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CULTURE

Why has France scrapped its most spectacular festival?

Over ten thousand people have signed petitions after authorities cancelled the largest free festival in France, Roman Nights or Les Nuits Romanes.

Why has France scrapped its most spectacular festival?
Photo: Région Poitou-Charentes/Flickr
Roman Nights – or Les Nuits Romanes in French – is a festival that for over a decade had been showcasing the Roman heritage of western France through spectacular light performances, art, and music – and all after sunset. 
 
The festival saw shows each night between late June and early September across Poitou-Charentes, a region on the Atlantic coast of France.

Photo: Région Poitou-Charentes/Flickr
 
But the 2016 spectacle – which was all prepped and ready to go – has been canned by Alain Rousset, the president of the newly formed super region Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes. 
 
The politician cited financial reasons for the cancellation, explaining that the recent merger of regions in France meant that there were budgetary constraints in the culture department.  
 
(The map above shows how Poitou-Charentes, left, has expanded to become the much larger Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes region.)
 
“We're going to break the bank if we extend the Roman Nights to all the regions,” he said, reported Le Figaro newspaper
 
He deemed the cost of around €4 million to be unjustifiable, especially after a “flash audit” of the region earlier this month revealed an “alarming financial situation”, the paper reported.
 
Rousset noted that the new region needed to “harmonize its cultural policies” as he confirmed the cancellation.  
 
But the public aren't ready to let go that easily. 
 
An online petition trying to bring back the gig has garnered almost exactly 10,000 signatures at the time of writing. A separate petition has 2,000 more. 
 
Photo: Région Poitou-Charentes/Flickr
 
The first petition – which is on Change.org and is entitled “Hands off our Roman Nights” – explains that the performers had already been chosen and a schedule already prepared.
 
“Ever since 2004 the festival has been a great success, each year attracting more spectators and more tourists,” it reads, noting that there has been a growing contingency of Brits at the shows. 
 

Photo: Nuits Romanes/Facebook
 
Last year alone, there were more than 160,000 spectators who headed out for the 250 performances put on by over 500 artists, it added.

Those against the move by Rousset have called on him to “reconsider his hasty decision” and to “take into account the economic interests of the region”. 

As it stands, those against the decision will have to wait until next year, when the regional head of culture is looking into hosting a new event, reported the Nouvelle République newspaper. 

CULTURE

Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.

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