Essay: Sad French Movies

Publicly sharing my non-fiction is literally what my nightmares are made up of. But in my constant fight to open myself to new possibilities and to grow as a writer I have to actually let me writing be read. I am starting a writing class next week on Narrative, taught by one of my favorite non-fiction writers, Chloe Caldwell. Since I had to submit a piece to be accepted and this one made the cut, I figured it was safe to share.


There is a night you take me to see a Sad French Movie. Catherine Deneuve is in it and every line of the movie is sung. It’s like a musical, but more so. It’s about falling in love and how life then pulls everything apart piece by piece, like the unraveling of a sweater by each thread. You are always taking me to movies at Film Forum, and you are always forgetting the card that gets us discounted snacks. So we never get snacks. I watch a lot of snackless movies there in those old musty seats.

The movie ends at a snowy gas station and the couple can’t be together because they’re married to other people. They’re all so sad but they’re still singing every word that leaves their mouths. Still singing in the snow. Still singing even though their love failed. The ending makes me sad too, but I guess that is the point of a Sad French Movie, to make life feel very heavy.

Though I am feeling very down, you must be feeling romantic because we walk for three avenues to find a place to have a bottle of red. We never do stuff like this, but we’ve been broke since we got together so we don’t know how to do stuff like this. As soon as the first glass hits my bloodstream, I am weepy. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I feel stuck. Where am I supposed to go? I forget how weepy red wine makes me. The restaurant is Argentinean and we are the only people not eating.

You tell me what you always do, that I will figure it out and that none of it matters right now. Your blue eyes are washed out by the flicker of a candle flame and I feel like you’ll never understand what it is I am trying to explain.

I want to be nasty and say, “Should I sing it for you? Would that help you understand?” But instead I stay weepy and try to keep it light, tell you that I love you and that I appreciate you, so that you’ll want to take me out for just wine again.

We tell the story of my weepy red wine night to our friends like a joke. This is how we explain all the painful things we do to each other. We make them into jokes, laugh them off, and pretend that we are not hurting. You laugh when you tell people I cried. I laugh when I say we drink too much. Pretending our hearts are nothing more than chess pieces protects us from… I don’t know what. We don’t know what we are safe from but we are safe. And that’s all we really want. Besides, it was just a sad movie. It happens to anyone. We don’t go out for just red wine again. I guess I ruined our one shot to be a couple that can do that together. But I’m okay with it. It’s just red wine.

When we met in college, you told me that Johnny Guitar is the only movie that could make you cry. And I believe you until I make you watch Up at the drive-in theater. Your eyes get so red when you start crying in the first five minutes and I am so overcome with the desire to kiss them all away. Later, I buy you the bottle cap pin Ellie gives Carl and you keep it in your desk drawer. I never snoop, but one time I notice there’s a photo of us in there kissing and slips of paper with notes I’ve written you. I wish you could just tell me how much I mean to you.

A year later we are once again at Film Forum. You forget the snack card, so I am snackless. We sit behind Paul Giamatti and an actress you think is beautiful. I’ve never heard of her. You are so taken by her that I get jealous. After all this time I am still waiting for you to be taken with me. I stare at the back of Giamatti’s head for the night. I think it was a Scorsese movie on 35mm. I am really desperate for a snack, something to do with my hands because you don’t like to hold them.

We refuse to watch Blue Valentine together. We know if we watch it together that we will break up. How delicate our relationship is, how bare the threads, that we can’t even watch something that may suggest we are unhappy. We do watch it eventually and it doesn’t make me nearly as sad as I thought it would, but maybe because we are already sad enough.

You tell me that we much watch The Hospital. You say it every time we walk down 1st Avenue past the Metropolitan Hospital, which you treat like it’s a starring cast member.

“Ah, the hospital. From the 1971 George C. Scott classic, The Hospital,” you say everyday for weeks. Months.

Each time, I laugh and promise you that we’ll watch it soon. We live by the Metropolitan Hospital for four years. Your joke disappears. Or I stop finding it funny. Either way, we don’t watch the movie. I break a lot of similar promises.

I am obsessed with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Never married but loyal to one another for years. I look at the photos of them laughing and remind myself that they made it work. Not everyone needs to get married. I share this with you and, with us both relieved of the pressure that comes with years of dating, we idolize them. What we seem to miss, though, is that they work because they respect each other.

We go to see your friend on the Avengers set. It’s a bright fall day and he’s working as a PA. We’re both tossed, having spent the afternoon watching football. You’re loud as usual. You yell at him across the barricade. Make a scene that embarrasses even him. We never acknowledge the pattern of our drinking. That would make us vulnerable.

Another time at Film Forum. (We’re there often even though you accuse of us of not getting out enough.) A man in theater lobby tells me I look like Brigitte Bardot. I am so flattered and smile broadly. I am not at all glamorous but for a moment I feel like I am. We laugh and laugh. We imitate his thick Brooklyn accent. After the movie we are walking through the West Village and we see the man again.

“Hey! Brigitte Bardot!” He yells across the way.

We laugh and wave. I notice that you choose not to use the moment to agree with him. Or sweep me up in your arms to tell me you think I’m beautiful. But you do put on his Brooklyn accent again and repeat him. I laugh because that’s what I do. I wish I could just tell you how much love I need.

I bring the memory up sometimes, to see what you’ll say. You do the accent and repeat the joke. I wish it wasn’t a joke anymore but I never tell you that. We’re so far apart that Blue Valentine fits between us. I imagine what that old man might say if we see him again. I fantasize that he’ll tell you how lucky you are to have me and that you’ll be reminded and you’ll promise never to forget. Just like one of your movies.

But we don’t see him again. And you aren’t reminded. And I forget about any of this working. And eventually, I don’t have to go to Film Forum anymore. You’re gone.


©Amanda Kusek 2017


3 thoughts on “Essay: Sad French Movies

  1. Ash Bruxvoort

    I loved reading this and I hope you share more of your nonfiction writing on here. And snackless sad French movies sound… sad.


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