French cultural life - March 2019

A round-up of news, and those creating ‘le buzz’ in French cultural life

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A bumper year for museums

A round up of the arts and culture stories creating a buzz in France

1. Big year for Paris museums

In 2018, leading Paris museums bounced back from the capital’s international tourism slump of recent years (attributed to terror threats) – with some sites posting record visitor figures.

The Centre Pompidou saw a 5% rise in visitors, and the Orsay was up 3%. Its exhibition Picasso. Blue and Rose, ended with a record attendance of 670,667.

Unexpected boons came for the Panthéon, which recorded a 19% year-on-year increase (859,600 visits), benefiting from the June 2018 burial of former Minister Simone Veil. The Sainte-Chapelle (pictured above) was another under-the-radar success with 1.27 million visits (+19.9%).

These and the Arc de Triomphe (up 6.36%) are run by Centre des monuments nationaux (CMN), whose President, Philippe Bélaval, cited “an excellent level of French and foreign tourism in France” and “the fact that we have never talked so much about heritage”, with in particular the promotional work of TV presenter and historian Stéphane Bern and the new lottery dedicated to heritage sites.

2. Gettafix of Obélix this October

Astérix and Obélix fans will be able to enjoy the pair’s latest adventures in October, when the 38th book in the wildly popular series is published.

The plot is fiercely guarded, with only ten people in the know and sharing of pages amongst the writers digitally encrypted to avoid hacking.

Scriptwriter Jean-Yves Ferri, one of the latest author pairings alongside cartoonist Didier Conrad, offered a tantalising peak at how the story will begin. “We’re at dusk in front of the chief’s hut. We see three enigmatic visitors. If you look closely, you can already deduce things... Remember that someone very important is coming to the village”.

Retired series Creator Albert Uderzo, 91, “rereads and shares his comments with us”, said Ferri. (Co-creator René Goscinny died in 1977).

The book goes to print in June, with 5 million copies set to roll off the presses.

3. Radio France

French public service radio broadcaster. Radio France has sold off some of its historically important musical instruments and outdated broadcasting equipment.

Among the items sold, either in situ at 116 avenue du Président Kennedy in Paris, or online, were instruments such as Steinway and Yamaha pianos, a harp and timpani. Meanwhile, collectors of vintage gear snapped up equipment such as studio 2-track tape recorders, sound console and faders and even studio clocks.

The items were “steeped in the history of Radio France’s medium-sized studios”, said the broadcaster, while a sound engineer commented: “Audio technology is evolving very quickly, but consoles that are ten or twelve years old can last twenty years. They will continue a second life elsewhere.”

The money raised by the sale will be used to renovate and update the studios.

4. Shining a light on homeless ‘invisibles’

A recent film directed by Louis-Julien Petit examines the fate of homeless women who attend a day centre in northern France which is under threat of closure due to funding cuts.

Despite tackling head-on gritty issues faced by the women – violence, prison, life on the streets and re-integration
back into society – the film is packed with humour to off-set the pathos. Its tragi-comic power has been compared to The Full Monty.

Working alongside social workers to reshape their destiny, the womens’ resilience shines through. What is more remarkable is that, alongside established and popular actresses such as Audrey Lamy (whom you may recognise from TV comedy Scènes de Ménages) and Corinne Masiero, around 15 non-professional actresses have speaking parts.

The director spent a year as a volunteer in women’s shelters in Grenoble.