French Movie

Our 2012 Season, which has been produced in partnership with BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2011, opens with Scott Wenner’s tense dream-time remake of David Lehman’s “French Movie.”



I was in a French movie

and had only nine hours to live

and I knew it

not because I planned to take my life

or swallowed a lethal but slow-working

potion meant for a juror

in a mob-related murder trial,

nor did I expect to be assassinated

like a chemical engineer mistaken

for someone important in Milan

or a Jew journalist kidnapped in Pakistan;

no, none of that; no grounds for

suspicion, no murderous plots

centering on me with cryptic phone

messages and clues like a scarf or

lipstick left in the front seat of a car;

and yet I knew I would die

by the end of that day

and I knew it with a dreadful certainty,

and when I walked in the street

and looked in the eyes of the woman

walking toward me I knew that

she knew it, too,

and though I had never seen her before,

I knew she would spend the rest of that day

with me, those nine hours walking,

searching, going into a bookstore in Rome,

smoking a Gitane, and walking,

walking in London, taking the train

to Oxford from Paddington or Cambridge

from Liverpool Street and walking

along the river and across the bridges,

walking, talking, until my nine hours

were up and the black-and-white movie

ended with the single word FIN

in big white letters on a bare black screen.




Staff Pick

“French Movie” appears in Yeshiva Boys (Scribner, 2009) and is reprinted with the author’s permission. Copyright David Lehman 2009, all rights reserved.

More about David Lehman.

More about Scott Wenner.

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2 Responses to “French Movie”

  1. Todd Boss says:

    “What shapes the poem? Simple duration. To presence, the poet adds time by adding attention. To see at length is to say, and to say more, see more. Craft elaborates. Attention extends. On my deathbed, I shall want a longer not a more elaborate life. I shall want an extension, not a revision.” Donald Revell in THE ART OF ATTENTION.

  2. Kara says:

    motion504 Creative Director Scott Wenner, who designed and animated this motionpoem, commented, “This poem was difficult to work with because it’s very descriptive and specific, and references the French way of doing movies. I wanted to do something more unexpected in terms of visuals and sounds to go along with the words. Using the more suspenseful elements from the scenes, such as a glass dropping, actually assisted the words rather than compete with them. We also pulled back on the voiceover and sound design so that it came across as more conversational, and not overdramatized. It was important that everything felt realistic and cohesive especially when moving from photos to 3D.”

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