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PARIS, Feb 5 — The global success of the series Call My Agent! is all the more remarkable for it being choc-a-bloc with rapid-fire jokes only French people will get.
Here’s a rundown of some you might have missed:
Get thee to a nunnery
Actress Beatrice Dalle refuses to play a nude corpse at the start of her episode, abandoning the morgue for the convent to take time out from an industry she says is dictated by the lascivious male gaze.
Fair enough. But for decades Dalle has excelled in extreme and outrageous roles as an object of desire, from her breakthrough in the racy Betty Blue to sex-crazed cannibal in Trouble Every Day.
In real life, Dalle often hangs out with nuns enjoying convent retreats and speaking openly about her faith and love for Jesus.
The first episode of the fourth series features what would seem a random bit of fantasy, with a dwarf snapping her fingers and a lift door closing like magic. The gesture comes from a long-running French TV series, Josephine, Guardian Angel.
In it diminutive angel Mimie Mathy helps the needy with empathy and magic and at the end of her mission disappears with the same finger-click she makes in the lift.
But in Call My Agent! Mathy is no benevolent spirit. Mischievously flipping type, she plays a nasty piece of work looking to settle a score with ASK.
Jean Reno may be familiar to world audiences from Leon and the cool pilot holding his own against Tom Cruise in the original Mission: Impossible.
But as far as the agents at ASK are concerned, Reno will forever be Godefroy de Montmirail, the idiotic medieval knight who time travels to the 20th century and drinks water from the toilet in the slapstick The Visitors.
That is the name that keeps getting repeated at the agency, much to Reno’s dismay.
Because Godefroy de Montmirail to many in France is synonymous with numbskull.
A decades-long rivalry between two of France’s most enduring female stars appears several times in the series, with the bickering silver fox duo Francoise Fabian and Line Renaud.
Why they’re arguing draws on their contrasting reputations in real life and the opposing attractions of money and intellectual cred. Fabian the heavyweight film actress is known for cerebral classics such as My Night at Maud’s, while Renaud the much-loved popular singer cosied up to rightwing president Jacques Chirac.
One word changes everything
There is a world of difference in France between who you use the polite form of address “vous” to and the informal one, “tu”.
The grammatical minefield can lead to all sorts of embarrassing faux-pas and — horror of horrors — people forgetting their place.
Its power to define the pecking order comes out in the affair between hot-shot agent Mathias and his secretary Noemie. Not even their years of secret bonking can apparently break down the formal manner in which they address each other.
The critical moment comes at the end of series three when Noemie, clutching a bunch of folders after fleeing the office, is asked by Mathias if she will join him in his new agency.
“Oh, are we using the tu now?” she replies, taken aback, that after working their way through the Kama Sutra together they were now finally getting grammatically intimate.
What’s in a name
Jean Gabin, the dog, has been in the series from the beginning, at the feet or in the arms of Arlette, the matriarch of the ASK agency who walks the corridors doing minimal work but making razor-sharp comments about the lives of her younger colleagues.
For the series, Arlette is the spirit of golden age cinema, and so her dog is named after one of its great French male stars.
But Gabin was no heartthrob, and her growly dog sounds very much like the gnarled Gabin, whose most famous role was the brute train engineer of The Human Beast. — AFP