The good and bad sides of French culture in 2021


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Paris (AFP)- For French culture, still a beacon for much of the world, it has been a year of stuttering back to freedom amid fears that the old normal will never fully return.

There have been bright spots as a backlog of great art from the tougher 2020 lockdowns has poured out, but there have also been darker times.

– Festival of art lovers –

It was a treat for art lovers in Paris in 2021, when museums were packed with shows postponed from the previous year, from Banksy and Georgia O’Keefe to Botticelli and Salvador Dali, as well as two shows at once for David Hockney.

A battle of fashion industry billionaires added to the embarrassment of riches.

Kering owner Francois Pinault eventually opened his $194 million museum of modern art (Bourse de Commerce), while cross-town rival the Louis Vuitton Foundation countered with the Morozov collection, a treasure trove of chefs – artwork brought from Russia, including little-seen works by Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne and many others.

Hockney has presented exhibitions at the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Cartier Foundation due to pandemic-induced schedule changes Thomas COEXAFP

#MeToo arrives in the world of theater

France has at times felt like less than fertile ground for the #MeToo movement, and its legendary theater world has been no exception.

That started to change in 2021 after a theater blogger accused a famed Comédie-Française actor of rape, sparking a flurry of similar stories from women in the industry and protests in October.

Much anger has been directed at the Théâtre de la Colline, one of France’s six national theatres, after commissioning two controversial figures: Jean-Pierre Baro, who has been accused of rape (although the complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence), and rock star Bertrand Cantat. , who beat his girlfriend to death in 2003.

Cannes regains its glitter

The pandemic nearly forced a second year without the world’s best film festival, but despite a three-month delay, the Cannes Film Festival returned in (almost) glitzy form in July.

There were fewer kisses on the cheeks at the top of the red carpet and pointed reminders for celebrities to keep their masks on at premieres.

But it was a vintage year, with a slew of A-list stars and arthouse geniuses seemingly marking the official return of cinema as cinemas reopened around the world.

It was also a good year for women, with Julia Ducournau becoming the second woman to win the Palme d’Or for her bloodthirsty “Titane” festival.

– A plummeting wine production –

Already hard hit by the pandemic, the French food sector faced additional challenges in 2021.

Winemakers were forced to light fires around the vines due to a late frost in April
Winemakers were forced to light fires around the vines due to a late frost in April WILLIAM SOUVANT AFP

Adverse weather conditions, including spring frosts, hailstorms and deluges of summer rain, have resulted in “extremely low” wine production not seen since the 1950s.

And while the cheese sector has done well as a comfort food, the news that Italian mozzarella is fast catching up with Camembert as France’s favorite cheese has been horrified.

African novelists rewarded

Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr has become the first from sub-Saharan Africa to win France’s top literary prize, the Goncourt, while two of his compatriots have won the International Booker (David Diop) and the Neustadt Prize (Boubacar Boris Diop ).

This mirrored successes elsewhere as Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah became a Nobel laureate and South African Damon Galgut won the English Booker.

These were not token gestures: as one critic told AFP, they showed that the Western industry was finally acknowledging a burgeoning literary scene in Africa that “doesn’t really need recognition anymore”.

by Sarr "The most secret memory of man" avoided all clichés of African literature, focusing on literature itself
Sarr’s “Man’s Most Secret Memory” eschewed all the clichés of African literature, focusing on literature itself Thomas SAMSONAFP

But the best news for the French edition came from sales figures – up 19% from 2019, as many took solace in a good book during lockdowns.

– Neutral pronouns trigger division –

The decision of a major French reference dictionary to include “iel” – a mixture of him and her (“he” and “she”) – caused traditionalists to spit on the American-inspired “wokeism” invading their venerable language.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said “inclusive writing is not the future of the French language”.

Robert’s manager said it was just defining a word that was already in use.


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