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CULTURE

Cannes film-makers urge France to face up to colonial past

Film-makers are holding up a mirror to France over its colonial past at the Cannes festival, helped by star power and a growing French readiness to face up to injustices committed notably in Africa.

French actor and comedian Omar Sy, French director Mathieu Vadepied, actor Alassane Diong and French actor Jonas Bloquet pose as they arrive for the screening of the film
French actor and comedian Omar Sy, French director Mathieu Vadepied, actor Alassane Diong and French actor Jonas Bloquet pose as they arrive for the screening of the film "Father & Soldier (Tirailleurs)" during the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 18th, 2022. Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP

The colonisation of Algeria and the horrors of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) deeply scarred both nations and continues to mar relations, but was hardly discussed in France in public for decades.

Although President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged crimes committed — including a massacre by police of Algerians in Paris in 1961 which he called “inexcusable” — his government has ruled out “presenting an apology” for France’s colonial past.

“I think you could say that I’m obsessed by the Algerian war,” French director Philippe Faucon told AFP at the Cannes festival.

His film “Les Harkis” tells the story of Algerians who fought alongside French troops against the independence movement, only to be left behind for the most part when France pulled out of Algeria, and facing the vengeance of the victorious Algerians.

The movie places the responsibility for this “criminal betrayal” and the subsequent massacres of Harkis firmly at the doorstep of then-president Charles de Gaulle.

“It is necessary to recall this story and look the truth in the eyes,” said Algerian-born Faucon, although historical “complexities” make easy judgments impossible.

French director Philippe Faucon, pictured at his former high school in in Marseille, 2016.

French director Philippe Faucon, pictured at his former high school in in Marseille, 2016. Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS / AFP

‘Everybody needs to know’ 

Fellow director Mathieu Vadepied also warned against facile conclusions about France’s forced recruitment of Senegalese soldiers for its World War I war effort, the subject of his film “Tirailleurs” (“Father and Soldier”).

French superstar Omar Sy — who has won a huge international following with his roles in “Untouchable” and the Netflix smash hit “Lupin” — plays the lead in the story about a father and a son who are both forced into the trenches.

French director Mathieu Vadepied (L) and French actor and comedian Omar Sy pose during a photo call for the film "Father And Soldier (Tirailleurs)" during the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 19th, 2022.

French director Mathieu Vadepied (L) and French actor and comedian Omar Sy pose during a photo call for the film “Father And Soldier (Tirailleurs)” during the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 19th, 2022. Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP.

“My idea is to put things into question,” Vadepied told AFP. “Question France’s historical relationship with its former colonies, what do we have to say about that today, do we even know what we did?”

While rejecting any “frontally political” approach, he said that “if we deny the facts we can never move on, we need to tell these stories, everybody needs to know them.”

The idea was however “not to guilt-trip people, but to recognise the painful history and free ourselves”.

Sy, the France-born son of west African immigrants, told the audience at the film’s opening night: “We have the same story, but we don’t have the same memories.”

The second Cannes week will see the screening of “Nos Frangins” (“Our Brothers”) by French director Rachid Bouchareb who in 2006 sparked a nationwide debate with “Indigenes” (“Days of Glory”), a film about the contribution of North African soldiers to the French Free Forces during World War II.

In his latest movie, he tells the story of Malik Oussekine, a student killed in 1986 and whose name resonates deeply among French minorities.

On the night of December 6, 1986, two police officers beat to death the 22-year-old French-Algerian on the sidelines of a student protest in Paris.

He had not been involved in the demonstration, and his killing became a turning point — triggering weeks of unrest and leading to the unprecedented conviction of the officers involved.

It took 35 years for the death of Malik Oussekine to be recounted on-screen.

READ MORE: After 60 years, France struggles to come to terms with its Algerian past

Member comments

  1. Do NOT become as “Woke” as the UK. The sins of the fathers are NOT the sins of the sons. It happened! Live with it and more importantly Learn from it.

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CULTURE

16 of the best festivals and events in France this summer

From old rockers to classic cinema, fireworks to modern theatre, here are some of our favourite French summer festivals.

16 of the best festivals and events in France this summer

JUNE

Festival de Nîmes

Starting mid-June and running through to July 24th, the Festival de Nîmes has brought modern music to the famous Roman Arena. This year, Gorillaz, Deep Purple, Gladiator Live, Kiss, Sting, Black Eyed Peas, Stromae and Sexion D’Assaut are among the headliners.

Fête de la musique

You will scarcely be able to move for musicians in France on June 21st, as villages, towns and cities are alive with the sound of music, celebrating the sheer joy of live performances and the breadth and diversity of musical genres.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the annual national, nationwide midsummer’s night festival. At l’Olympia in Paris, for example, Angèle, Pomme, Franz Ferdinand, Benjamin Biolay and Parcels are all performing in a series of concerts that will be broadcast on France Inter.

Rétro C Trop 

For three days between Friday, June 24th, and Sunday, June 26th, at the appropriately aged Château de Tilloloy, Hauts-de-France, there’s the ‘festival of old rockers’, this year featuring sets by Alice Cooper, acoustic ska band Tryo, Status Quo, Simple Minds, Madness, OMD, The Undertones, and Les Insus – you may know them better as 80s hit-sters Telephone.

Joking aside, previous festivals have featured the likes of Sting, Stray Cats, Tears for Fears, and Scorpions – so they know actually do know how to rock out at the 17th-century chateau. And also how to pace themselves…

Nuits de Fourvière

From the beginning of June  through to July 30th, the spectacular Gallo-Roman theatre at Fourvière hosts 60 equally spectacular performances of theatre, dance, music, cirque. There could surely be no better venue to watch Midnight Oil on July 14th.

JULY

Z’accros d’ma rue, Nevers

Theatre, circus and music are in store at Les Z’accros d’ma rue in Nevers in July, as they have been since the opening event in 1999. Most of the shows are free

The La Rochelle Film Festival

Rugby fans have rediscovered La Rochelle this year, but cinema-lovers should not ignore the Charente-Maritime resort between July 1st and 10th, as it hosts its 50th film festival, which this year pays tribute to the legendary Alain Delon.

Some 21 films featuring the French actor with eyes of ice will be screened during the festival. There’s also a retrospective of the films of the 50s queen of Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn – including Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Sabrina, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Other highlights include a day of Brad Pitt films, five films from Bulgarian pioneer Binka Zhelyazkova – whose works were frequently banned in her home country, and a celebration of the centenary of the birth of Italian visionary Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Festival de Carcassonne

Deep Purple, Orelsan, Rag n Bone Man, John Legend, Sexion D’Assaut, Calogero, and Jack White are among the acts gracing the music, theatre, arts, dance, comedy and cinema festival in the historic city between July 5th and 31st. Comedian Gad Elmalah will also perform, and there are numerous free off-festival performances.

Pause Guitare

Julien Doré, Orelsan (again), Bob Sinclar and Mika headline the four-day Pause Guitare programme. The relatively little-known music festival that routinely punches above its weight, runs from July 6th to 10th in the World Heritage city of Albi, southwest France.

Festival d’Avignon

No rundown of summer events in France would be complete without mentioning the Festival d’Avignon, which runs from Thursday 7th to Tuesday 26th July.

Celebrated Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, who’s currently banned from leaving his country, has been chosen to open the theatre festival. Whether he’ll actually be there remains to be seen, but the opening ceremony on July 7th kicks off three weeks of performances from some of the world’s leading stage performers across a range of disciplines.

Pyrotechnic Art Festival

Not satisfied with the bright lights of its Film Festival in May, Cannes turns on the lights again for its summer Pyrotechnic Art Festival, which runs from July 14th to August 24th. 

Nice Jazz Festival

Where would you find sultry chanteuse Melody Gardot, influential bassist Marcus Miller and punk’s grandad Iggy Pop on the same poster? The Nice jazz festival, which runs from July 15th to 19th. 

They’re not the only performers joining in the fun on the Riviera. Some 33 acts are taking part in the Festival proper, while several more are performing in the Off festival programme.

Fête nationale

July 14th marks France’s Fête nationale, known as Bastille Day in the Anglophone world, which is a public holiday. The big military parade is on the Champs-Elysée in Paris but most towns do something to mark the occasion, with concerts, parties and fireworks displays. 

AUGUST

MiMa 

MiMa is the International Festival of Puppet Art, held from August 4th to August 7th in the medieval town of Mirepoix, Ariège. The festival is open to young creators as well as artists who influence and update the recent history of puppet theatre, an inventive art with many faces. The line-up showcases a variety of techniques, with glove puppets, string puppets and marionettes portées.

Festival du Bout du Monde

The darkly named End of the World Festival takes place from August 5th to August 7th at Landaoudec Prairie on the Crozon Peninsula in Brittany, a few hundred yards from the wild Atlantic ocean. The wonderful Ballaké Sissoko is on the programme this year, as is the drum-and-trumpet fusion of Gallowstreet, as well as Julian Marley and Selah Sue.

Rock en Seine

Stromae, Rage Against the Machine, Arctic Monkeys, Jehnny Beth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, London Grammar, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Crawlers, and Baby Queen are among the numerous acts lined up for this year’s annual and mostly family friendly – if you don’t mind Zack de la Rocha’s swearing – Rock en Seine festival at Domaine national de Saint-Cloud.

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