Like the Loch Ness monster, the expression "French Exception" regularly resurfaces and, everybody wonders if it really, really exists! When applied to culture, it generally refers to the privileged position the arts enjoy in this heritage-conscious country. Not just in terms of state funding, but also as a source of art de vivre... At the onset of 2002, Vivendi/Universal/Canal+... CEO, Jean-Marie Messier triggered a media brouhaha by telling reporters in America where he now lives "The Franco-French cultural exception is dead." Though he later backtracked, claiming he'd intended to advocate "cultural diversity" it was too late... He'd sparked a polemic.
Is a "certain idea" of Gallic intellectualism out-of-date? Yes, and no... Be it highbrow or popular, culture à la française still has its private jokes. Take that poster advertising "Cocorico!" ("cock-a-doodle-do!") a show at the Bobino theater (20 rue de la Gaîté, 14e, tel: 01 43 27 75 75), starring maverick comedian Dieudonné, a self-appointed candidate for the upcoming Presidential mandate. Question: Why is this agent provocateur's face splattered with feathers and goo? Answer: That's easy he's eaten France's national "rooster" mascot... Get it? If not, don't worry. You're not alone!
This zany publicity campaign expresses a sense of self-derision that's typical of France's current "cultural landscape" particularly on the fashion front. The Printemps department store's spring catalog features a pair of small-heeled parisienne-style pumps with sneaker-like trims. Red, white and blue like the tricolor flag...
Mere mention of pirates conveys present-day cultural preoccupations along the lines of "piratage" meaning making unauthorized copies of CDs or Internet info. However, "Pirates!" a quirky multimedia expo spotlighting corsair memorabilia and artworks at Paris' Musée national de la Marine has its sights set on historical figureheads, from Black Jack to Barbe Noire. (To May 13, daily 10am to 6pm, Palais de Chaillot, 16e, tel: 01 53 65 69 69, M° Trocadéro)
Embarking on another wacky season, the Parc de la Villette presents "La Ménagerie Mécanique" a curious spectacle mounted by OPUS which stands for Office des Phabricants d'Univers Singuliers a group that supports fringe artists and their work. This menagerie is dedicated to the inventiveness of a "village character" called André Durupt. Salvaging all kinds of odds and ends over the years, this retiree has recycled them creating an imaginary kinetic bestiary to be brought to life by a troupe of actors. (To Mar 23, Wed-Sun 7pm, Maison de la Villette, M° Porte de la Villette, 6 euros/3 euros, reservations: 01 40 03 75 75)
"How can one be expected to govern a country that possesses as many cheeses as there are days in a year?" asked Charles de Gaulle. Indeed, lately even the "hexagone's" cheesemakers seem to be "out of control" promoting their flagship products as funky "ethnic food." Soignon, a goat's cheese brand established since 1932, is running a competition. Consumers can send their "serving suggestions" in to Eurial Poitouraine Soignon, Service Consommateurs, BP 42738, 44327 Nantes Cedex 3 (or log on www.soignon.com). The winners will receive "Fromages de Chèvre Saveurs du monde," a colorful four-language cookbook with offbeat recipes by five top international chefs including Alain Reix of the Eiffel Tower's "Jules Verne" restaurant and Eric Deblonde of London's "Four Seasons."
"Culturisme" is French for body-building and "Body-Builders" is the title of a mind-blowing video installation/choreographic performance by Superamas, a four-member experimental collective. Dressed as hockey players, this "Fab Four" have fun exploring the ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of our future bionic bods. (Mar 20 & 21, 8:30pm, Centre national de la Danse/StudioCND, 15 rue Geoffroy-l'Asnier, 4e, reservations: 01 42 74 06 44, non-members 9 euros/8 euros)
A new wave of youngnadventurous commercial galleries is pepping up the art scene. Starting with Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont's annex named Noirmont Prospect (15 rue Jean Mermoz, 8e, tel: 01 40 75 00 34) initially showcasing German "avant-gardist" Jurgen Ostarhild's eerily-digital silk screen-on-aluminium remixed photo portraits, and virtual limited editions (200 euros a piece)...
In the design sector, Galerie Cédille (as in cedilla) has two buzzwords "ç imagined by architects" and "furniture-lamps-objects-fashion." Masterminded by Marcelo Joulia of the Naço agency with the support of '60s 3D icon Claude Parent, this "made-to-measure" locale vehicles an arch prospective vision. (38 rue de Citeaux, 12e, M° Reuilly-Diderot, tel: 01 40 09 17 69)
"Le Hall de la chanson" (www.lehall.com) is a freshly-inaugurated online interactive archive that aims to provide a complete "Panorama" of "les variétés" from "le music-hall" to Francophone world music. As it happens, Le Hall is "a museum without a roof on its head." Though the Ministry of Culture has been behind the project since 1988, becoming one of its official partners a couple of years later, its actor/singer/director/professor founder, Serge Hureau is still waiting for his "dream premises" at La Villette. He unveiled this website last January, much as he's organized "extra-mural" concerts and conferences, before having "real-life walls": as a "prefiguration" in other words, to "Make it happen!".
The grand finale of the 7th Biennale de la musique filmée at the Louvre auditorium, dubbed "La musique s'amuse" is a distinctly "froufrou" weekend of debates and screenings focusing on the impact of European opérette on Broadway classics. On Sunday, March 10... catch Julie Andrews in Blake Edwards' stage remake of his own early 1980s motion picture, based on Henry Mancini's acclaimed "girl in guy's garb" musical, "Victor-Victoria" filmed by Japanese Network NHK, in 1994. A "très French Exception" way of bracing yourself for Monday! (6pm, access via Carrousel du Louvre/99 rue de Rivoli, 3,50 euros/2,50 euros Infoline, Mon-Fri, 9am to 7pm: 01 40 20 51 86)