France’s Catholic school ‘cougar’ hails victory

After 20 years of "loyal service" as a classroom supervisor at a Catholic school on the French Riviera, Veronique Bonazzola was unceremoniously fired, after appearing as a scantily-clad "cougar" in a rap video (see below). But this week, she was handed a "victory against injustice".

France’s Catholic school 'cougar' hails victory
One of the more provocative moments of Veronique Bonazzola's turn as a 'cougar' in the "Fountain of Youth' rap video. The Catholic school she worked for fired her over it. Photo: ZoneRougeMusic

Who’s Veronique Bonazzola?

She’s a 50-year-old former Catholic school assistant in the south of France, and a part-time actor.

Why is she in the news this week?

On Tuesday her lawyer announced she’d won a possible landmark case against her former employer, Collège Notre Dame de la Tramontane, who fired her after she appeared as an under-dressed and over-sexed ‘cougar’ in a rap video (see below).

Tell me more

The whole affair broke in the spring of 2012, when a group of shocked parents show management at the Riviera school a music video called “Fontaine de Jouvence" (Fountain of Youth) by the rapper Novia.

They weren’t concerned about the loose implementation of grammar rules in it, but rather that, among the gyrating and scantily-clad women was none other than Veronique Bonazzola – a 50-year-old classroom supervisor who had been working at the school for years.

In the video, Bonazzola pursues, and is pursued by, the younger rapper, and despite being occasionally distracted by some sporadic hip-grinding with other members of his harem, the raven-haired older lady gets very friendly with 27-year-old Novia.

In the end, the two celebrate their blossoming union by pouring champagne down her chest in a Jacuzzi.

Now while women in bikinis fawning over macho frontmen and engaging in a spot of unconvincing pseudo-lesbian dancing is a time-honoured hip-hop tradition, it is not, unsurprisingly, in keeping with the ethos of a Catholic school.

In the words of Claude Backès, director-general of the Catholic secondary school Bonazzola’s star role was “incompatible with the nature of this person’s work and the rules of the institution”. 

Although Bonazzola had appeared in the video in her capacity as a part-time actor, Notre Dame de la Tramontane terminated her employment.

Bonazzola, playing the 'sugar mama' in the video for Novia's "Fountain of Youth."

A 'burning at the stake' after '20 years of good and loyal service'

At the time, her lawyer Pierre Chami reflected Bonazzola’s feelings of hurt and rejection.

“She doesn’t understand why, after 20 years of good and loyal service, she’s being thrown out like some unsavoury character for a video that’s shorter than five minutes,” he said.

This week Bonazzola herself said: “When the whole affair broke, I got the impression that [the school’s management] were going to burn me at the stake in the school yard.”

“They found it scandalous, but most of the parents and students supported me,” she added.

Bonazzola however,didn’t take her firing lying down, and sued her school for wrongful termination of her job.

A 'wonderful victory against injustice'

A court in nearby Grasse, whose verdict was rendered in August but confirmed by Chami on Tuesday, eventually ruled in her favour, and criticized the school for not making clear to Bonazzola how her spare-time activities might impinge on her day job.

Although Notre Dame de la Tramontane knew about her work as an actor, the school “never gave her the slightest warning about any possible threat that such activities might pose to her professional obligations,” the court said.

In the end, the tribunal ruled she was sacked "without any real or serious cause."

The case could prove significant in France as a ruling on what role an individual’s personal lifestyle, beliefs and activities could have in whether they’re fit to work at with particular organization.

Bonazzola, who is still unemployed according to Europe 1 radio celebrated the verdict in a post on her Facebook page, calling it "a wonderful victory against injustice."

“The courts have recognized everyone’s right to do as they please with their free time, and condemned abusive firings,” she said.

“A massive big-up to my lawyer Mr. Chami and everyone who showed their support. An even larger big-up to everyone who talked crap [about me]!”

The school has decided not to appeal the decision.

Here is the now-infamous video itself. Bonazzola has dark hair and wears large hoop earrings throughout much of it.

Do you think her performance here was "incompatible" with her functions as a classroom supervisor in a Catholic school? Share your view in the comments section below.

The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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8 of French duo Daft Punk’s most memorable moments

One of the era's defining dancefloor acts hung up their helmets on Monday, as French electronic music stars Daft Punk announced their retirement in a typically enigmatic fashion with a video showing one of them exploding in a desert.

8 of French duo Daft Punk's most memorable moments
Photo: AFP

From Da Funk in 1995 to Get Lucky in 2013, Daft Punk became the torch-bearers for French house music across the globe, winning six Grammy awards and pioneering the monumental sound-and-light shows that came to characterise the electronic dance movement (EDM) of recent years.

They did so while almost never revealing their faces — the ubiquitous helmets became another much-copied trope of EDM stars, but also afforded Thomas Bangalter, 46, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, 47, a freedom from the fame that quickly encircled them.

“We have daily lives that are a lot more normal than the lives of artists who have the same level of fame as us, but who might be attached to being physically recognised,” Bangalter said in a rare authorised documentary by the BBC in 2015.

Here are some of the highlights of their career – although for our money nothing will beat the French army band’s performance of a Daft Punk medley at the Bastille Day celebrations in 2017, in front of president Emmanuel Macron and a plainly bemused Donald Trump.

1. “Daft punky thrash”

Bangalter and Homem-Christo met at school in Paris before an inauspicious start in music with the rock band Darlin’, which also featured a future member of the French indie band Phoenix.

One review in the British music press dismissed the band as “daft punky thrash” — which struck a chord with them.

Reemerging as an electronic outfit, they met with instant success.

This interview from 1995 is one of the few images of their faces:

2. Their signature look in “Around the World”

Early singles “Da Funk” and “Around the World” became club fixtures, and led to massive sales for their debut album “Homework” in 1997.

It was in the video for “Around the World” that they first donned the helmets that would become their signature look. It mirrored the tight control they exercised over every part of their career, which included ownership of their master recordings.

3. “One More Time”

They followed up with the even more successful “Discovery” in 2001, which spawned the hits “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.

There were some distinctively left-field choices in the years that followed, including producing the 2003 film “Interstella 5555” by Japanese anime master Leiji Matsumoto, which featured music from “Discovery”.

4. Human After All

While their next album in 2005, a more sombre “Human After All”, received mixed reviews, these were quickly forgotten amid the euphoria of their live shows over the next two years.

This included a headline appearance at US festival Coachella in 2006, performed inside a giant LED pyramid. EDM fans still speak about it with an almost religious reverence.

5. Tron soundtrack

In 2010, they released a soundtrack to the Disney reboot of Tron, which picked up a Grammy nomination.

6. “Random Access Memories”

But no one predicted the massive success of their last album, 2013’s “Random Access Memories”, for which they gave up their usual makeshift home rig for a full commercial studio– and used entirely live instruments.

The resulting work dominated album-of-the-year lists and helped lift their total worldwide sales to 12 million. It won four Grammies the following year including record of the year for “Get Lucky”, the millions-selling lead single featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers.

Their appearance at the Grammy Awards show was their last public appearance for three years.

7. “I Feel It Coming”

They showed up one more time for the Grammy ceremony in 2017, alongside The Weeknd, after collaborating on the Canadian artist’s most recent album.

Despite the Twittersphere erupting in excitement last month amid rumours they would rejoin The Weeknd for the Super Bowl half-time show, that did not in the end materialise. 

8. “Epilogue”

The video titled “Epilogue” announcing their split used footage from their cult 2006 film “Electroma” in which one of the robots sets the auto-destruct of the other.

A cutaway then reads “1993-2021” with two robot hands making a circle around a sunset.

Their publicist, Kathryn Frazier, confirmed the news to AFP by email, without giving a reason for the split.