Throughout the month I come across a fair number of francophile-related articles, blogs, images, books, or videos that I’d like to share with readers. I’ve combined this potpourri of news items into a single post. Here are some of the gems from January as well as a brief book review and my take on a couple of films that may serve as a welcome distraction during these cold winter months of confinement. In many cases, I provide a link that you can follow to the original source for further details.
Champs Élysées Greenspace
In early January, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, announced an ambitious plan to give the Champs-Élyées a €250m makeover. The project involves turning the 1.2-mile route in the heart of Paris into “an extraordinary garden.” Local community leaders have been campaigning to make significant upgrades to the famous avenue since 2018.
Over the last 30 years, more and more tourists have flocked to Paris, adding a stroll along one of the world’s most iconic thoroughfares to their “must-do” vacationing checklist. International businesses have also vied to open storefronts on the celebrated street. But Parisians, apparently, feel the strip is “looking worn out” and “has lost its splendor”.
Before the Covid-19 crisis, architect Philippe Chiambaretta, whose firm PCA-Stream provided plans for the project, stated that of the estimated 100,000 pedestrians on the avenue every day, 72% were tourists and 22% work there. His goals include reducing traffic on the 8-lane avenue, lowering air pollution, and creating a space that is “ecological, desirable and inclusive”.
The transformation is currently scheduled to take place after Paris hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics. It aligns with other initiatives to turn Paris into an eco-friendly city, with more green, less vehicle exhaust, more bicycles, fewer traffic jams, more mass transit options, and less concrete.
Magritte Meme du Jour
The Bonfire of Destiny
I’m not sure how long this French television series has been on Netflix, but I discovered it in January and ended up watching the entire series over the course of a week or so. The first episode is based on a true event that took place in Paris in 1897, when a large convention hall caught fire. The people inside were mostly upper-class women who were holding a bazaar to raise money for charity. More than one hundred were killed and dozens were left scarred or disfigured.
Episode 1 briefly introduces the backstories of the main characters and then turns into a typical disaster film with drawn out scenes of people getting trapped inside the bazaar and either succumbing to the flames or making a narrow escape. I found myself fast-forwarding in search of a storyline. The series stars one of my favorite French comediennes, Audrey Fleurot, so I decided to stick with it. Happily, the plot quickly thickened and I soon found myself engrossed in the twists and turns of a romantic drama that resembled something Alexander Dumas might have written.
Below is the trailer dubbed in English but I encourage you to watch in the original French. You can turn on English subtitles if necessary or French closed caption.
Faux Fronts bring Smiles
Since the pandemic, people around the world have mourned not only the loss of their autonomy but the loss of businesses in their communities that have been forced to close. Photographer Bernard Russo embarked on an innovative project to revive some of the closed-up buildings in the town of Aurillac, France.
Russo has traveled the world, capturing life through his lens in faraway places that most westerners will never visit. He decided to photograph some of the beleaguered business facades in Aurillac and then superimpose colorful images from his travels. He then made large prints of the resulting combinations and displayed them on the boarded-up storefronts throughout Aurillac for all to enjoy. Below is one example. To see his full gallery, click here.
Des Devoirs, Homework
Question: Do you think the little rabbit wanted to befriend the wolf? Justify your answer.
Reply: No because he’s not a moron.
My French Film Festival
There are many excellent feature-length films and shorts available through February 15 at myfrenchfilmfestival.com. Last week I watched on a shared Zoom screen with one of my francophile friends. The movie we chose, titled Camille, is based on the true exploits of Camille LaPage, a female photojournalist who covered combat zones in the Central African Republic.
The movie is sprinkled with sequences of LaPage’s actual still shots. It’s a touching tribute to a young adventurer and talented visual storyteller who was tragically killed by rebel crossfire in 2014. Before viewing, we were a bit nervous that some scenes might become too violent but that was not the case. I highly recommend this superbly worthwhile docudrama.
I’ve heard many people talk about how much they enjoy the award-winning crime series by Louise Penny, featuring the French-Canadian Inspector Armand Gamache. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of books in this genre. Nevertheless, I occasionally come upon mysteries that I appreciate and given the hype surrounding this series, I thought Still Life would deliver.
I would have been happy to read a different book in the series but a couple of friends, as well as reviews I’d read online, recommended that I start with the first. After reading it last month, I can’t imagine how this book has received as many good reviews as it has. The story is plodding and implausible, many of the characters are poorly developed, and the humor is juvenile. I found the climax to be ridiculously contrived and the writing rudimentary. If you love mysteries, you should know that my opinion is in the tiny minority of reviewers, but I just couldn’t find much to like.
While reading, I kept wanting to quit and cut my losses but felt I should give it every chance, so forged on to the end. I’m not sure I’m glad I did but I’m glad it’s over. Au revoir Inspector Gamache et bon débarras!
French Animation Festival
This next piece of news is actually for February. Between February 5 and 15, the Alliance Française will be holding an online animation film festival. For $20, fans of animation will have access to 9 feature films, 10 short programs, and 7 live talks. For details, click here.
“Let’s get married after COVID restrictions are lifted…”
“So… happy?” “Absolutely!”