REVIEW: Book Release: À L’Écran: Short French Films And Activities Manual

Book: À L’Écran: Short French Films And Activities Manual
Release date: 31st January 2011
Publisher: Heinle

Heinle, an arm of the educational resources giant Cengage have produced À L’Écran; a combination of a DVD of short French films with an accompanying activities manual. A variety of directors have contributed with several of the films having won awards at an international level.

The activities manual is divided into seven sections, each corresponding to one of the films on the DVD provided. The films are in French with the availability of French subtitles only. The films themselves range from a young girl discussing emotions usually associated with adults, such as love and suffering, to a Canadian animation about a boy’s dreams of wearing his hockey idol’s jersey being crushed, to an actress rehearsing for an audition with an apparent stranger, as well as a ground hog day style nightmare as a commuter befalls a series of unfortunate events and others.

The activities manuals are all of a similar lay out, containing options to discuss the themes of the film prior to the viewing, some useful and basic vocabulary, questions on the themes of the film and your interpretation of the subject matter. Depending on the film, exercises to test verb structures and options to replace missing words, testing oral ability, are also available. In addition there are tasks you can carry out in groups which are tied in either directly to the film that you have watched, or to topics loosely tied to the film’s plot…

The use of quite artistic themes in the films is a novel approach to what is in essence an educational tool, and it succeeds in making this combination of short films with related activities feel more refreshing than the traditional format, where usually material is gathered by filming basic conversation or using material sourced from a shop floor for filming people in a train station, for example. Due to the films being respected in the genre of short films, as seen by the collection of awards they have obtained, this collection represents great value as you are not just watching material for the sake of education but also for enjoyment in itself.

Some films succeed in being as comprehensive and moving as a full-length feature film. Gratte-Papier is about two strangers who meet on a train, find each other attractive and use a novel means of communication. It is a romantic idea and comes across as well rounded and light-hearted. The discussion questions for this film invite the student to consider their own view points, asking what they would do in this situation. Students are also invited to analyse the actor’s work; such as why certain facial expressions were used and what they think the character’s internal monologue is. This will have an added benefit with younger students in not only improving their French language but also in developing their own view points, and learning more about how to express their opinions in a group.

Due to the fact that in each of À L’Écran’s films professional actors have been used, and that each film has a strong and clear thematic basis, the impression is one of a lot of time and thought having gone into the creation of the work, even if some come across as being over-emotive (Le Temps) or having been written in a slapdash comedic style (Rien de Grave).

The structure of the questions in the manual is excellent, testing both the ability to debate issues in French, comprehension of complex themes, and provision of useful vocabulary. In having a varied range of questions, both oral and verbal ability is tested well. The questions are set at an intermediate level, somewhere around A-Level standard.

The vocabulary sections are well matched to the films, with the colloquial phrases and more difficult terminology explained. By having a section dealing with ideas to discuss before the film, students will be able to focus their minds on the topics as well as the added benefit of assisting understanding of the French quicker as you know which area will be focussed on.

Considering the fact that the activities manual is quite short, the material in each section should still easily provide a lengthy amount of discussion time, which would be useful to perspective teachers who are most likely to want to use this, however, of course, someone who is interested in brushing up on their French while also treating themselves to some short films will also find this a stress free way to do so.

The solutions to the questions and tasks are available on the publisher’s website, so internet access will be needed. With modern resources, this shouldn’t pose a problem, however, it perhaps would have been a beneficial addition to have the option to select English subtitles as well as the French, but this again depends on the user’s preferences – arguably immersing yourself in just French without the ability to ‘cheat’ will have better lingual benefits.

This activities manual and series of films should succeed in keeping students engaged, and will reveal easily the areas which they may need more assistance on to the instructor or teacher, so this would be a valuable resource to own. AT

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