Le Goncourt – The Most Coveted Literary Prize in France

Article publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in 2010)

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Like every year, it has been a pretty frantic fall in bookstores all over France but with the last literary prizes being handed out right now, the “rentrée littéraire” (the start of the new publishing season) is finally coming to an end. Nearly 2,000 literary prizes exist in France, but only a handful of them really provide for a boost in sales: The Goncourt, Renaudot, Femina, Interallié and Médicis. The others mainly bring recognition for the author, such as the Grand Prix awarded by the Académie Française, the almost four-century-old watchdog of the French language, or honor a particular genre: poetry, humor…

However, among all those prizes, the one all French writers really covet is the Goncourt, a prize that dates back to 1903 and counts among its recipients Marcel ProustAndré Malraux,Romain Gary and Marguerite Duras. Not for the check that goes with the award, a mere 10 Euros, but for the celebrity status and royalties it brings to the winner. Indeed, as soon as a novel wins the prize, it starts selling – the winner can expect to sell at least some 500,000 copies of his novel.

This year’s Goncourt was awarded last Monday to Michel Houellebecq, “l’enfant terrible” of French literature for “La Carte et le Territoire” (The Map and the Territory), probably one of the author’s less controversial books.

Set largely in Paris, the novel tells the story of a solitary, misanthropic artist, Jed Martin, who gains global fame first for his photographs of old Michelin maps of regions of France and then for his realistic paintings of business moguls.

The book has garnered enthusiastic reviews from critics and was already a best-seller before winning the Goncourt with more than 150,000 copies sold so far.

Many of Houellbeck’s previous works were fuelled with explicit sex scenes and disparaging and shocking comments about womenminorities and Islam, which explains why the author counts nearly as many detractors as fans. However, few people would disagree that the author, who is without contest France’s best-known living writer, was long over due for the honour. Twice before, he has seen the prize slip through his fingers, in 1998 and 2005, respectively for “Les Particules Elémentaires” (Atomised) and “La possibilité d’une île” (the Possibility of an Island).

Seven of the committee members voted for Houellebecq to receive the prize, with the remaining two supporting Viriginie Despentes and her book “Apocalypse Bébé”, a detective novel about the search for a missing teenage girl. She was awarded the Renaudot Prize, which traditionally goes to the runner-up for the Goncourt.

 

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Les Petits Mouchoirs set to break all records

Article publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in 2010)

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It is the movie event of the fall in France … With more than 1.3  tickets sold in just a week, French actor and film director Guillaume Canet’s new offering «Les Petits Mouchoirs» (Little White Lies) is on its way to set the box office record for 2010. It has already broken the box-office record for best opening week by a French film this year. Not really a surprise considering the popularity of Canet, the subject-matter of the movie and its all-star cast.

Guillaume Canet’s  film as director, “Ne le Dis à Personne” (Tell No One), an adaptation of Harlan Coben’s novel of the same name, was the ninth top grossing French film of 2006 and went on to win four César awards (The French equivalent to the Academy Awards) including a César for Best Director for Canet. It also became a foreign-language hit in most European countries as well as at the U.S. box office.

While ‘Tell No One‘ was a tight thriller, this new movie is an emotional multiple-story work about friendship, with all thecowardiceuncontrollable laughter and emotional woundsthat go with it. The film follows a group of longtime friends in their thirties and forties who, like every year, plan to travel from Paris to the seaside peninsula Cap Ferrat to spend their summer vacation. However, this year, as they get ready to leave the capital, their friend Ludo is hurt in a serious accident; an event that will set off a dramatic chain of reactions and emotional responses. As each character struggles with the news, he or she will have to “lift the veil” on all the secrets and things that have been left unsaid.

It is Canet’s most personal and intimate film, one he has been working on for more than two years, and to add even more authenticity to it, he has chosen his real-life friends to play the protagonists, starting with his girlfriend, Academy award winner Marion Cotillard, who plays a bisexual documentarian, François Cluzet, Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lelouche, Benoît Magimel and Anne Marivin. He even gave supporting roles to his musician friends Matthieu Chedid (aka M) and Maxim Nucci (aka Yodélice) who play two of Cotillard’s love interests.

The movie may not be a masterpiece but it strikes the perfect balance between great comical situations and emotional scenes to embark the audience on a real and entertaining rollercoaster of emotions.

 

Of Gods and Men – A Plea for Tolerance and Understanding

Article publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in 2010)

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Released just a week ago and winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Xavier Beauvois’s latest movie “Des hommes et des dieux” (Of Gods and Men”) is a beautiful hymn to peace and fraternity, as well as a compassionate plea for tolerance and understanding between religions.

The movie, which is set in a Cistercian monastery in Algeria, is based on the true story of seven French monks who were killed by Islamic fundamentalists in 1996. Nearly 15 years have passed since the tragedy but the identity of those responsible remains unclear. The massacre was initially attributed to the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) but according to documents from French secret services, the monks may have been killed instead by the Algerian army during a failed rescue attempt.

Beauvois does not try to solve the mystery but instead focuses on the last few months of the monks, their quiet existence in the monastery in cordial harmony with the local Muslim population, and their doubts as the country is increasingly falling into the grips of fundamentalists. His film may be about men of God but it goes beyond religion to become a movie about men.

Should we stay or should we leave? That’s the question the brothers are musing on for the most part of the movie. ‘Dying for my faith shouldn’t keep me up at nights,’ says at one point one of the Cistercian monks to the others but as days go by and violence escalates outside their walls, none of them manages to present any real argument for leaving or for staying.

Without any artifices or unnecessary melodrama, Beauvois put the audience in the monks’ sandals and lets the story tell itself. The brothers are endearing characters and are portrayed by a terrific ensemble cast led by Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale. In the dinner sequence near the end, the camera shows each protagonist one by one and it is hard not to be mesmerized by those faces.

Xavier Beauvois has made a name for himself with movies such as N’oublie pas que tu vas mourir (Don’t Forget You’re Going To Die) in 1995 and the police story Le Petit Lieutenant (2005) but with this powerful drama, he is really showing that he is mastering his art.

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio – an author for all seasons

Article publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in 2010)

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Now that the summer is here, there are a few essentials that you need at the beach: the towels, the sun block and the parasol of course but also…good books. Some will opt for frivolous or light novels but for those of you looking for something more substantial, this summer may offer a good occasion to discover – or rediscover – the work of local author and 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio which is now, for the most part, available in English.

Hailed by the Nobel Prize committee as “an author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”, Le Clézio was born in Nice in 1940. He began writing at the age of seven en route to Nigeria where his father was a medical doctor in the British army. The family returned to Nice in 1950, where Le Clézio completed his secondary education before attending the Bristol University, the University of London, the University of Aix-en-Provence and the University of Perpignan.

As a writer, Le Clézio made his breakthrough in 1963 with his first novel, Le Procès-verbal (The Interrogation), which was awarded the prestigious Renaudot Prize. Since then, he has published more than 30 books and has lived and taught all over the world – including at a Buddhist university in Thailand.

The author has dual French and Mauritian citizenship and today he and his Moroccan wife, Jemia, share their time between Albuquerque in New Mexico, the island of Mauritius and Nice. Considered by many critics as an avant-garde writer, his work has been inspired by his constant travels. The clash of cultures, man’s struggle against globalization, exile, memory and the endurance of the human spirit are some of the recurrent themes in his books.

Désert (1980), for instance, is an epic novel that spans the twentieth century and ranges across two continents; North Africa and Europe. It tells the story of a young nomad woman, Lalla, from the Sahara who became a successful photo model in France before returning to Tangiers to give birth to her child. A parallel story tells of the crushing of the Tuaregs at the beginning of the 20th century by the French colonizers.

In Étoile Errante (Wandering Star), Le Clézio wrote about a Jewish woman who in 1943, found safety in Saint-Martin-Vésubie. The refugees are eyed with some suspicion by the local population and soon have to flee again and the heroine will spend the following forty years searching for safety and inner peace. Meanwhile, the author’s latest novel,Ritournelle de la Faim explores French guilt over its wartime past.

Grimaud – One of France’s Most Beautiful Detours

Article publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in 2010)

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The medieval village of Grimaud, in Le Var, may not have made the list of the “most beautiful French villages”, it is nonetheless considered one of France’s “plus beaux détours”, an honour bestowed on little towns with a population of at least 2,000 but no more than 20,000.

Located just a few miles away from the world-famous and glamorous St. Tropez, this charming perched-village has managed to remain unspoiled and offers a relaxed and calm alternative to tourists wary of the crowded summers on the Riviera.

Just take any of the cobbled streets and start wondering among the terracotta tiled houses and the bougainvillier flowered façades. You will relive a long history that began with the Gallo-Roman age. Your steps will lead you to the ruins of the 11th Century castle that offers an amazing panoramic view of the Gulf of Saint Tropez, which, until the end of the 19th century was called “Gulf of Grimaud“. For a long time – until the 17th century to be precise – the castle controlled the access to the gulf from the North and from the Maures mountains.

During your stroll, you will pass by the St. Michel’s Church, built during the Roman era, the Penitents’ Chapel (15th Century), St. Roch’s Chapel (18th Century), St. Roch’s Windmill, built in the 17th Century but restored recently by the “Compagnons du Tour de France“, as well as many cute squares and beautiful provencal houses.

Further down the hill, the remains of the 16th century Pont des Fées (“fairy bridge”) shows how the village’s water supply was guaranteed.

Today, however, Grimaud is much more than just a medieval village and its most famous feature is probablyPort-Grimaud, which cannot be more different from the village itself. Conceived in 1966 by the architect François Spoerry, this marina or “lake-dwelling” city has more than 2,400 properties and more than 2,000 boat moorings. It also has 7km of canals, spread over 90 hectares and is one of the most frequented places in France. However, despite its modernity, it has been declared a registered monument of the 20th century by the Ministry of Culture.

Suzy Solidor – Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

Article publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in 2010)

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Who was Suzy Solidor? That’s a question many visitors to the Château-Musée Grimaldi in Cagnes-sur-Mer are probably asking themselves when they discover the impressive collection of portraits of this tall blond woman painted by some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Few people may remember her name today but Suzy Solidor, who was born Suzanne Louise Marie Marion on 18 December 1900 in the little town of Saint-Servan-sur-Mer in Brittany, was a model, a popular singer, a night club owner, a writer and an actress.

Born to a 28-year-old single mother, she changed her name toSuzy Solidor when she moved to Paris in the late 1920’s to work as a model. Soon thereafter she became the lover of antiques dealer Yvonne de Bremond d’Ars. The two women who had adopted the androgynous look so popular at the time, made the covers of numerous fashion magazines such as Vogue and Fémina.

In 1929, Suzy Solidor began a successful career as a singer. In a deep, captivating and sensual voice, she sang about the sea and her love for women. “Ouvre” and “Obsession” for instance are two unequivocal lesbian hymns. Even though Solidor was openly gay, she was also rumoured to have had a liaison with famed aviator, Jean Mermoz.

In 1933, Solidor opened her first cabaret “La Vie Parisienne“, which became one of the trendiest night spots in Paris and saw the debuts of such artists as Suzy DelairColette Mars and Charles Trénet. She also wrote four novels and played in four movies between 1935 and 1940: «Escale» (1935), «La garçonne» (1936), «La femme du bout du monde» (1937) et «Ceux du ciel» (1940).

During the war, her cabaret remained opened and was very popular with the German officers. Solidor regularly sang the French version of “Lili Marlène” for her audience – probably the most famous songs of that period since the Germans could also hear it sung by Marlène Dietrich and the Americans by Lale Andersen – and attended many galas organized by Radio Paris, the German- controlled radio.

Convicted by the Épuration légale as a collaborator, Solidor was forbidden to work for a few years after the war and her cabaret was closed. After a brief stay in the States, Solidor came back to France and opened a few new cabarets, first in Paris, then in Cagnes-Sur-Mer where she moved in 1966 and stayed until her death, at the age of 82.

Despite a long and rich artistic career, Solidor’s most famous achievement was to become known as the “most painted woman in the world”, with no less that 200 portraits made of her by the like of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, Marie Laurencin, Francis Picabia and Kees van Dongen. Her only requirement for posing was that she would be given the paintings to hang in her club. Her most famous portrait is probably the one that was done by Tamara de Lempicka, where she appears in the nude and is one of the paintings on display in the Château Grimaldi.

Gainsbourg, the man behind the myth

Article publié dans FR2DAY en février 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in February 2010)

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Audiences across France are flocking to cinemas to see Serge Gainsbourg, Vie Héroïque (Serge Gainsbourg, a Heroic Life), a French biopic about one of the country’s most original artists of the 20th century. The movie is, however, less about the Gainsbourg myth than the man himself. As Joann Sfar’s biopic shows, the fascination with his life was as much about his creativity as about his private life and the numerous women the artist loved. So who was the man behind the myth?

Today many people remember Gainsbourg as a provocative artist who burned 500 francs during an interview, made a lewd proposal to Whitney Houston on live television, recorded a reggae version of the sacred «La Marseillaise» and appeared half naked with his 14-year-old daughter Charlotte in the video for «Lemon incest». His 1969 duet with long-time companion Jane Birkin, 1969 “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus,” was banned in many corners of the globe because of its steamy lyrics and explicit heavy breathing but still reached the top of the charts throughout Europe and became the first French song to be number one in England.

But Gainsbourg was much more than an over-the-top artist and provocateur. After his death in 1991, he was hailed by President Francois Mitterrand as “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire” and nobody can argue today that his impact on French music is inestimable. Whether one listens to Serge Gainsbourg’s early recordings from the fifties and sixties, his compositions for other artists or more contemporary albums, one hears the music of a man totally connected to his time. With over 200 songs recorded by everyone from Marianne Faithfull and Petula Clark toIsabelle Adjani and Vanessa Paradis, Gainsbourg reached an audience that spanned generations and borders.

Gainsbourg was born Lucien Ginzberg in Paris on April 2, 1928. His parents were Russian Jews who fled to France following the events of the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. He survived the German occupation and attended the Ecole Superieure des Beaux Artsafter the war before working as a bar pianist on the local cabaret circuit.

Gainsbourg’s early songs attracted the attention of other artists and soon he was writing for singers from the left bank such asJuliette Gréco and Yves Montand. He gained his status as France’s main songwriter soon after, in 1965, when France Gallwon first prize at the Eurovision festival with his song “Poupée de cire, poupée de son“, (Doll of Wax, Doll of Sawdust).

By all accounts, Gainbourg was rough, coarse and even downright nasty at times. He was an indifferent-looking guy with a cynical approach to life and a very dark sense of humor. Still, he managed to get most women he wanted. Gainsbourg thought of himself as a very ugly man, and this self-consciousness lent a dark edge to his music. It may be that eccentric behavior and challenging music that made him so fascinating and hypnotic for women. His image fitted so perfectly the “dark, moody artist” mould.

The beautiful women who crossed his path became his muses, and sometimes his lovers. Aside from Jane Birkin, his most famous conquest was without doubt Brigitte Bardot with whom he performed in the late ‘60s a series of fun duets, such as “Comic Strip” and “Bonnie and Clyde”. With Bardot as his muse, Gainsbourg’s music suddenly became erotic and delirious, and the scenes that recount their romance are the highlights of this very interesting movie about an even more interesting character.

Bienvenue sur mon blog – Welcome to my blog

Ce blog est le journal d’une amoureuse des mots. Fervente lectrice et écrivain à mes heures perdues, je souhaite partager avec vous mes différentes publications…En français et en anglais !

This blog is the diary of a lover of words. An avid reader and a writer in my spare time, I wish to share with you my different publications…In French and in English!