘J.Edgar’. As for Eastwood’s politics, who cares?