America as Seen by a Frenchman is before its time. Yes, it is cliche to say that about a film. Of course, cliches reach that status for a reason. When they are used correctly, they are the best way to describe something.
Released in 1960, the documentary follows a French director as he tours America. Much like social media, America as Seen by a Frenchman tells its story through images and video. It is also a story of admiration and realization.
Director Francois Reichenbach spent 18 months filming his documentary. That is the entire plot of the movie. It is more a series of skits or short films than anything else. The story revolves around what the director sees throughout his year and a half long journey.
What Reichenbach captures on film is incredible. At the Huntsville prison in Texas, a rodeo is held using inmates. The winner gets to choose between a reduced sentence or a week at home. The eponymous Frenchman also tracks down the last Civil War survivor and visits amusement parks and beaches. The whole time Reichenbach speaks lovingly of the country.
The movie even boasts some character development. Reichenbach initially speaks highly of America. When he first begins his tour, he almost talks with a childish about what he is seeing. As the trip progresses, there is hints of cynicism. By the end of America as Seen by a Frenchman, the director states not everything is as pristine as it may seem.
Still, this does not change the theme of the movie. This is not some expose about the seedy underbelly of America. There is nothing to expose and it never becomes a hit piece. It is a gleefully written love letter that applauds the spirit of the country.
Watching America as Seen by a Frenchman is a look at today’s society. The movie plays like a person’s Instagram story. It is a constant barrage of well done shots and funny images. Much like a good social media account, it is impossible to look away from.
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