The culture that is French, a continuing series

Are these consistent or contradictory points of view?

What those foreigners are missing is that French culture is surprisingly lively. Its movies are getting more imaginative and accessible. Just look at the Taxi films of Luc Besson and Gérard Krawczyk, a rollicking series of Hong Kong-style action comedies; or at such intelligent yet crowd-pleasing works as Cédric Klapisch’s L’Auberge Espagnole and Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped, both hits on the foreign art-house circuit. French novelists are focusing increasingly on the here and now: one of the big books of this year’s literary rentrée, Yasmina Reza’s L’Aube le Soir ou la Nuit (Dawn Dusk or Night) is about Sarkozy’s recent electoral campaign. Another standout, Olivier Adam’s A l’Abri de Rien (In the Shelter of Nothing), concerns immigrants at the notorious Sangatte refugee camp. France’s Japan-influenced bandes dessinées (comic-strip) artists have made their country a leader in one of literature’s hottest genres: the graphic novel. Singers like Camille, Benjamin Biolay and Vincent Delerm have revived the chanson. Hip-hop artists like Senegal-born MC Solaar, Cyprus-born Diam’s and Abd al Malik, a son of Congolese immigrants, have taken the verlan of the streets and turned it into a sharper, more poetic version of American rap.

Those would not have been my exact picks but there you go.  (I was offended by L’Auberge Espagnole; could not one of them have had an internet start-up?  I also found myself longing for organized religion.)  Alternatively:

In a September poll of 1,310 Americans for Le Figaro magazine, only 20% considered culture to be a domain in which France excels, far behind cuisine.


Only a handful of the season’s new novels will find a publisher outside France. Fewer than a dozen make it to the U.S. in a typical year, while about 30% of all fiction sold in France is translated from English.

Most of all, the French specialize in having good taste in culture, which is a form of interior mental production.  A world music buy on a French label is virtually a sure thing.  The question is how good your culture can get, these days, without exporting much.  Here is the full and interesting story.

Thanks to David Zetland for the pointer.


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