Most of the acclaimed French series is written in a way that gives it international appeal, but some niche cultural references may fly under the radar. Resident French person Clémence Michallon explains
By Clémence Michallon
Call My Agent! is a rare, indisputably great French TV show. Set at a fictional Parisian talent agency called ASK, it tells the story of a group of agents trying – and often failing – to keep their famous clients happy and successful. Each episode focuses on one or several guest stars – real-life French celebrities who play fanciful versions of themselves. Past guests have included Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Monica Bellucci (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Irréversible, Spectre), and Isabelle Huppert (The Lacemaker, The Piano Teacher, Elle).
The series just supposedly wrapped up with a fourth season, although co-creator and co-producer Dominique Besnehard has teased a possible fifth instalment on French television. In any case, the fourth series has been met with acclaim, including by The Independent, which gave it a four-star review.
I can only approve. But as I devoured the latest season, I found myself wondering how much of the show’s humour might become lost in translation. Most of Call My Agent! is written in a way that gives the show broad, international appeal, but the series is also peppered with more niche references to French pop culture.
As mentioned above, I’m French. Really French. Grew-up-watching-primetime-TV-in-France French. Went-to-school-with-the-guy-who-plays-Gabriel-in-Emily–in–Paris French. But I’m aware not everyone had the (mis)fortune of coming of age in France in the Nineties – a time when the country was doing rather poorly at the Oscars (10 submissions, four nominations, one victory) but excelled at football (won the ’98 World Cup).
If you’ve watched season four of Call My Agent! and would like to understand who Dany Boon is, why everyone keeps calling the actor in episode one Patrick when it’s clearly stated that his name is Franck, and what the big deal is about Télérama, read on. Here is my humble guide to the French references you might have missed in Call My Agent!. Pairs well with tripe crème brie and a nice Merlot.
Franck Dubosc, the main guest star featured in episode one, is a very well-known comedian and actor in France. His credits are many, but among them is the film series Camping. Over the course of three films released between 2006 and 2016, Camping has told the story of Patrick Chirac, a man who loves to go, well, camping. Among the franchise’s catchphrases is the infamous: “Alors, on n’attend pas Patrick?” – which translates to “So, you’re not waiting for Patrick?”
Uttered by a speedo-clad Dubosc to a group of campers who dare have drinks without him, the sentence has become so infamous that even this writer, who has never watched a Camping movie, got the joke when it made its way onto Call My Agent!.
Mimie Mathy is one of the best-known faces on French television. For two decades, the actor has portrayed a guardian angel named Joséphine on the enduring series Joséphine, Ange Gardien (Joséphine, Guardian Angel). In the opening episode of Call My Agent!’s fourth season, a disgruntled Mathy severs ties with the agency and storms out. Once inside the lift, she tells the agents chasing her that their business relationship is definitely over, then snaps her fingers. As she does so, a faint “ding!” can be heard before the doors slide shut. The finger snapping, complete with the accompanying ding, is a Joséphine move: it’s how the angel activates her power in the eponymous show.
What’s the deal with Dany Boon and all that food?
Dany Boon is also a famous comedian in France (do you see a theme here?). A key part of his persona – and of his comic routines over the years – is the fact that he’s from the north of the country. Most notably, he co-wrote and directed the 2008 comedy Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks), a 106-minute on the region and its culture.
In Call My Agent!, when agent Andréa Martel tries to ingratiate herself to Boon’s former schoolteacher (in a bid to convince Boon to remain with her agency), she travels north and is promptly presented with a vast array of local specialties. The deal becomes clear: if she wants to cosy up to Boon’s confidant, she needs to eat. This representation of food as bonding is reminiscent of Boon’s writing in Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis.
Why is Sigourney Weaver so keen on filming with Gaspard Ulliel?
Gaspard Ulliel is known for portraying couturier Yves Saint Laurent in the 2014 biopic Saint Laurent. He is also known for starring in a Chanel ad directed by Martin Scorsese in 2010. In other words: he’s young, he’s French, and his face is Scorsese-worthy. Why wouldn’t Sigourney Weaver want to film with him?
What’s going on with Jim Morrison’s grave?
The Sigourney Weaver episode is rife with discreet, meaningful references, so prepare for a couple more of those. Towards the end of the episode, Weaver is seen cuddling with a dashing young man next to Jim Morrison’s grave – yes, The Doors’ Jim Morrison. The musician died in Paris in 1971 and was buried in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in the in the 20th arrondissement.
Morrison’s grave is open to the public and is frequently visited by fans and tourists from around the world. The gravestone is usually covered in flowers, letters, and other tokens (such as the odd bottle of Jack Daniel’s). It has become a place of remembrance and celebration. And – take this writer’s word for it – it’s a captivating spot for a first date.
When Sigourney Weaver dances, it’s not to any old song
No, there wasn’t any good reason for Sigourney Weaver to suddenly start Lindy-Hopping in the middle of a French bar, but that dance scene was immensely enjoyable. And Weaver wasn’t going to settle for any random French tune. No, when Sigourney Weaver Lindy-Hops in Paris, she does it to a jazzy interpretation of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. Naturellement.
What was that about Jean Reno?
Born in Morocco to Spanish parents, Jean Reno is one of relatively few French-speaking actors to have found fame outside of France (you might know him from the 1994 Léon: The Professional starring Natalie Portman). But when his name first comes up in episode six of season four of Call My Agent!, Camille Valentini reacts with a slightly dismayed: “Godefroy de Montmirail?”
Godefroy de Montmirail is the unforgettable character portrayed by Reno in Les Visiteurs (The Visitors), a 1993 comedy about a time-traveling knight and his servant. It sounds iconic because it is.
We need to talk about Jean Gabin
The indomitable agent Arlette Azémar is rarely seen without Jean Gabin, her beloved pooch. Jean Gabin also was a legendary French actor, having starred in films such as Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion and Marcel Carné’s Le Quai des Brumes. The real Jean Gabin has also been dead since 1976, which leads to a very confusing conversation between Arlette and Jean Reno in episode six.
Walking out at the Césars
In February 2020, actor Adèle Haenel walked out of the Césars when Roman Polanski won Best Director. While episode one doesn’t make an explicit reference to this moment, the mere fact that it features three walkouts from the ceremony – and the staffer’s insistence that walking out before the end is technically forbidden – definitely reads as a call-back, intentional or not.
In episode one, much is made of whether or not Franck Dubosc will be featured on the frontpage of Télérama. That’s because Télérama, a weekly magazine, is one of the foremost cultural publications in France. Think of it as a cross between NME and Vanity Fair, with a touch of New York Magazine.
As a bonus round of sorts, a few more scattered French thoughts:
- Those fruit baskets loitering in ASK’s offices are an amazing touch. They started cropping up in French offices around the time this writer left France, and were seen as the ultimate sign of luxury.
- That Ladurée box Sigourney Weaver holds in the car from the airport to her hotel is too small. She specifically ordered all the colours and all the flavours! No way this all fits in a box the size of an iPhone.
- Nonetheless, the car scene redeems itself with a reference to Autolib’, a now-defunct electric car sharing service that opened in 2011 and shut down in 2018. It’s exactly the sort of detail you’d need to be caught up on if, like Weaver, you visited Paris regularly but only intermittently.
- Andréa Martel owns a tartan pantsuit but wears the blazer and the trousers separately. Extremely well done. This is 100 per cent the kind of fashion tip you can read in ELLE – the French edition, of course.
This wraps up our glossary of French references in series four of Call My Agent!. As they say in my hometown, merci pour votre attention and à bientôt.