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CULTURE

French film producer tipped for Oscars success

Philippe Rousselet, a French movie producer, is a favourite to win the 'best picture' award at the Oscars on Sunday for his film CODA. It tells the touching story of a deaf family living in America and was adapted from a French film.

French producer Philippe Rousselet is a favourite to win the 'best picture' Oscar for his film CODA.
French producer Philippe Rousselet is a favourite to win the 'best picture' Oscar for his film CODA. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

CODA producer Philippe Rousselet is pleased, but not surprised, that his heartwarming drama about a deaf family is now a hot favorite for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday.

He always knew the story was good — so good he made it twice.

La Famille Belier was a formidably successful comedy, as we like them in France,” Rousselet told AFP, referring to the original on which the Apple TV+ hit is based.

“With CODA, (director) Sian Heder has made it an American film as Americans like them — more of a dramatic comedy.

“I think both films took the best of what we know how to do in each country.”

By domestic French standards, La Famille Belier (The Belier Family) was a hit, with three million people seeing it in theaters after its release in late 2014.

CODA (an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults) had only a limited theatrical run and then went straight to streaming, where it has been an audience hit that has also pleased critics.

Both movies follow the fortunes of a high school teen as she juggles her musical ambitions with her family’s dependence on her to communicate with the hearing world.

In both versions, much of the dialogue is done in sign language.

To make CODA, Emilia Jones, who plays teenager Ruby, and writer-director Heder both learned to sign.

But while La Famille Belier featured hearing stars playing deaf characters, the equivalent roles in CODA went to lesser-known actors who are deaf — the exception being past Oscar winner Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God, The West Wing).

“French films are largely financed by television. To make La Famille Belier, we had to have known and recognised actors,” explains Rousselet.

Ten years later, “it was obvious to us that we had to make CODA with deaf actors.”

Reputation

CODA has gathered a head of steam in recent weeks, its reputation swelling as it picked up awards from the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild of America and the BAFTAs.

It is now neck-and-neck in most predictions for the top Oscars prize of best picture with The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s brooding Western about toxic masculinity.

Adding to its momentum is that Troy Kotsur seems to be a shoo-in for best supporting actor honors, for his funny and moving portrayal of Ruby’s eccentric father.

Like its predecessor, CODA was made relatively cheaply, its $15 million budget less than a tenth of the cost of special effects-laden blockbuster Dune — a fellow best picture nominee.

“It’s not really a question of budget; the story is unique and very strong,” says Rousselet.

“This film deserves to be where it is in this period in which we live. It’s an important film, a film that does good.”

And since the second time around is working out so well, the story looks like it’s going to get a third outing.

Rousselet is already working on a Broadway adaptation in the form of a musical, in partnership with a theater company composed of deaf actors.

And success on the New York stage won’t be a surprise to Rousselet either.

It’s all down to the content, he says.

“It touches people and brings them together with its human values.”

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CULTURE

Former Louvre museum director charged in art trafficking case

The former president of the Louvre museum in Paris has been charged with conspiring to hide the origin of Egyptian archaeological treasures that investigators suspect were spirited out of the country during the Arab Spring uprisings, a French judicial source said Thursday.

Former Louvre museum director charged in art trafficking case

Jean-Luc Martinez was charged Wednesday after being taken in for questioning along with two French specialists in Egyptian art, who were not charged, another source close to the inquiry told AFP.

The Louvre, which is owned by the French state, is the world’s most visited museum with around 10 million visitors a year before the Covid-19 pandemic and is home to some of Western civilization’s most celebrated cultural heritage.

The museum declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

French investigators opened the case in July 2018, two years after the Louvre’s branch in Abu Dhabi bought a rare pink granite stele depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamun and four other historic works for eight million euros ($8.5 million).

Martinez, who ran the Paris Louvre from 2013 to 2021, is accused of turning a blind eye to fake certificates of origin for the pieces, a fraud thought to involve several other art experts, according to French investigative weekly Canard Enchaine.

He has been charged with complicity in fraud and “concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement,” according to the judicial source.

Martinez is currently the French foreign ministry’s ambassador in charge of international cooperation on cultural heritage, which focuses in particular on fighting art trafficking.

“Jean-Luc Martinez contests in the strongest way his indictment in this case,” his lawyers told AFP in a statement.

Arab Spring looting

“For now, he will reserve his declarations for the judiciary, and has no doubt that his good faith will be established,” they said.

French investigators suspect that hundreds of artefacts were pillaged from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries during protests in the early 2010s that became known as the Arab Spring.

They suspect the artefacts were then sold to galleries and museums that did not ask too many questions about previous ownership.

Martinez’s indictment comes after the German-Lebanese gallery owner who brokered the sale, Robin Dib, was arrested in Hamburg in March and extradited to Paris for questioning.

Marc Gabolde, a French Egyptologist, was quoted by Canard Enchaine as saying that he informed Louvre officials about suspicions related to the Tutankhamun stele but received no response.

The opening of the inquiry in 2018 roiled the Paris art market, a major hub for antiquities from Middle Eastern civilisations.

In June 2020, prominent Paris archaeology expert Christophe Kunicki and dealer Richard Semper were charged with fraud for false certification of looted works from several countries during the Arab Spring.

They also had a role in certifying another prized Egyptian work, the gilded sarcophagus of the priest Nedjemankh that was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017.

Gabolde said an Egyptian art dealer, Habib Tawadros, was also involved in both suspect deals.

After New York prosecutors determined that the sarcophagus had been stolen during the revolts against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Met said it had been a victim of false statements and fake documentation, and returned the coffin to Egypt.

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