MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS
September 24, 2022
The critics are unanimously positive about what is described as a delightful comedy about a modest British domestic worker in the early post-war period who goes to Paris to buy a couturier dress. Yet, the film is also surprisingly revealing, as it suggests real differences between British and French cultures.
Mrs.Harris goes to Paris. A British comedy-drama from director (and also script writer) Anthony Fabian, released in June of 2022, with approval ratings of over 95 % from Rotten Tomatoes coming from both critics and the public.
A modest British home cleaning lady decides that at the point she is in her life, after receiving an unexpected pension from her deceased husband and after economizing on her own, she will go to Paris to buy a beautiful dress from Haute couture’s fashion designer Christian Dior.
Events do not unfold exactly as planned, as Mrs. Harris is involved more or less willingly in a quite radical change of the famous designer Christian Dior’s enterprise, evolving from catering only to rich customers to reaching out to a more middle-income and larger clientèle.
All through the story, Mrs. Harris meets a wide variety of French persons, some of them generous and kind, others less so. The film suggests that the range of social behavior in France is larger than in Britain, where the behavior is more standardized and uniform, with the British peaks of kindness and malice less pronounced or extreme. France does indeed appear to be the land of marked individual differences, as French men and women seem to follow their own penchants more easily. Yet, in matters of taste, and good taste in particular, quite strict rules seem to be in force all through French society, as in the case of standards of good taste dictated by elite fashion designers.
A FEW INTERPRETATIONS
Of course, it could be argued that there is no need to interpret this charming film, as it has no pretense except to be charming and funny. There is no need to go any further, for many viewers of the film. Indeed, it simply is, according to Maggie Smith of Millennium Falcon Review, “a post-war Cinderella story”, or then again simply “a delightful comedy about the many meanings of the clothes we choose to wear and what these choices say about our lives and values” (Frederic and Mary Brussat, of Spirituality and Practice).
Yet, The Movie Shrink would go one step further.
THE MOVIE SHRINK’S TAKE
Although the film has no historical pretense, it does give the impression of a true understanding of pertinent elements of cultural elements in both France and the UK.
We already knew about how the French can be, at the same time, the most lovable and detestable individuals.
But there is more, and this film suggests more.
One can turn to German sociologist-historian Norbert Elias, who related France’s historical journey to the growing influence of social elites, who, more than anywhere else in Europe, had dictated the standards of good taste and fashion to the citizens. It has to do with the fact that, at a certain point in its history, central military forces in France monopolized power earlier than in other European countries. The rest, as they say, is history, as these elite norms often became universal norms of good taste and fashion.
Thus, at the heart of the French culture stands a kind of contradiction: individual behaviors that often defy social standards and norms on what is acceptable or proper, on the one hand, and quite strict norms about what is considered good taste and culture, on the other hand. Herein lies one of the French culture’s paradoxes.
And so, in a film that is unpretentious, an important element of French culture, the strong influence of elites’ choices as what is to be standards of good taste, including its great economic impact on exports from France, is revealed with great à propos in this charming story. Good taste and fashion, by the way, can be exported and contribute to a country’s GDP and balance of payments.
Mrs. Harris goes to Paris is not really a superficial film, and the fact that it may be funny and charming does not take anything away from that, quite the opposite.
And so, in addition to the public’s and the critics’ approval, several historians could add their own.