Agnès C. Poirier

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Joaquin Phoenix in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon (2023). Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

When the trailer for Ridley Scott’s Napoleon was released last summer, French social networks shuddered with excitement. The trailer’s promises were bountiful, and the historical inaccuracies spotted here and there (no, Napoleon didn’t fire cannon at the Pyramids) did little to dent our enthusiasm; great artists are allowed some poetic licence, after all. How daring of the 85-year-old English film-maker to tackle such a momentous subject – we were in awe already. Would his Napoleon measure up to his masterful debut, The Duellists, set in France during the Napoleonic wars and adapted from a short story by Joseph Conrad? Hopes were running high.…  Seguir leyendo »

Emmanuel Macron walks through the Galerie des Bustes at the palace of Versailles in 2017. Photograph: Étienne Laurent/AFP/Getty Images

The Communist trade unions, the far left and a ragtag group of provocateurs had warned that they would do anything to disrupt King Charles’s three-day state visit to France. According to intelligence service reports leaked to Le Parisien, they were actively planning action in Versailles and Bordeaux during Charles and Camilla’s visit.

In the end, their threats were taken seriously. Besides, the 4,000 policemen and women dedicated to the royal event could be of urgent use elsewhere. To the relief of the masters of protocol and the diplomats, and of an overwhelming majority of the French people – who would have been mortified if their guests of honour had been inconvenienced in any way – President Emmanuel Macron decided to spare the king the very French drama playing out in our streets.…  Seguir leyendo »

Samuel Paty, the French history teacher, who was beheaded after showing his students caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Photograph: Picasa 2 7/Flickr

Since that fateful morning of 7 January 2015, and the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it sometimes feels as if we French are living our lives between terrorist assaults, each as vile as the previous but each more poignant in its viciousness and symbolism. When we think this can’t get any worse, a new attack proves us wrong.

In the past five years, Islamists in France have targeted and murdered journalists, cartoonists, policemen and women, soldiers, Jews, young people at a concert, football fans, families at a Bastille Day fireworks show, an 86-year-old priest celebrating mass in his little Normandy church, tourists at a Christmas market...…  Seguir leyendo »

A member of the Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vests movement, at a protest against rising fuel taxes, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Saturday. Credit Michel Euler / Associated Press

Familiar Parisian images are back in the news: black smoke billowing from makeshift barricades on the Champs-Élysées; cobblestones hurled at the police by protesters; the Arc de Triomphe disappearing behind a cloud of tear gas. But this time, the images feature something new: The protesters are wearing yellow, high-visibility vests.

They aren’t longhaired students or militant trade unionists or even angry farmers. They are unaffiliated with a political party and they come from a variety of class backgrounds. Leaderless, they have gathered thanks to social media and they have pointedly called themselves Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vests. They are shaking French politics to the core.…  Seguir leyendo »

Igual que los estadounidenses sienten desde hace mucho tiempo cierta fascinación por las francesas y sus actitudes respecto al amor y el sexo, los franceses se han sentido siempre intrigados por las opiniones de los estadounidenses sobre el sexo, las normas sexuales y las relaciones entre hombres y mujeres. Un ejemplo fue Simone de Beauvoir.

En América día a día, que escribió cuando vivió en Estados Unidos en 1947, la autora observaba a sus homólogas estadounidenses con una perplejidad que todavía hoy caracteriza las relaciones entre las mujeres de los dos países. “La mujer americana es un mito”, escribió. “Se la suele considerar una mantis religiosa que devora al varón.…  Seguir leyendo »

François Pages/Paris Match via Getty Images. Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Meudon, France, 1957

On December 12, Antoine Gallimard, head of the illustrious French publishing house founded by his grandfather Gaston in 1919, received a letter from the French prime minister’s office. It was signed by Frédéric Potier, head of the prime minister’s “delegation in charge of fighting racism, anti-Semitism and anti-LGBT hatred.” It was a polite but firm invitation to meet. In fact, the French government was summoning a French publisher to ask the company to justify its decision to publish a certain book.

Such an occurrence is extremely rare. But the nature of the book in question, and its author’s identity, explain the intense scrutiny.…  Seguir leyendo »

Actress Catherine Deneuve, one of the authors of a letter published in Le Monde critical of the #MeToo movement. Credit Maurizio Gambarini/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

If Americans have long had a certain fascination with Frenchwomen and their attitudes toward matters of love and sex, so too have American views on sex, sexual codes and relationships between men and women intrigued French observers. Simone de Beauvoir was no exception.

In “America Day by Day,” which she wrote during a stay in the United States in 1947, the author observed her Yankee counterparts with a befuddlement that is still shaping sisterly relations across the Atlantic.

“The American woman is a myth,” she wrote. “She is often viewed as a praying mantis who devours her male partner. The comparison is the right one, but it is incomplete.”…  Seguir leyendo »

I will always remember that Wednesday of January 2015 when I saw, for the first time in my life, Parisians suddenly freezing, right in the middle of street crossings, after a phone call had just told them the news.

They all had one thing in common: they looked lost as they stood still on the pavement, lost and uncomprehending. I remember a young man in particular, on rue Montmartre. He kept repeating "Non, non, non, non" with as much rage as desolation in his voice.

That was around midday. Later in the day, when the names of the murdered started filtering out, scenes in the street took another intensity.…  Seguir leyendo »

When news of a terrorist beheading broke on June 26, the first reactions from residents of Saint Quentin Fallavier, a small town of 6,000 inhabitants, sounded terribly familiar: "We never thought this could happen here."

The same words were uttered by Parisians living in the quiet 11th arrondissement of the French capital where, on January 7, Islamist terrorists had first struck in a series of attacks which petrified the whole country. That day they killed 12 people -- cartoonists, journalists and two policemen at the offices of the French satirical weekly "Charlie Hebdo."

The Isere region, where today's attack occurred, is better known for its green scenery, mountainous landscape and canoeing than for the industrial factories such as Air Products, the industrial gas plant targeted by Yassin Sahli, the 35- year-old alleged author of the attack.…  Seguir leyendo »

A picture of French journalists on the roof of Charlie Hebdo's offices sounded the first alarm.

They had taken shelter from three armed men who had just opened fire against their colleagues during the weekly satirical newspaper's editorial committee.

Events unfolded very rapidly from then on. French President François Hollande was very quick on the scene, the terrorist nature of the events was confirmed almost immediately and so was the shocking number of casualties: 12 dead and 11 injured, some critically. The operation appeared to have been prepared in a military style with weapons of war.

What can cartoonists with their pen and paper do against killers with automatic weapons?…  Seguir leyendo »

When France's Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg was quoted in French daily newspaper Le Monde over the weekend attacking the economic policies of his very own government, he knew what he was doing: Pulling the pin out of a grenade. And he certainly seemed to have no regrets.

France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls, appointed 147 days ago after President François Hollande's Socialist Party took a severe beating in local elections, was not going to take such overt rebellion kindly. "It's me or him", he is reported to have told Hollande. On Monday morning, the whole French government presented its resignation and Valls was immediately asked to form a new cabinet.…  Seguir leyendo »

The headlines scream: "Political tsunami," "earthquake" and "big bang."

European elections may have taken place in 28 different countries, but the results in just one of them proved the big story of the night. Who and what are we talking about? Marine Le Pen's Front National extreme-right party came top in France's European elections, with 25.41% of the vote. This is a historic achievement for the 46-year-old daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's founder.

And if the newspaper headlines are to be believed, the consequences of that particular vote are going to be felt for a very long time, both nationally and internationally.…  Seguir leyendo »

President François Hollande and his now sacked prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, never made a strong team. Whenever a French president chooses a weak prime minister, it ends in tears. Remember when Jacques Chirac was re-elected in 2002 with 80% of the votes, thanks to Jean-Marie Le Pen's sneaking into the second round? Instead of choosing, for instance, socialist reformer Michel Rocard to unite the country after such trauma, he chose Mr Nobody, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Chirac is now thought of as a leader who presided over France's slow decay. Remember Nicolas Sarkozy? Having resolved to be France's supreme leader, he appointed a puppet, François Fillon, who swallowed the Kool-Aid for five years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Since the revelation on the front page of daily newspaper Libération, on December 11, with a particularly vicious editorial talking about France's national treasure as a "former genius actor", Gérard Depardieu's departure to Belgium, where he bought a property just a mile from the French border, has deeply divided and saddened France. Even more so since, as we have learnt this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed the actor Russian citizenship.

Back in mid-December, the French media operated along political lines: the left-wing press such as Libération couldn't find strong enough words to describe Depardieu's "desertion" while right-wing publications such as Le Figaro, slightly uneasy at the news, preferred to focus on President François Hollande's punishing taxes which allegedly drove throngs of millionaires to seek tax asylum in more fiscally lenient countries such as Belgium or Britain.…  Seguir leyendo »

Parisians can’t remember when it all began. At first, the appearance of the locks was nearly imperceptible. Soon, though, they felt like a statement. On some of the city’s most iconic bridges, thousands of visitors left small padlocks, neatly attached to the metal railings.

Once discreet, doing their deed at night, visitors soon acted in broad daylight, in pairs, photographing each other in front of their locks, and videotaping the throwing of the keys into the Seine. The Paris town hall expressed concern: what about the architectural integrity of the Parisian landscape? One night about two years ago, someone cut through the wires and removed all the locks on one of the bridges.…  Seguir leyendo »

It's murky and it runs deep; it's called L'Affaire Clearstream. It's been going on for five years and now it's being played out in court for every French citizen to see. From day one in court, L'Affaire appears trickier and more tortuous than an early Chabrol film.

To start with, what is L'Affaire about? A case of paranoia, slander and vengeance involving: a) Dominique de Villepin, an ex-prime minister who dazzled the world on 14 February 2003 with a historic speech at the UN against the war in Iraq, a Gaullist with a taste for history and poetry and a penchant for Bonaparte; b) Nicolas Sarkozy, former Chirac minister, today president of France, whose permanent agitation has transfixed his compatriots, and amused, irritated and awed the world in equal measure since his election on 5 May 2007; c) the French intelligence services.…  Seguir leyendo »

"The burka is not a religious problem, it's a question of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That is not our idea of freedom.”

So spoke Nicolas Sarkozy in Versailles during his first state of the nation address to France's two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate. He won rapturous applause and there is little doubt that an overwhelming majority of the French agreed with his every word.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Cannes I once heard a well-known British critic confide to ­another: "If I see another sub­titled film today, I'll kill myself." This week British colleagues told me that the reason I regarded Quentin Tarantino's latest film so highly was because I was French (by French, understand self-important, indulgent, a sucker for grandiose and cinematic references). I had apparently fallen into Tarantino's trap of playing up to the French gallery to increase his chances of winning the Palme d'Or.

Cannes may be the Mount ­Olympus of cinema, yet national and cultural ­prejudices are endemic. If great ­cinema and art, wherever they come from and in whatever accent they are expressed, usually end up winning the ­argument, it's often after an ugly melee of cultural misunderstandings and ­chauvinistic narrow-mindedness.…  Seguir leyendo »

As soon as the morning news broke, camera crews could be seen flocking to Croydon to ask south Londoners what they thought of the French president's idea. Nicolas Sarkozy's vision is to make Paris more like Croydon. "Is this a joke?" asked a passerby. Not according to Richard Rogers' firm of British architects who have been chosen by the president to take part in an international brainstorming session about Le Grand Paris.

So can Paris learn from London? Maybe, but while London is a magnificent chaos, Paris is near perfection. It's easy to improve chaos, but easier still to destroy perfection.…  Seguir leyendo »

It reads like Tintin, and may reverse the slow decline of old-world wine sales. It may also help turn a generation of binge-drinking teenagers into wine connoisseurs. It is a Japanese manga series called The Drops of God.

In Japan, Korea, China and France, millions of fans, teenagers and adults, are hooked on the adventures of Shizuku. The son of a brilliant but tyrannical wine expert, Shizuku was trained as a child to decant wine for his father and to recognise the world blindfolded, using just his nose: from rocks to ink and leather. Yet Shizuku is a rebel. He has never tasted the stuff and, rankling with the wine master, works in a brewery.…  Seguir leyendo »