Notre professeur à pris sa retraite.
April 10, 2014 6:27 PM   Subscribe

Dr. Pierre Capretz, who taught French at Yale University for several decades, passed away at the age of 89 on April 1st of this year, qu'il repose en paix. Capretz is best known for his 1987 PBS series of half-hour French-language lessons, French in Action, which combined language immersion using to a simple romantic-comedy narrative followed by a classroom-style review, featuring Professeur Capretz, of the narrative with emphasis on the concepts, vocabulary, and grammar.

The contrived serial narrative of FIA was about an Argentine-American (of French parentage) Yale student, Robert, who visits Paris and meets the lovely Mireille, a Parisienne who attends the Sorbonne and spends ages at the mime-infested Jardin du Luxembourg. Mireille is afflicted with a cartoon family, including petulant younger sister Marie-Laure and dramatic Aunt Georgette, as well as a somewhat villainous acquaintance, Jean-Pierre, whose leering gaze became the subject of a Yale student grievance in 1990.

FIA was an evolution of a WWII-era immersion method developed at Yale by Prof. Emeritus Jean Boorsch to help US servicemen in their roles in the French reconstruction. In the 1960s, Boorsch and Capretz collaborated (interview in French, but machine translation does a fine job) on a never-published project before it was eventually realized by Capretz as the FIA series and companion textbooks/workbooks, supported by PBS, WGBH (Boston), Yale U., and Wellesley College.

The entire 52-episode series is available on PBS's website. Watch 1 a week, or marathon them in just over a day!
posted by Sunburnt (22 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Nooo!!! "Commencons-nous avec mes parents...". I am/was slightly obsessed with French in Action. Sure it's dated now, but Mireilles red and white outfit (traded for a strange yellow sweater for a day trip with Robert) plus Robert's sort of glum college-tourist's so good. Then add in that strange guy in a mask lurking here and there...Marie Laure et good. J'aime bien FIA. Merci Monsieur Capretz. Also, ..that guy who sits in front row of class...

Anyway, if you haven't already seen it, and have any interest in French, give it a watch. You will be quoting Robert, Mireille and Marie Laure almost accidentally. Mystere and boules de gomme!
posted by bquarters at 6:40 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Aww. I can't say that I got a whole lot of improvement of my spoken French out of the terrible VHS audio when French in Action was inflicted on us, but the ability to put my head down for a bit as an underslept teenager was greatly appreciated.
posted by jocelmeow at 6:43 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd stop to watch FIA a lot when it was on cable during college. More than half the time I did it to watch Mireille, but the rest of the time I stopped to watch M. Capretz. That was good TV.
posted by putzface_dickman at 7:18 PM on April 10, 2014


Quel dommage.

So, hey, what's Mireille up to these days?
posted by codswallop at 8:09 PM on April 10, 2014

Oh! My wife will love these.

Our previous language learning attempt, "learn Italian from slightly disturbing German clowns", did not go well with her.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:20 PM on April 10, 2014

"Nous allons apprendre le Francais." His voice from the first lesson echoes in my head after all these years.

And no, codswallop, I've not forgotten Mireille either. :)
posted by edheil at 8:47 PM on April 10, 2014

I took his Intro to French class (along with zillions of others). He really seemed to love teaching.

But yeah. Mireille was way nipplier than she needed to be, especially when she was running. Beurk. Then again, whenever Seinfeld talked about "Rochelle, Rochelle: A young girl's erotic journey from Milan to Minsk," I always pictured Rochelle as looking like Mireille. So there's that.
posted by Mchelly at 9:20 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow. Well, this brings back memories, it was brand-new when I was studying French in high school; I remember watching it in class and giggling over it with my mom at home.
posted by desuetude at 9:25 PM on April 10, 2014

You will be quoting Robert, Mireille and Marie Laure almost accidentally.

The lines that come to mind for me are Marie-Laure and Tante Georgette lines, namely "Ce n'est pas de ma faute!" (It's not my fault!) and "C'est du charbon!" (It's burnt/carbonized!), respectively.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:59 PM on April 10, 2014

RIP. I can't believe I started studying French almost 10 years ago, and even though these videos were old then, my French teachers used them. The story this series used was pretty lame, and I much preferred the Canadian TV show with the insane French-speaking pineapple.
posted by myntu at 10:49 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, my mom taped so many French in Actions for me when I was taking high school French. That was such a great show. And yes, "Ce n'est pas de ma faute!" was my immediate reaction too...and wasn't there one where they devoted some hilarious amount of time to showing that "Marie-Laure est menteuse"? And that red lip-shaped fountain!
posted by town of cats at 11:32 PM on April 10, 2014

Boules de gomme indeed! My two memories of learning French are watching French in Action and being forced to translate Baudelaire.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:19 AM on April 11, 2014

The weirdest part of FIA (for me, anyway) were all the clips from random French TV shows/ movies used to illustrate phrases.

I'd see one and think "Wait! What's the context? What's going on here? What is this movie?" and it was "nope, too late, we moved on, quelle dommage."

posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:08 AM on April 11, 2014

posted by Sticherbeast at 1:55 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd never seen nor heard of FIA before so it was great to watch some. I like the realism of the sink or swim approach. And the editing is a real work of art.
posted by rongorongo at 2:43 AM on April 11, 2014

Il est... seulement fatigué? Ou il est malade? Non, c'est pas vrai :(

I never seriously worked through more than the first few episodes, but I remember watching when it was on PBS in the middle of the night. I enjoyed it way better than Destinos, its Spanish counterpart.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:50 AM on April 11, 2014

The live, improvised "25 years later" meeting between the actors playing Robert and Mireille is great fun also!
posted by rongorongo at 4:28 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

My college used this in the beginning levels of French. I only heard about it through friends--thank God I skipped those levels. The local rumor was that Mireille went on to be a porn actress. No idea if that's true, though.
posted by Liesl at 7:07 AM on April 11, 2014

Any rumours of Mireille's porn career probably stem from her part in Godard segment of Aria - one of two women naked among weightlifters. Another bit of trivia: the guy who plays the mime and the man in black creeping in the bushes is Marion Cotillard's father.

I saw most of my French in Action on TVO, but don't recall that show with the pineapple. That's quite whacked, I'd like to see more of it now.
posted by TimTypeZed at 7:39 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

potsmokinghippieoverlord, the Wikipedia article on FIA has a partial list of french TV/films excerpted in the series.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:01 AM on April 11, 2014

French In Action previously on MetaFilter (complete with Mireille appreciation and copyright argument). (I can't believe I remembered that thread so clearly after all these years.)
posted by languagehat at 12:13 PM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've been looking at a few of the videos now. I speak not bad conversational French but they still have quite a lot in them even for me. For a beginner it would be like being chucked in the pool and told to swim, I suspect.

What strikes me is now ahead of its time FIA was. When it was released the programs would be seen as part of a group in a class - or perhaps on one's own VCR. But the whole process of replaying elements until one has personally understood what was being said is a whole lot easier when seen on Youtube. That will help cater for those who make rapid progress without alienating those who need to take more time. The presence of a "virtual classmates", the tongue in cheek presentation, the technique of illustrating by showing numerous samples from other TV shows and even the use of on-screen text to show grammatical points are also approaches which have only now caught on.

All credit to Dr Capretz then.
posted by rongorongo at 7:48 AM on April 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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