Bright days ahead as Australia’s French film festival turns 25

On Tuesday night I was treated to a preview screening in Sydney of one the films in the 2014 French Film Festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. I was a guest of Rail Europe and French Travel Connection, two of the national sponsors of the event, which is organised through the good old Alliance Française and runs from March 4-23 in Sydney. But it is a national event – the largest French festival outside of France apparently – and there will be showings in Melbourne (March 5-23), Canberra and Brisbane (both March 6-25), Perth (March 18 to April 6), Adelaide (March 20 to April 8) and even four days in Byron Bay on the NSW north coast (April 24-28). The organisers are hoping to beat the record attendance of 133,000. For more details, here is the festival website.

Photo by Bernardo (camera in one hand, glass of champagne in the other, haha).

Photo by Bernardo (camera in one hand, glass of champagne in the other, haha).

The film we saw this week was Les Beaux Jours, or in English, Bright Days Ahead (a more literal translation of the title would be The Beautiful Days). It is the story of un amour fou or crazy love., and features great performances by the ever radiant Fanny Ardant and Laurent Lafitte as the two lovers, and Patrick Chesnais as the cuckolded husband. Some of my companions at the showing complained the film was a little slow (it was, after all, dealing with the traumas of a retired dentist trying to beat her boredom!) but, as is often the case with French films, its strength is the perceptive analysis and sympathetic treatment of people’s real-life traumas and emotions – turning the ordinary into the extraordinary when it is done well. Here is the trailer, or bande-annonce, in French.

Normally to coincide with the French film festival, a two-CD compilation of recent trendy French music is released under the moniker So Frenchy, So Chic. The 2014 edition is available now, I will do a post on it once I am more familiar with it. The previous year’s one was great, it introduced me to the sounds of Lescop, among others (listen to his track Le Forêt here)

The seafront in Dunkerque (Pic: Wikipedia)

The seafront in Dunkerque (Pic: Wikipedia)

In the meantime, those of you who like soothing piano music should investigate the soundtrack to Les Beaux Jours, featuring pianist and composer Quentin Sirjacq. The music was superb and somehow suited the ‘constrained on the outside, wild underneath’ emotions of the characters in the film, and the windswept scenery of Dunkerque and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, where it was filmed. As an avid traveller, I always yearn to know what locations are used in the film, and I have a rather perverse liking for European beach resorts in the bleak winter weather when the tourist hordes are gone, and the summer circus is over. The soul of the place seems more exposed at these times, they are perfect settings for solitary introspection. You can listen to snippets of the soundtrack  here on the Amazon music site and here on iTunes.

The French film festival has always been a treat for me. I arrived in Australia in 1989, the year the festival first started, and it was always a great way to immerse myself in French language and culture for a couple of weeks, something I could rarely do in the English-language speaking countries that I grew up in in Africa. The only times I have ever managed to dream in French has been during the festival (in my bed, not during the film screenings, haha).

French festival (2)A lot has changed since 1989 – thanks to the internet and other digital media, we now have easy access to films, music, television, radio stations and other content from all over the world. Because of this, it is all too easy to take our ‘real world’ opportunities for granted. I had vowed when I arrived in Australia to go to see every French film that screened in the Sydney, but since then I have become more choosy or, to tell the truth, just lazy. (Note to self: j’ai besoin d’un coup de pied aux fesses – see my post on the F words for an explanation). The point is, we learn languages to be able to converse and socialise, and it is more fun to learn a language alongside other people, be it in a class or in a cinema, than it is sitting at a computer, so if you have these opportunities, take them!

According to the French embassy website, The Alliance Française has 26 centres in Australia, listed here, and of course there are many all over the world.

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Where are all the Portuguese tutors and students?

English: Auckland (New Zealand) CBD view from ...

Auckland (New Zealand) CBD view from the Sky Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, bonjour, ola, hola, ciao, salut. This is a follow-up to the post Is Portuguese ready to steal the limelight?, which queried whether the Lusaphone world was ready to seize the moment and promote the language and culture in the next three years, feeding off the publicity that Brazil will generate when it hosts the World Cup and the Olympics. Last week I was in Auckland, New Zealand. It was much more cosmopolitan than I was expecting. On the fringe of the central business district there is a large university with about 30,000 students, many of them from Asia, and the city has some great restaurants, including a Brazilian one and a French one which I will talk about in another post soon.

Out of curiosity I did some internet searches to see what languages were taught at the local universities. The results were predictable. French, Spanish and Italian were on offer practically everywhere, along with other sought after languages such as German and Mandarin. I couldn’t find anything on Portuguese, even among those universities that offered Latin American studies. I found the website of one large community college in the city and saw that it offered Portuguese Level I and Portuguese Level 2, but when I clicked on the links it said that both courses were currently not available. Either the tutor had vanished or there simply wasn’t enough student demand to make the course viable.

(On the positive side, I did notice that this month and next a Brazilian film festival called Reel Brazil is to be held in Auckland and Wellington. This will be its fourth year, and you can read more about it here if you so wish. For a smallish city – its population is about 1.5 million, Auckland seemed to have a very busy festival calendar, at least at this time of the year.)

Coincidentally, when I returned to Sydney earlier this week, one of the largest community colleges that offers short courses, WEA, published its autumn course schedule in the local newspapers. The college is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and its website is here. Let’s have a look and see what languages are on offer, ranked by the number of courses available:

French: eighteen courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation, as well as French culture and current affairs.

Italian: fourteen courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation, plus Italian for travellers

Spanish: twelve courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation, plus Spanish for travellers.

German: seven courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation.

Chinese: seven courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation.

Japanese: five courses ranging from beginners to advanced conversation.

Latin : four courses ranging from beginners to advanced.

Portuguese: beginners 1 and 2 plus beginners consolidation.

Swedish: beginners 1 and 2.

Indonesian: beginners 1 and 2.

Malay: one course for travellers.

Greek: Modern Greek 2 (number 1 was not on offer!)

Arabic:  beginners 1.

English: Statue of Luís de Camões, Lisbon, Por...

Statue of Luís de Camões, Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s right: Portuguese, said to be the sixth most spoken language in the world, gets outranked at this college by Latin, a so-called dead language! And don’t forget, these courses are in addition to popular courses in French, Italian, Spanish and German taught in Sydney by the Alliance Française, The Italian Cultural Institute, the Instituto Cervantes and the Goethe Institut. The Portuguese government equivalent of these institutions is the Camões – Instituto da Cooperação e da Língua Portugal but it has relatively few offices around the world (Wikipedia lists them here). I don’t even know what, if any, its equivalent is in Brazil. It is named after the great poet Luís de Camões.

Another big college in Sydney that offers short course in various languages is the University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education. Its language department currently offers 22 languages, including six courses in Brazilian Portuguese. But there are more courses available in Arabic, Latin, Vietnamese, Hindi, Japanese, Polish, Thai, Korean, Modern Greek, Chinese, Mandarin, Russian and Turkish (and much more in German, French, Spanish and Italian.)

It seems like Portuguese has got a long, long way to go. Sigh. 

Allo, allo, where are the Francophones anyway?

The spectacular beach of Grand Anse on the isl...

The spectacular beach of Grand Anse on the island of La Digue, Seychelles Français : La plage magnifique de Grand Anse sur l’île de La Digue, Seychelles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my recent posts on Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Romanian I discussed where in the world you were likely to hear them spoken. For some reason, je ne sais pas pourquoi (I don’t know why), I did not do the same for French (apart from saying they speak it in France, d’oh!). So to make up for that omission, here we will take a quick look at other places where you can practise your French and hopefully be understood by the natives. On most of the countries mentioned I have included a link to their entry in Wikipedia so that you can find out more about them if you want (I love armchair travelling), and that is why they appear in a light blue type.

All in all, according to Wikipedia, there are 29 countries where France is listed as an official language. The most obvious ones are those that border France, such as Belgium, Switzerland and Monaco, but you can go much further afield than that.

Château Frontenac, Quebec City, Canada

Château Frontenac, Quebec City, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You will also hear French spoken in Quebec and other parts of Canada, of course, although if you have ever seen any French-Canadian films you will notice that sometimes the accent and the slang can sound odd if you are not used to it. But as the French say, vive la différenceMontreal and Quebec City are high up on the list of cities I want to visit, and the English-speaking parts of Canada are not bad either! Vancouver, for example, often features in the lists of the top 10 most livable cities in the world. If you fancy an island holiday then Seychelles, Reunion La Réunion or  New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie) would be among the places to head for, although they are a bit out of the way, but worth getting to. Just look up Isle of Pines in New Caledonia on Google images, for example, and you will be met with a beautiful array of alluring scenes. If you are in the Caribbean, make the island of Guadeloupe a port of call. It, too, is an overseas region of France. Mauritius was once ruled by the French, so that’s another possibility.

A house from French colonial time (French West...

A house dating from French colonial time in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

France also had many colonies in Africa – Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia up in North Africa; Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoireand Cameroon (République du Camerounin West and Equatorial Africa, to name just a few – although how widely French is spoken in its former colonies can vary from country to country and the political attitudes towards France. Many former colonies have had to go through wars of independence. One of the best films I have seen on the French colonial wars was Intimate Enemies, (L’Ennemi intime), made in 2007. Although it dealt with events in Algeria, the African scenes were apparently filmed in Morocco, and the mountain and valley scenery was stunning. I know southern Africa quite well, having lived in a number of countries there. Africa is a remarkably beautiful continent, but it seems to get a raw deal from the tourist industry. I suppose it is regarded as a bit rough and raw by the so-called “civilised world”, but often the rough and the raw can provide the most rewarding tourist experiences. Follow your sense of adventure and give exotic Africa a go!

English: French colonial architecture in Hanoi...

French colonial architecture in Hanoi, Vietnam.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In South-East Asia, Vietnam and Cambodia were once part of what was known as French Indochina. Vietnam has become a trendy tourist destination nowadays and its capital, Hanoi, is known for its French colonial architecture. Probably they make nice croissants there too! But in Asia, as in many parts of Africa, the French withdrawal from the colonies was often not a happy one and in Asia the conflict was particularly traumatic. By now, though, I should imagine that bygones have been allowed to be bygones. Oublions le passé, as the French say (Let’s forget the past).

So, there you have it, there are a lot of tantalising places in the world to choose from. Happy travelling, or bon voyage. And if there is no possibility of going to any of these places, you can always give your good old local Alliance Française a go. What would we do without them?

I have a plug-in that helps find pictures and images that I can use that have already been cleared for general use without contravening copyrights. I was looking for a map of the Francophone world and have included what it offered below, but for the life of me I could not blow it up to a decent size to make it more readable. You will have to use a magnifying glass. Sorry about that – pardon, excusez-moi, je suis désolé.

Till next time, à bientôt,  Bernardo 🙂

English: Map of the whole French Empire, In da...

A map of the whole French Empire, In dark green, the first colonial empire, in light green the second colonial empire.  Une carte de tout l’Empire Français, En vert foncé, le 1er Empire colonial. En vert clair, le 2eme Empire colonial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)