The good and the bad 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 returning to freedom, stammering amid fears that the old normalcy will never fully return.

There were bright spots as a high-art backlog of 2020’s tougher lockdowns spread, but there were also darker moments.

– Festival of art lovers –

It was a party for art lovers in Paris in 2021, as museums were teeming with shows carried over from the previous year, from Banksy and Georgia O’Keefe to Botticelli and Salvador Dali, as well as two shows both for David Hockney.

A battle of billionaires in the fashion industry added to the embarrassment of wealth.

Kering owner François Pinault finally opened his $ 194 million modern art museum (Bourse de Commerce). works by Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne and many others.

Hockney has organized exhibitions at the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Fondation Cartier due to calendar reshuffles induced by the pandemic Thomas COEX AFP

#MeToo enters the world of theater

France has at times felt like fertile ground for the #MeToo movement, and its theatrical universe was no exception.

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

Much anger was directed at the Théâtre de la Colline, one of France’s six national theaters, after commissioning two controversial figures: Jean-Pierre Baro, who was charged with 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 shine

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

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

But it was a vintage year, with a slew of top stars and arthouse geniuses appearing to mark the official return of cinema just as cinemas reopen around the world.

It was also a strong year for women, Julia Ducournau becoming only the second woman to win the Palme d’Or for her wacky blood festival “Titanium”.

– Fall in wine production

Already hard hit by the pandemic, the French agri-food sector was faced with additional problems 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 GUILLAUME SOUVANT AFP

Adverse weather conditions including spring frosts, hailstorms and summer downpours have led to “extremely low” wine production not seen since the 1950s.

And while the cheese business has performed well as a lockdown comfort food, there has been horror at the news that Italian mozarella is quickly catching up with Camembert as the French favorite cheese.

African novelists rewarded

Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr became the first from sub-Saharan Africa to win the biggest French literary prize, the Goncourt, while two of his compatriots won the International Booker (David Diop) and the Neustadt Prize (Boubacar Boris Diop).

This mirrored success elsewhere, with Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah becoming a Nobel Prize winner and South African Damon Galgut winning the English-speaking Booker.

These were not symbolic gestures: as one critic told AFP, it showed that Western industry was finally recognizing a booming literary scene in Africa that “doesn’t really need recognition” .


Sarr "The most secret memory of man" avoided any cliché of African literature, focusing on literature itself
Sarr’s “Secret Memory of Man” eschewed any clichés of African literature, focusing on literature itself Thomas SAMSON AFP

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

– Neutral pronouns trigger division –

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

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

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

About Michael Brafford

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