Whenever a Frenchman speaks of France, no matter what his age, it is like watching an old war movie. Visions of the sacred "Resistance" flash into his tearful eyes and his voice lowers to a reverent whisper.

He sighs.

"Ah France," said Dominique D'Ermo, "it is the greatest country in the world for eating and drinking avec plaisir. "

He sighed.

But yesterday was Bastille Day, the national French Independence Day, and Frenchmen from all over the Washington area had a chance to do the things they do so well - kiss and hug and drink champagne.

First there was a reception at the French embassy for Frenchmen living in America. It was a formal garden party with champagne of course, and strawberry tarts.

The women looked elegant and cool in lacy sundresses, broad-brimmed hats and lots of make-up. They hid in the shade.

Three-piece suits with tightly-buttoned collars made the men look uncomfortable in the broiling sun. They gathered around the bar.

A traveling choir of French school boys, dressed in perfect French short pants, sang the Marsillaise with perfectly French bouishness. They waved their flags.

Ambassador Jacques Kosciusko-Morizel gave a proper French speech about patriotism, democracy and the Concorde.

"There are points where we disagree with the great city of New York and we think they are afraid of the truth," he said. "But, oh well . . ."

It was not a day for politics. It was much too hot.

It was, however, a day of sentimentality - another thing the French are very good at.

"This is the only opportunity the French have to be on a little island of France right in the middle of Washington," said Carvel Debussy, chairman of the language department at the new District of Columbia University.

"Here we feel a little bit at home."

Mayor Walter Washington, the ambassador's guest, arrived late at the party, bowing and smiling at the heavy French accents. "It IS a fine day, isn't it," he answered everyone.

Attendance at the embassy's formal Bastille Day party has grown steadily smaller in the past few years. Three years ago, there were over 1,500 people gathered there. This year, the crowd was around 500.

"Things are different in Washington now than they have been," said one guest Marie Helene Tisa. "The restaurants and cafe's are doing more to celebrate, and the embassy is not the only place to go anymore."

Many American citizens who were born in France are angry with the embassy because it prefers its guests to be citizens of France.

Only those guests who have a French passport are allowed through the embassy gates on Bastille Day. Others must have an invitation. This policy was started two years ago, according to an embassy spokesman.

"Bastille Day is for the French," he said.

"I could not go to the reception today because I am an American," Dominique D'Ermo said bitterly. "They ask for a passport to get a strawberry at the embassy."