Pierrot le FouAside from perhaps ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, Hollywood never quite manages to capture the eccentric essence of romance, too often settling for the easy fix of the chocolate box. Even a literary romance as beautifully bonkers as ‘Wuthering Heights’ was bowdlerised for its first well-known big-screen version (the 1939 one with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff), and as a cinematic genre, romance gradually settled into a comfy, soft-focus groove that utterly detached the subject from reality and fabricated a fairy tale it rarely veers from to this day. Not that there’s anything wrong with fairy tales, and I accept for many that cinema-going is all about escapism, pure and simple. I know my grandmother in particular was a huge fan of Doris Day movies, and that’s perfectly understandable; she lived in dull, monochrome 1950s Huddersfield, so I can imagine that going to see a spectacular Technicolor musical like ‘Calamity Jane’ must have felt like visiting another planet for the evening.

Perhaps fairy tales and fantasy tend to be the default backdrop for cinematic portrayals of romance because even in real life falling in love can be something of an out-of-body experience; how else does one illustrate the insane sensation without slipping into dependable cliché? Well, it can be done, but it takes a bit of imagination. I guess the main problem with the Hollywood approach is that its narrow fantasy is routinely lacking the element of surprise, being as predictable as ‘Snow White’ or ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Moreover, such films are almost overwhelmingly aimed at an exclusively female audience, as though the spirit of romance only ever beats in the heart of a woman; I doubt any straight man ever had a craving to watch ‘Dirty Dancing’ or ‘An Officer and A Gentleman’, for example. No, if one of the most intensely electric emotional adventures either sex can be exposed to in life is ever done genuine justice in the world of cinema, it tends not to emanate from Tinsel Town.

I was thinking of this unlikely topic on account of hearing that the French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo had passed away. He was never a household name in the English-speaking world, though he was a legend across the Channel; the fact that he declined to relocate to California as a means of capitalising upon a handful of brushes with iconic cinematic cool in the early 60s is perhaps to his credit. The trio of films he made with Nouvelle Vague auteur Jean-Luc Godard – 1960’s ‘Breathless’, ‘A Woman is a Woman’ (1961), and 1965’s ‘Pierrot le Fou’ – are all very different, yet each is a classic of the French New Wave. Despite the fact Belmondo became a mainstream movie star in France, the cult success of his collaborations with Godard in international circles were the films for which he remains best remembered outside of France. And both ‘A Woman is a Woman’ and ‘Pierrot le Fou’ are sublimely romantic movies that manage to avoid the corny tropes that constitute the lazy laurels of Hollywood. The former subverts them with mischievous glee, whilst the latter rewrites the rulebook.

On the surface, ‘Pierrot le Fou’ certainly doesn’t adhere to a conventional romantic narrative, featuring several casual murders and a couple of vicious gangsters who think nothing of water-boarding their enemies. However, in the finest tradition of Romeo and Juliet, the couple at the centre of the story – played by Belmondo and the effortlessly sexy Anna Karina respectively – both die at the end, with Jean-Paul Belmondo’s demise being memorably bizarre as he paints his face blue and wraps a dozen sticks of dynamite round his head; after lighting the fuse he has a belated change of heart, but can’t extinguish it on account of not being able to see it due to the dynamite obscuring his vision. Within seconds he’s blown to smithereens; it’s a dramatically stupid death worthy of Wile E. Coyote. So, yes, it’s not a pitch I could imagine being given the green light by a Hollywood studio executive, to be honest; but it is nevertheless a strikingly romantic movie.

Belmondo’s character is a restless married man dragged along to a dreary Parisian party by his bourgeois wife, whereupon he meets guests who speak in clichés that imply their words are being scripted by advertising agencies; I suppose it was a satirical comment by Godard on crass materialism or something, but the director had yet to squander his talents on Left Bank left-wing polemics, and it actually serves as a humorous way of setting Belmondo apart from his peers. Instead, his wavelength is tuned into that of the pretty babysitter (played by Karina), whom he offers to give a lift home to; he does so and then never returns to his own home. The two go on the run in the style of an existential Bonnie and Clyde, making their way down to the South of France and spending a period living a bohemian beachcomber lifestyle before the past crimes of Karina’s character catch up with them, prompting a fresh getaway.

Throughout the journey that follows their initial flight from Paris, Karina’s Marianne nicknames Belmondo’s character ‘Pierrot’, repeatedly provoking his virtual catchphrase, ‘My name is Ferdinand’. But it’s a novel example of the quirky affection the two quickly develop for each other, one that swiftly blossoms into passionate love. ‘Pierrot’ evidently has his suspicions about the unpredictable Marianne, but he’s seduced by this free spirit and she in turn gives every impression she’s as smitten with him. The stunning visual set pieces which became a hallmark of Jean-Luc Godard movies are never better than in ‘Pierrot le Fou’ and they work as a means of expressing the devil-may-care nature of the love affair between the two leads. The Nouvelle Vague as a whole was a breathtaking breath of fresh air, anyway, and Godard was its most innovative and original artist; ‘Pierrot le Fou’ has the same exhilarating rush of a Pop Art comic strip panel by Roy Lichtenstein or the opening chord of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, and as a romantic movie it brilliantly evokes the joyous madness inherent in love during its first stages in a way that few films do.

On paper, the story itself could have been filmed in a relatively conventional, linear fashion and would probably have made sense to an audience raised on less imaginative fare; but, as with Frank Carson, it was the way Godard told ‘em back then that enables it to convey a mood and a feeling with unique accuracy familiar to anyone who’s been there. Long before I got there, the film made a massive impact on me when I first saw it around 30 years ago and proved that romance wasn’t reserved for the soppy and the sappy; cinema could actually show love as crazy as it really can be, and whilst the film may be as much an example of artifice as a Doris Day musical, ‘Pierrot le Fou’ nonetheless offers a fresh take on the fantasy that is irresistible. Also, the fantasy is balanced by the eventual revelation that Marianne has been cruelly using Pierrot to aid her actual, criminal boyfriend in getting back at his rivals; this gate-crashing of crushing reality exposes the short shelf-life of such ‘too-good-to-be-true’ passion, a telling move more realistic than simply having the pair riding off into the romantic sunset.

The Nouvelle Vague was initially celebrated for its injection of realism into film, dispensing with the archaic, time-consuming methods Hollywood took to light its pictures in order to make the old actresses look beautiful. Francois Truffaut was renowned for taking his camera onto the street and hiring non-actors to create a groundbreaking aesthetic that proved hugely influential in the early 60s, especially on British ‘kitchen sink’ cinema. Jean-Luc Godard was responsible for bringing a touch of the surreal to the mix, and ‘Pierrot le Fou’ is perhaps the crowning achievement of his early career. It gives two adventurous actors permission to spread their wings and it gives the viewer permission to dream an alternative dream. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with fairy tales.

© The Editor




MacronPerhaps it’s a comment on both the limited online attention span and just how momentary sensation has now become. When the striking images of the first global lockdown – all those eerie photos of the world’s most famous capital cities deserted of people – went viral just over a year ago, reaction swiftly shifted from open-jawed shock at how these landmark locations now resembled the set of a Hollywood movie about the apocalypse to jaded shoulder-shrugging, suggesting everyone ceased to find the imagery remotely strange with 24 hours. Yeah, whatever, seen it. Yet what those empty tourist spots inadvertently highlighted was how a persistent headache for certain beleaguered world leaders had been unexpectedly resolved overnight. It’s almost hard to recall now – because life before Covid seems so distant and unreal – but prior to the coronavirus, many of those streets now devoid of a human presence had been teeming with people who hadn’t come to take selfies in the shadow of an iconic monument. Pre-BLM street protest was geographically localised and concerned with issues that concerned the majority; remember all that trouble in Hong Kong? China at least had something to thank its clumsiest scientists for there, for sure. And what about Paris?

By the end of 2019, the coalition of anti-Macron forces that went under the collective moniker of Gilets jaunes protests (courtesy of their adoption of a recognisable blue-collar dress-code) had established themselves as emcees of weekly shindigs in the French capital, evoking memories of 1968 and placing the waning authority of Emmanuel Macron in peril with each increasingly angry battle between yellow-jacket protestors and the gendarmerie. 45 consecutive weeks of this in Paris had reduced the centre of the city to a no-go area for tourists at weekends as the economy took a nosedive with every smashed restaurant and luxury store window in and around the Champs-Élysées. After a year, the protests had also spread to other French cities such as Strasbourg, Montpellier and Rouen, and it was difficult to discern an end in sight until Macron was delivered the lifeline of Covid-19.

In an instant, the democratic right to protest, which always seems so integral to the French character, was abruptly taken away along with every other civil liberty. As those images of the world’s great capital cities had shown, Paris was far-from unique in this sudden clearing of the streets; but for President Macron, a convenient by-product of the emergency measures was the painless removal of an obstinate thorn in his side. When one final attempt to revive the protests took place in defiance of lockdown in March 2020, even some of the movement’s leaders stayed at home and advised their followers to do likewise. The boil, it appeared, had been lanced. The power and authority of Monsieur Macron having been unexpectedly salvaged now gave the President the opportunity to flex his muscles and the past week has seen the outcome of this existential bodybuilding.

On Monday, Macron confirmed to the French people that they were living in a two-tier society and one presumes he knows which tier his detractors belong to. An existing rule applying to nightclubs, whereby proof of a negative Covid test or vaccination is required to gain entry, was to be extended to leisure and cultural centres, shortly to be followed by everything else people might wish to engage in when stepping out of doors. Anyone employed by the French hospitality industry as well as those working for airlines, hospitals, care homes and railways will now be legally required to submit to vaccination or else will find themselves out of a job. Macron hasn’t quite reached the extremes of St Jacinda of New Zealand’s North Korean-style assertion that the only trustworthy guardian of the truth is government, but he’s capitalising on the convenient suppression of dissenting voices by laying down the law while he can.

Maybe what’s so striking about Macron’s authoritarian stance is the fact that our Gallic cousins have been especially sceptical when it comes to the vaccine. Clinging to the quaint belief that control of one’s body should be an autonomous choice, just under half of the French population have so far resisted a medical procedure that is now being thrust upon them as compulsory if they wish to continue being active members of society. In addition, Macron has also indicated mandatory jabs will no longer be free of charge as of the autumn, rubbing (one might say) salt in the wound of liberté, égalité and fraternité. We think we’ve got it bad here when it comes to a worrying lack of Parliamentary debate on issues that affect us all in the current climate; but Macron has excelled in evading such debate altogether by using (abusing?) his status, rushing through the law on Covid passports for access to nightclubs by invoking Presidential decree, and it’s highly likely he’ll do the same when seeking to turn his latest proposals into law. Gives you food for thought whenever the subject of republicanism on these shores rears its head, doesn’t it.

At one time, both the French and the British people could be relied upon to admirably resist the kind of totalitarian measures more familiar to European neighbours such as Germany or Italy; bloody-mindedness seemed to be characteristic traits we shared with our brothers across the Channel. But the disappointingly compliant response to Project Fear on this side of the Continental divide has perhaps persuaded Macron that he can get away with it on home soil; yet he’s clearly figured he can push the boat out even further. What he’s now proposing has taken post-lockdown restrictions into unprecedented territory that one cannot help but suspect are being studied by other European leaders as a possible blueprint for the way forward. Basically telling the French people that no vaccine equates with no life, either of the working or social variety, is a bold statement that feels as though it goes against the grain of everything we associate with the French and their history of rebelling in the face of such decrees from on high.

The long-running Gilets jaunes protests were familiar in their characteristically French response to authority overreaching itself, though it’s hard to see how resistance can now be manifested when confronted by rules and regulations that place the people in a position where choice is no longer an issue if one wants to survive in this brave new world. Is there a whiff of triumphant revenge in this move by Macron? Neutered by the protests that wrecked the capital city for the best part of a year, Monsieur President has reasserted his authority by exceeding any demonstrations of it he was able to call upon before he received the powers to shut society down and redraw the map of discourse. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of vaccines being hired by the state as a kidnapper holding freedom hostage, Macron’s actions seem to remove the option of personal choice figuring somewhere in the picture. If you want to resume living your life, you’ll have to take what the state is offering you…or else.

Maybe to get me in the mood for writing this post, the penning of it has been complemented by a compilation of Serge Gainsbourg’s finest moments playing in the background; as I reach the final paragraph, his reggae-fied interpretation of ‘La Marseillaise’ has just burst out of the speakers. Provoking the ire of right-wing veterans from the Algerian War of Independence upon its release in 1979, Gainsbourg’s controversial version of the French national anthem said something about the nation that hadn’t been addressed before. Not unlike some of this nation’s most famous, contentious (and sadly absent) sons we can no longer turn to for guidance, the French must be wondering what Serge would say if confronted by the current proposals to emanate from the Élysée Palace. Probably problematic…and unprintable, God bless ‘im.

© The Editor




Perhaps it’s a measure of the disproportionate attention given to US politics in the UK over politics nearer to home; but the non-event publicity stunt that was the second Trump impeachment trial received considerably more coverage here than events just across the Channel. In Washington, the chronically-cuckoo Nancy Pelosi was busy burning the bridges that President Biden professed to be building within days of Sleepy Joe’s inauguration, but perhaps the whole anticlimactic circus wasn’t so much another act of desperate revenge on the part of Democrats as a distraction from the new President’s hawkish ambitions. With all eyes still focused on the Bad Orange Man, maybe Biden hoped no one would notice him reviving America’s dormant tradition of warmongering by planning his bombing strategy for Syria. Meanwhile, somewhere in a country considerably closer to these shores than the US of A, a former President was also in the dock, only this time the outcome was a tad more damning.

Nicolas Sarkozy, a man I once referred to on here as an ‘obnoxious, corrupt midget’ – why mince words, eh? – has been sentenced to three years in le clink after being found guilty on corruption charges. The man who was President of the Fifth Republic between 2007 and 2012 is naturally appealing against his conviction, though he’s not exactly being carted off to the Bastille (metaphorically speaking); he will remain a free man throughout the appeal process, which will probably be dragged out for a long time. The sentence may be a three-year one, but two of the three years are suspended and the remaining year would see the 66-year-old former ‘bling-bling’ Napoleon serve out his sentence with the sole punishment of being electronically tagged. The source of Sarkozy’s troubles stretch back a decade, dating from accusations that surfaced halfway through his solitary term as President, ones that claimed he’d received illegal campaign donations in cash from ‘L’Oreal heiress’ Lilliane Bettencourt during his 2007 run for office. Two years after leaving the Élysée Palace, he was arrested when it emerged he’d promised a cushy Monaco post to a high-ranking judge in return for info on the investigation into the campaign donations allegation.

Although there was found to be no foundation to the Bettencourt allegations, Sarkozy’s interference in the investigation and his inducements to the judge have cost him. Sarkozy had harboured hopes of a political return following his 2012 defeat by François Hollande, but his 2014 detainment in police custody and the consequent official digging into his activities put paid to a comeback, playing its part in Sarkozy’s failure to be selected by his party to run for office again in 2017. However, Sarkozy was no stranger to scandal; back in 2009, a full year before the illegal campaign payments allegation, the man with the supermodel missus was accused of nepotism after attempting to secure a position for his son as head of the public body that runs France’s premier business district. Matt Hancock was probably peering down the Channel Tunnel at the time and making mental notes on how to award contracts should the opportunity ever arise at a future date.

Anyway, the trial relating to the corruption investigation begun in 2014 got underway last November, when we in Blighty had our heads turned instead towards Washington. Between initial arrest and trial, Sarkozy was also indicted on separate charges in 2016, this time regarding overspending on his 2012 Presidential campaign; a trial relating to this is scheduled for the spring. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of alleged Libyan influence in the 2007 French Presidential Election; an allegation that Libya donated €50 million to Sarkozy’s campaign that year in exchange for favours led to further police questioning for the ex-President in 2018 and charges of corruption. So, in the light of his sentencing, it’s fair to say Monsieur Sarkozy has form. Then again, the office itself has form – or at least from Sarkozy’s immediate predecessor onwards. In 2011, the late Jacques Chirac was found guilty of embezzlement and breach of trust from his time as Mayor of Paris, though he received a two-year suspended sentence.

At one time, I suppose this story would have seemed shocking. Today, it merely seems surprising that a former world leader was actually found guilty of corruption, so unaccustomed are we to seeing those in positions of power receiving punishment for their crimes. However, so low is the public esteem to which the holders of high office have sunk – and so low is the expectation that justice will be done – that we all pretty much suspect Nicolas Sarkozy won’t even so much as receive a six-month holiday in an open prison. The anticipated narrative is that expensive lawyers will play the legal system for years in order to maintain their client’s freedom, and then their client will eventually pop his clogs without ever having to once break sweat when bending over to retrieve a bar of soap during a shower. Let’s face it, nobody is really surprised anymore by the revelation that those who reach the pinnacle of political power are corrupt; the general consensus appears to be if they weren’t already bent on the way up, they’ll certainly succumb to it once they get there.

Sadly, this unavoidably apathetic acceptance of such a belief benefits the powerful; it convinces them they’re beyond the law because the public have become almost immune to the blatant abuse of power that every leader of every poxy council, political party or government seems to indulge in bereft of the slightest semblance of conscience. The amount of times Boris Johnson has fumbled, bumbled and basically lied his way out of the corner he’d painted himself into is so innumerable now that people have stopped counting or caring. He’s not even especially skilled at covering his back or coming up with a feasible fib to assure us our suspicions are unfounded, yet he simply gets away with it because no one expects anything better anymore. Yes, it’s cynicism on the part of the public, but it also reflects the fact those we elect are people we don’t really believe in or care about; we just pick the least awful man or woman we’re offered. After all, remember the alternatives to Boris at the last General Election.

Researching the Salmond/Sturgeon story from a couple of posts ago, I saw nothing there that persuaded me major heads would roll; in an ideal world, they should. But part of me just thought, hey, so they’re as bent as a nine-bob note, so what’s new? Shoulders shrug and wait for the next revelation to be greeted with indifference. And it’s not even exclusive to politics. As far as I’m aware, no police officer has been convicted for turning a blind eye to the grooming gangs and nobody has yet answered for what happened at Grenfell Tower. Shocking, yes, but surprising? No. This is what we expect because we’ve come to believe ‘they’re all at it’; but it’s been like this for a long time. Take it back to the Expenses’ Scandal or the illegal invasion of Iraq, if you like – or go back further, all the way to Watergate or Profumo. I guess this is why a former French President of such recent vintage being found guilty in a court of law and receiving a sentence – regardless of whether or not he serves a single day of it – has come as such a pleasant surprise. Sure, it’s no surprise that Nicolas Sarkozy was exposed as an ‘obnoxious, corrupt midget’; but it is a surprise that he was finally done for it. Vive la France.

© The Editor


I guess it’s the last thing the authorities needed right now – with the threat of one more national lockdown in the air, they could’ve done without a senseless murder in another country rousing thousands and bringing them onto the streets to protest and risk pushing up infection rates. Of course, you won’t have been able to avoid it on social media, what with the tech providers imposing a suitably fitting image upon their users, one that is an obligatory profile picture for a day of mass solidarity with the deceased; and, naturally, sportsmen and women are mirroring the mood by observing a moments’ silence with a symbolic bowed head – ‘taking the head’, I think it’s called; and Sainsbury’s will undoubtedly express solidarity too. Oh, wait a minute – for a moment, I forgot none of this is actually happening. No, somehow the barbaric beheading of a History & Geography teacher outside his school in Paris on Friday hasn’t generated an international response. Fancy that.

This is a story the New York Times (which is now so Woke it makes the Guardian resemble ConservativeHome) reported with the headline: ‘French Police Shoot and Kill Man after a Fatal Knife Attack on the Street.’ In case, you weren’t aware, the man who wasn’t shot and killed by the French Police was 47-year-old Samuel Paty; he’d had the gall to show his students the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Muhammad during a lesson on freedom of speech, something he’d made clear beforehand. He’d offered the Muslim members of the class the opportunity to abstain if they so wished, though his lesson still provoked an angry response from some parents who took to the internet to ramp up the pressure inevitably heaped upon a teacher working in a country that has been Europe’s most secular nation for the best part of 200 years. Misinformation was spread to the point where Paty was accused by one parent – whose daughter apparently wasn’t even present in the classroom – of displaying a ‘naked image’ of the Prophet.

Monsieur Paty’s murderer was revealed as an 18-year-old refugee who had been a resident of France for barely six months and seemingly had no connection to the school at all; he must have been scouring social media on the look-out for local infidels and happened to stumble upon his target. He turned up at the school in a Paris suburb as it was emptying for the day, asked exiting pupils to point out the guilty man and, from all accounts, launched an unprovoked attack on the teacher that climaxed with decapitation. The French themselves got over beheading people after the Terror, but it seems the spirit of Madame Guillotine is alive and kicking in some of the more enlightened overseas souls France has been generous enough to offer a home to. It’s certainly a novel way of embracing the culture of one’s chosen country, even if it is a couple of centuries out of date; but at least he was trying to fit in.

The murderer, Moscow-born Abdullakh Anzorov, went on to fire at police with an air rifle and also wielded a knife, prompting them to shoot and kill when they cornered him – hence the rightly outraged New York Times headline. This particularly appalling murder has taken place at a moment of heightened tension in France’s relationship with Islam, just as 14 people are currently being tried in connection with the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre; it’s only a fortnight ago that two employees of a TV production company were stabbed in the same location by a bright spark who thought the satirical magazine was still based at its former offices. France’s anti-terrorist prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said Samuel Paty had been ‘assassinated for teaching’; it’s hard to disagree with his additional statement that the murder was an assault on the principle of freedom of expression. The western world is experiencing a lot of that at the moment, though the brutal methods of doing so that were employed in Paris remain a mercifully rare manifestation of it.

The man who committed the crime clearly viewed western culture and values with hatred and contempt, which is a very chic hallmark of the far left right now, visible in its daily pronouncements and denunciations; and as the far left has been the instigator behind this year’s heavily-publicised campaigns against these values, campaigns that have received the backing of tech corporations, institutions, mainstream media and academia, perhaps it’s no great surprise that there has been no organised protest over the Samuel Paty murder beyond France. The far left may be at pains to condemn the killing, but the ideological motivation isn’t a million miles away from the relentless chipping away at the cultural inheritance of the west we’re bombarded with day-after-day, one where everyone and everything is racist and evil, where the original sin of whiteness demands its sufferers are re-educated, and the Woke ‘Mein-Kampf’ that is ‘White Fragility’ is recommended reading material whilst JK Rowling books are burned. It’s not too hard to join the dots between the extremes.

The far left are also amongst the prime lockdown cheerleaders; as some wag said the other day, lockdown suits them because it translates as middle-class people being paid to stay at home while working-class people deliver everything to their door. Therefore, who cares if this year the UK has seen the closure of 11,120 shops on a high street that was already in decline even before Covid-19 intervened? It would appear some are doing alright, Jack. The authoritarian streak and casual ambivalence over the ongoing erosion of civil liberties that has unfortunately become symptomatic of the left probably wouldn’t object to the new ‘digital health passports’ currently being tried and tested either. Permission to enter another country could henceforth depend upon whether one has submitted to a vaccine that will miraculously overcome the obstacles that generally require a good five years or more to overcome during the development of such a substance. Maybe there also won’t be any concerns that those told to self-isolate through NHS track & trace could have their details shared with police, who will have access to that private information. Ah, well – all for our own good, eh?

When we live in a world in which Twitter is guilty of blatantly suppressing quite important revelations regarding the son of the man who is hoping to be voted into the White House next month, it’s increasingly difficult to take anything at face value anymore. Mind you, his opponent has spent the last four years so brazenly twisting the truth to fit his own surreal agenda that the pattern is already well-established as the way forward on both sides. It’s been refreshing to see some of our regional mayors over here at least challenge the Covid narrative, but what can the likes of Andy Burnham really do other than publicly state his opposition? Yes, it does seem a tad unfair that when London seemed threatened by the coronavirus back in the spring the whole country was willing to shut up shop, yet when a similar situation arises in the north, only the north has to close down. At the same time, trying to avoid a repeat of last April is understandable, especially when the damage that did is becoming more apparent.

Okay, so none of this on the surface seems to have much of a connection with horrific events in Paris last Friday; but as was mentioned in a comment I made on the previous post, looking back five years to the first few ‘Telegram’ missives reminded me of how nothing has really changed since 2015 when it comes to Radical Islam on western soil. The first-ever ‘proper’ post covered the murder of 14 people by two ISIS sympathisers in San Bernardino, California as well as the non-fatal stabbing of three commuters at Leytonstone Tube Station by an individual who declared ‘This is for Syria’. I wonder, five years hence, if anyone (including yours truly) is still here, whether or not I’ll be looking back to 2020 and musing on the fact that we thought the first lockdown was bad – as we live through our eleventh? Plus ça change, as they say across the Channel.

© The Editor


The story goes that the American entertainment industry ruled the roost and dictated popular culture until The Beatles appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964 and then attention switched to the other side of the Atlantic. There’s a degree of truth in that, but until the Fab Four delved into Victoriana and the rich tapestry of British folk and chamber music, their look and sound was a perfect synthesis of America and Europe; Hamburg made them a band, but Paris gave them a haircut and a continental style unique to the UK. The trio of German art students (including photographer Astrid Kirchherr) who befriended The Beatles in Hamburg were war-babies whose disgust with the actions of their parents’ generation led them to look to Paris for inspiration. And Paris was the place to be at the turn of the 60s.

In the late 50s, a group of critics at the French movie magazine, ‘Cahiers du Cinéma’ – including the likes of François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol – decided they could make better films than the directors whose work they were reviewing, and once they began doing so they inadvertently created one of the most influential movements in movie history, the Nouvelle Vague. With its stark monochrome cinematography, untested actors, location shooting and documentary-style realism, the Nouvelle Vague (or ‘The New Wave’, as it was known in English), was a dramatic contrast to the majority of Hollywood’s output and inspired the up-and-coming crop of US directors who would shake Tinsel Town at the end of the 60s. It also helped kick-start Britain’s own ‘kitchen sink’ school of cinema.

Along with unknowns such as Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina and Jean-Pierre Léaud – whose careers were established via their roles in classics like ‘A Bout de Souffle’, ‘Une Femme est Une Femme’, and the peerless ‘Les Quatre Cents Coups’ – emerged an actress whose impact owed a great deal to the Nouvelle Vague, yet transcended it so that she isn’t solely associated with that particular movement and has simply become recognised as one of the premier cinematic stars of her generation. I’m talking about, of course, the great – and now, sadly, late – Jeanne Moreau.

Words such as ‘legendary’ and ‘iconic’ are bandied about so freely these days that they have achieved the same level of meaninglessness as the tiresomely ubiquitous ‘awesome’; but Jeanne Moreau, who has died at the age of 89, was genuinely legendary and iconic. Her status as such largely stemmed from her role in Truffaut’s 1962 movie, ‘Jules et Jim’. The character she played in it, Catherine, is a free spirit who forms one-third of a love triangle around the outbreak of the First World War; although the film is set half-a-century earlier than when it was made, Catherine embodies the attitude associated with the youth poised to take centre stage in the 60s. It made Moreau an overnight international star.

Predating ‘Jules et Jim’ by three years, however, Moreau had given a remarkably moving and subtle performance in Louis Malle’s ‘Les Amants’, which remains perhaps the most exquisitely romantic movie I’ve ever seen; and it isn’t remotely soppy, just real – the hallmark of French cinema’s golden age. But the worldwide success of ‘Jules et Jim’ opened doors for Moreau that led her to working with the renowned likes of Orson Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Elia Kazan, and Britain’s own Tony Richardson, who became so infatuated with Moreau during the two movies he made with her that he left his wife Vanessa Redgrave for her.

Jeanne Moreau didn’t abandon the cinema of her home country whilst building a career outside of France, however; she may have shared a screen with France’s other international cinematic icon Brigitte Bardot in 1965’s ‘Viva Maria’, but a far more substantial role came in 1974’s ‘Les Valseuses’. In this once-controversial black comedy, she plays a recently released prisoner who is seduced by a couple of hedonistic sexual vagabonds (one of whom is played by a young Gerard Depardieu). What makes her on-screen threesome with the pair relatively unusual even now is the fact that the ménage à trois consists of two men and one woman rather than the standard one man and two women. But it’s a scene that is oddly tender, even if it happens to be followed by one of the most awful methods of suicide to ever befall a character in a movie. Let’s just say a revolver is inserted into a part of the body only a woman could insert it into.

I remember a later role for Moreau in a 1993 BBC TV film called ‘A Foreign Field’, starring alongside Alec Guinness and Lauren Bacall, which dealt with the return of WWII veterans to Normandy, one of the last times the wartime generation were portrayed in the present tense. Although surrounded by some considerable acting heavyweights, Moreau’s part was pivotal to the drama, playing a woman two of the male characters had enjoyed romantic assignations with at the time of the D-Day landings. Again, she managed to imbue her performance with both a touching quality that made the viewer care what happened to her, as well as a mischievous aspect that showcased her talent for comedy.

Jeanne Moreau’s film debut was in 1950 – the same year Marlon Brando exploded onto the big screen in ‘The Men’ – and her final appearance was in 2012, just five years ago. Sixty-two years isn’t a bad run for a movie career, and it’s testament to Moreau that she was as good an actress as an old lady as she was when a young woman. She was pretty special and she’ll be missed.

© The Editor


I would imagine the sigh of relief from Brussels can be detected in Paris tonight. As with the recent failure of Geert Wilders to claim victory in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen’s threat to win the French Presidency has been vanquished. Of course, over in EU Central, the potential panic wasn’t based on her far-right rhetoric and how it might impact upon those within France who don’t fall into her favoured demographic, but the explicit anti-EU bandwagon she’d attached herself to – a common thread amongst Europe’s contemporary far-right parties. In the wake of Brexit, the fear that the other leading Western European nations might follow suit and bring the whole bureaucratic house of cards crashing down appears to have been eased; but how long for, one wonders.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s petulant jibe at how the English language is losing its relevance on the continent a couple of days ago for some epitomised the arrogance of the unelected passengers on the Brussels gravy-train, whereas others might regard it as a tit-for-tat response to the equally combative approach of the right in both Westminster and on Fleet Street. It was almost reminiscent of when the host of the Eurovision Song Contest would make his or her announcements to the audience in French before being forced to repeat them in English – just so viewers knew which language took precedence. European harmony is certainly in short supply at the moment, but Juncker and his colleagues can take solace from the fact that, of the three key General Elections taking place in Europe this year, at least one of them has gone their way. And it’d be a major upset if the Germans don’t do likewise.

It’s probably true to say Britain never truly embraced the European project with the same verve as our continental neighbours; we were the cautious bass-player in the early Punk band who was the last member of the group to cut his hair and stop wearing flares – and even then, the barber and the boutique were approached with reluctance. If any member state was eventually going to bail out, it was bound to be Blighty; perhaps the real surprise is that it took so long before it happened, not that it actually did happen. For France to reach the same conclusion, however, would have been unthinkable until very recently. Then again, France’s all-encompassing enthusiasm for the European Union has been whittled away by similar factors that motivated some to vote Leave here last year.

Considering France has suffered more than most from Islamic terrorism in the last couple of years, the issue of immigration has unsurprisingly registered highly in this Presidential Election; Marine Le Pen, like Farage and Trump before her, has tapped into the neglected concerns of natives who, already victims of the post-2008 economic downturn, have naturally laid the blame at the door of globalisation and freedom-of-movement immigration. Le Pen has exploited this for her own gain, as any canny politician would, but it’s easily done when such a large demographic has been consistently ignored by the mainstream parties for so long. That neither Le Pen nor Macron belongs to a mainstream party speaks volumes as to this dissatisfaction with the political process.

Marine Le Pen has portrayed herself as a figure outside of the establishment, though it’s not as though she rose from humble beginnings and has entered the political arena overnight; she’s very much a member of an establishment, just not the establishment. However, she was able to play the outsider card on account of her opponent. Standing against Emmanuel Macron – former investment banker, ex-member of Hollande’s cabinet, liberal centrist and (crucially) pro-EU – the gift of Macron to Le Pen masks Macron’s own independence from the political establishment, leaving the Socialist Party and forming his own party, En Marche! By the way (just in case you were wondering), the exclamation mark is part of the party’s name.

Macron appears to be a rather bland professional politician in the Blair mould, espousing the kind of centrist rhetoric that’s certainly been discredited on this side of the Channel; in fact, the only thing I can see remotely interesting about him – other than (at 39) he’ll be France’s youngest-ever President – is that he married his former teacher, some twenty-odd years his senior, thus fulfilling the fantasies of many an adolescent boy. Were he a Brit and their positions were reversed, i.e. he’d been the former tutor who’d married a pupil, he could probably expect a knock on the door from Inspector Knacker and the Historical Fishing Party Squad; but they’re French, of course, and the French don’t get so hot under the collar about such things.

So, Le Pen may have lost this time round, but the challenge facing Macron, regardless of the blessing he’ll receive from Brussels, is to try to heal some of the gaping wounds French politicians have allowed to fester for a long time. If he doesn’t, he’ll find his opponent in 2017 (who is hardly the sort to disappear from the political scene with a whimper due to one defeat) will be more than ready to take him on again in 2022. The French electorate have resoundingly rejected the two dominant parties of the last half-century in this Presidential Election, so past loyalties can no longer be relied upon. Macron has quite a task on his hands, and if he isn’t capable of getting the job done, both he and his countrymen will suffer the consequences five years from now.

As for home soil, we’ve nothing to be smug about…

© The Editor


Apparently, 2017 is the first year since 1924 that General Elections have taken place in all three of Europe’s economic powerhouses – that is France, Germany and…yes…us. Back then, Édouard Herriot and his left-wing Cartel des Gauches alliance claimed victory in the French Legislative Election, Otto Wels led Germany’s Social Democratic Party to victory in the German Federal Election, and over here it was Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives who triumphed over Ramsay MacDonald’s minority Labour Government. The instability of Europe in the aftermath of the Great War was perhaps emphasised by the fact it was the second time German voters had been summoned to the polling booth that year, whilst in the UK, it was just ten months on from the last General Election; by contrast, it had been five years for French voters. However, these historical facts somewhat obscure the tumultuous changes our nearest continental neighbours underwent from 1789 to 1958.

From the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, France experienced more than a century of chopping (literally) and changing at the top. After King Louis met his maker via Madame Guillotine, there followed a short-lived series of substitutions for the monarchy – the National Constituent Assembly, the Legislative Assembly, the National Convention, and then the notorious Committee of Public Safety led by Robespierre, which was responsible for the infamous Terror; this was followed by the final Revolutionary Government, the Directory, which ended with Bonaparte’s seizure of power in a 1799 coup that resulted in the nation’s most successful general becoming First Consul.

Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor within five years of the coup and held onto power for another decade; Bonaparte’s abdication in 1814 led to a brief restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy via the corpulent Louis XVIII, brother of the executed XVI, who was temporarily usurped after Napoleon’s flight from exile in Elba. With Waterloo bringing to end the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Louis XVIII was back on the throne. He was succeeded by another Bourbon brother, Charles X, in 1824, though Charles was deposed during the July Revolution of 1830 and replaced by his cousin Louis Philippe. Louis himself was forced into exile during the 1848 Revolution, ironically following his predecessor to a safe haven across the Channel.

The Second Republic was proclaimed in the aftermath of 1848, with Bonaparte’s nephew first being elected President and then, when denied a second term, staging a coup that ended with him being crowned Emperor of the French (using the title Napoleon III). He reigned as Emperor for an impressive eighteen years, though his ambitions backfired during the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, an event which marked a significant change in Central Europe’s balance of power. Prussia’s victory was a key factor in the unification of Germany five years later, whereas for France it marked the end of the country’s role as Europe’s dominant nation. From a Prussian perspective, it also served as revenge for the first Bonaparte’s brutal dismemberment of the German states over half-a-century before.

The Third Republic was proclaimed as Napoleon III followed a familiar path of English exile (where he died in 1873, buried in Hampshire). Paris was ruled by the radical Paris Commune – a collective Karl Marx referred to as ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ – after the country’s defeat and was under siege from the regular French Army for two months until normality reasserted itself and came to term with France’s humiliation at Germany’s hands. This incarnation of France survived until the invasion of Nazi Germany in 1940 and the formation of the puppet Vichy Government.

The Fourth Republic was formed after the Second World War, but collapsed during the Algerian War of Independence in 1958; from its ashes rose the Fifth Republic, which is still the political system France is governed by today. Its architect was the leader of the Free French Forces whilst in exile during WWII, Charles de Gaulle, who was elected President and held onto power until being rejected in a referendum in 1969; he died a year later. Since his successor, Georges Pompidou, France has experienced a relatively stable transference of power via the ballot box, yet arrives at yet another crossroads today with serving President François Hollande not seeking re-election.

Unlike both Germany and the UK (not to mention Spain and Italy), after the Algerian crisis of the late 50s and early 60s, France largely avoided terrorist assaults on its home soil from the 1970s onwards. The sudden bloody incursion of Radical Islam into French life over the last couple of years has come as something of a shock to the country, which had long regarded itself as a secular multicultural melting pot, despite the grassroots rise of the far-right under the National Front leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen at the turn of the twenty-first century.

The shooting dead of a policeman in Paris by an alleged Islamist terrorist on the eve of the first round of this year’s Presidential Elections could have an understandable bearing on events this weekend, especially where the National Front are concerned. Marine Le Pen has given it a facelift since she engineered the expulsion of her father from the party, but she remains the underdog while Emmanuel Macron, himself something of an outsider from the mainstream, is the bookies’ favourite. As someone who welcomed the Brexit result, Le Pen advocates French withdrawal from the EU; considering France was a prime-mover in the foundation of the EEC, this attitude reflects French fears over the increasing stature of Germany in Central Europe. Old enmities with France’s domineering neighbour have resurfaced in recent years, something that hasn’t necessarily benefitted France in the past.

If this whistle-stop tour through post-Revolutionary France amounts to anything, it’s a demonstration that the kind of uncertainty being portrayed as unprecedented amongst our Gallic cousins is nothing new if one takes the long view. But who takes the long view these days?

© The Editor


61Whatever words may be used to describe the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, as far as France is concerned, ‘unprecedented’ shouldn’t be one of them. It only seems so from a British perspective, and it has to be said that the considerable headlines the Jungle has garnered in this country have been largely due to its uncomfortable proximity – the fact that only the Channel separates ‘us’ and ‘them’, thus bringing something close to Britannia’s borders that is largely alien to the British experience in terms of immigration. To the French, this is certainly not the case.

The messy (to put it mildly) partition of India that accompanied independence in 1947 didn’t really have an impact on the British people until the first substantial wave of Asian immigrants arrived on British soil twenty years later; the pattern established once they were here was to house many in declining industrial towns in the north or midlands as well as similarly rundown areas of London. Whilst this policy often gifted natives faced with diminishing employment opportunities the excuse that the immigrants were ‘takin’ our jobs’, the immigrants themselves knuckled down and worked extremely hard, forging new thriving communities in the process. Many were allocated admittedly poor housing, though these were still recognisable houses. The contrast with the ramifications that followed the end of France’s colonial adventure is stark.

The trauma the French went through over the loss of Algeria in the early 60s has no real parallels with the disintegration of the British Empire; none of Britain’s imperial possessions were near enough to the mainland to present Britain with the first-hand fallout of surrendering colonies to home-grown rulers who soon adopted a pseudo-Marxist approach to governance. As the distance between Paris and Algiers is just 837 miles, the four rebel French Generals who attempted to seize power in the face of imminent Algerian independence in 1961 were close enough to France for their threat to launch missiles at Paris from Algiers to be taken seriously. The belief that Algeria was an integral part of France bred such fanatical actions, though the Algerians that attempted to set up home in the Mother Country found that the French themselves didn’t exactly welcome them with open arms.

The appalling Paris Massacre of 1961 was spearheaded by Head of the Parisian Police Maurice Papon, a man whose later conviction for participation in the wartime Vichy regime seems highly in keeping with his behaviour on 17 October that year. He directed the police to respond to a demonstration by 30,000 Algerians on the streets of the capital with such callous brutality that even now nobody is entirely sure how many of the demonstrators were murdered. Only 40 deaths have been officially recognised, though some estimate as many as between 100 and 300 were killed that night; the Seine was said to be a genuine river of blood, with dozens of Algerian corpses floating in it.

Nobody was ever prosecuted for their role in the Paris Massacre, due to it being regarded as part of the Algerian War of Independence and therefore subject to the amnesty that was supposed to draw a line under the crimes committed during it. That the incident isn’t internationally recognised as belonging in the same unwanted pantheon as Bloody Sunday remains a mystery, though the way in which the guilty evaded justice was characteristic of the climate.

Most North Africans aiming to relocate to mainland France managed to avoid being massacred, but their eventual destination was usually the kind of residence Brits tend not to associate with the perceived sophistication of our Gallic cousins – shanty towns, or what the French called Bidonvilles. These proto-Jungle dwellings were largely invisible to overseas visitors and were understandably afforded little if any coverage abroad, though there were as many as 89 scattered around the outskirts of Paris in the late 60s. Although Portuguese immigrants constituted a large proportion of the population in such basic accommodation, many non-white arrivals to French shores could expect to end up there. No other Western European nation in the post-war era had such a severe segregation between natives and immigrants as France during this period.

There was a concerted effort to remove what were regarded as embarrassing eyesores from the mid-60s onwards, though as late as 1973 reports claimed as many as 8,600 people were still living in them. As the 70s progressed, the Bidonvilles were gradually cleared away from around Paris, but they still exist on the peripheries of several French cities and the Jungle is just the latest in a long line of them. The worldwide publicity the Jungle has received in comparison to all the Bidonvilles that preceded it is probably down to the excessive coverage of post-Iraq War events in the Middle East, and public interest in what becomes of those fleeing the region. Add the substantial number of migrants risking life and limb whilst escaping similarly dangerous environments in Africa and it’s a combustible mix guaranteed to generate tabloid scaremongering. But to react as though the Jungle was some new unpleasant innovation is to do a disservice to all those who inhabited the previous miserable Bidonvilles decades ago and were ignored by the wider world.

The closure of the Jungle that began on Monday has essentially been brought about by the media attention and clamour for ‘something to be done’, and I’ve no doubt Fleet Street will issue three cheers now that this particular problem has been pushed back from the coast of Northern France. There’s also the small matter of a Presidential Election in France next year and Monsieur Hollande is in sore need of a few popularity points.

The curious legacy of European colonialism is a reversal of the nineteenth century model, whereby Europeans feasted on foreign resources without first being invited to do so; ex-colonial subjects reciprocating the gesture 100 years later by turning up for dinner unannounced, however, is seen as something of a social faux pas – ditto those who were never colonial subjects, but whose presence on the doorstep is a direct consequence of more recent European gatecrashing. One could talk about reaping and sowing, but I won’t. The French have always had their own way of dealing with uninvited dinner guests, and while dumping successful asylum-seekers in Parisian suburbs that have already become ghettos left to their own devices may be merely a means of shifting the problem from one location to another, even those concrete jungles don’t conjure up quite the same visual misery as a Bidonville does. Get rid of them and the world can believe the dilemma has been solved. If only it were that simple.

© The Editor


MarianneViewed as the latest faux-pas by a French politician in the Silly Season’s ongoing Burkini debate, the comment of France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls that the Republic’s Britannia-like national symbol Marianne is a more accurate portrayal of Gallic freedom than an imposed veil because her breasts are bared has ignited another episode of controversy. Marianne ironically tends to be painted or sculpted with her head covered, and though the headgear is the Phrygian cap associated with 1789, a covered head is surely something France’s female Muslim population could relate to. But it is Marianne’s breasts that are the contentious issue here.

Perhaps the most famous artistic interpretation of Marianne is in Eugene Delacroix’s allegorical painting ‘Liberty Leading the People’ – and yes, her tits are out for les gars. Painted in 1830, it celebrates the July Revolution of the same year, which saw the overthrow of Charles X. One more revolution eighteen years later saw the forced abdication of his usurper, Louis-Philippe, and Marianne was invoked yet again. A familiar figure on the pre-Euro French coins the Centime and the Franc, Marianne also became something of a pop culture icon in the late twentieth century when the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve were used as models for her.

The bare-breasted version of Marianne was always favoured by radicals; it implied a wave of female emancipation that had relevance in 1789, when women had helped spark the uprising in the first place and were eventually rewarded with progressive legislation unique in Europe. The Napoleonic era saw the erosion of these hard-won civil rights, though Marianne herself remained a regular embodiment of liberated womanhood whenever the revolutionary spirit took hold of the country – as it frequently did throughout the nineteenth century.

The nation that popularised topless sunbathing clearly regards the bare breast in a different light to its old nudge-nudge wink-wink enemy on the other side of the Channel, though the French PM’s opinion has not chimed with some of his countrywomen. Female French historian Mathilde Larrere labelled Monsieur Valls’ comment as ‘moronic’, yet both points of view seem to reflect a wider debate regarding the naked breast that stretches way beyond France. If we put the endless contrasting attitudes towards public breast-feeding to one side, last weekend’s Go Topless Day in New York was a good example of the double standards surrounding that awful word, ‘empowering’.

This event is an annual occurrence staged on the nearest weekend to Women’s Equality Day and there was a parade featuring an abundance of exposed American bosoms. What happened next was utterly unpredictable and incredibly shocking. Lots of fully-clothed men brandishing mobile phones descended upon the parade and took photos and videos, the sick perverts! What on earth did the participants think was going to happen? As is usually the case with zealots, self-righteous conviction is blind to any contradictory opinion and everyone is expected to fall into line. The thought that some men catching sight of tits on display in the middle of the day might actually be turned on by the prospect served to sour the empowerment somewhat. But what is the real difference between baring all on a PC parade and doing likewise on page 3?

A glamour model who goes topless for a living and makes a healthy income through it is regarded as the plaything of wicked male lust, yet go topless for charity or to make some spurious point about exploitation and that is somehow morally superior. Both are down to personal choice, and both will inevitably attract the same male arousal, which doesn’t particular care about the context as long as a pair of boobs is out. It is naive and short-sighted to imagine this will never be a factor, whatever the reason behind the exposure. Marianne’s ample assets are not supposed to represent sexuality, but it’s hard not to envisage anticipatory excitement back in the 60s and 70s when Bardot and Deneuve were announced as models for France’s very own Lady Liberty. And anyone who has seen ‘Les Valseuses’, the glorious 1974 black comedy starring Gerard Depardieu, will realise that some men even get excited when they stumble upon breast-feeding. Fancy that!

GENE WILDER (1933-2016)

WilderThe death of Gene Wilder at the age of 83 yesterday is worth a mention, if only for the string of superlative cinematic comedies Wilder illuminated in a golden period from the late 60s to the late 70s. Rooted in the same great tradition of American Jewish humour as Woody Allen, Larry David and Mel Brooks, Wilder enjoyed his most fruitful on-screen era in collaboration with the latter. His film debut was a cameo in the far-from comedic 1967 drama, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, though he is so funny in the small role of Eugene Grizzard that it was obvious here was a great new talent with plenty of potential. He proved it in Brooks’ ‘The Producers’ the following year, playing Leo Bloom, the neurotic accountant with a Linus-like attachment to a blanket.

Between ‘The Producers’ and the full flowering of his creative partnership with Mel Brooks, he played Willy Wonka in the first movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and also made a memorable appearance as a man in love with a sheep in Woody Allen’s ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)’. Reunited with Brooks, he starred in arguably the director’s two greatest films, ‘Young Frankenstein’ and ‘Blazing Saddles’, both superb pastiches of two of Hollywood’s most enduring genres, Horror and The Western.

Wilder then formed another creative partnership that spanned four successful films, this time with Richard Pryor, movies that served to transcend Pryor’s cult popularity and turn him into a box-office star. By the early 90s, however, the work dried up and the last twenty years of Wilder’s life were spent absent from the medium that made him, which was a tragic loss for the big screen. I mourn his passing in that he was one of the few actors – Peter Sellers being another – who made me laugh whenever I saw his face; he didn’t even have to say a line, for his impish countenance simply possessed a quality that was imbued with anticipatory laughter on the part of the audience; when he appeared in a movie, you knew he was going to cheer you up, and that’s a very special gift. I can’t pay him a greater compliment than that.

© The Editor


VictorianA society that imposes a dress code upon its citizens would be one we’d probably regard as far from democratic. The spectre of Peter the Great, the reforming early eighteenth century Tsar, hovers above sartorial legislation, banning the beard in order to drag his medieval nation closer in line with the Western Europe he was exposed to on his travels; and autocratic feudal Tsarist Russia would hardly constitute a democracy in anyone’s books.

Dress is so subjective that personal opinion could only ever render attempts to introduce laws censoring a particular item of clothing utterly biased. I imagine it’s easier to do so today than it would have been, say, forty years ago in that there is now a greater public consensus on dress; there remain tribal factions, but the so-called ‘alternative’ is as conservative in its mindset as the modest apparel of the masses, with anyone not adhering to the tattoo & piercing uniform mocked behind their backs. It goes without saying that there have always been a small and select few bucking every trend, but the gauntlet they have to run as a consequence is limited to insults on the street and, on occasions, the fist and feet of the mob. The law may not approve, but it does not effectively censure.

The images that appeared this week of armed policemen forcing a woman to disrobe on a French beach took sartorial legislation to a new level, however. Any dress code dictated by religion as opposed to State presents the State with a problem, particularly a secular State like France. For a country once so entwined with the Church of Rome, France post-1789 has consciously taken a step back from the severest edicts of Catholicism and perhaps earned its reputation as a far more easier-going and less uptight nation than its old enemy across the Channel. The convulsions of the Revolution for the traditional State religion were even more traumatic than the Reformation had been here, and Church and State were eventually formally separated in 1905. Secularism may be a choice in the UK, but in France it’s practically State policy. In order to maintain this, a faith with such strong visual insignias as Islam has given the laissez-faire attitude France revels in a genuine challenge. And one could argue France has made a bit of a mess of the whole business.

Personally, I find tracksuit bottoms or crop-tops far more offensive than the Burqa, but we’re back to subjective opinion again. The French Government thought differently when it decided to ban the Burqa five years ago.

Whenever ‘security’ is employed as a reason for any new law that concerns the individual rather than an institution, my suspicious hackles are raised, and France came to the conclusion that the face being covered in the name of religion constituted a security risk. Whilst naturally viewed as a law specifically relating to Muslim headgear primarily worn by women, this also extends to anyone whose face is covered in a public place – though obviously not on a motorcycle. Breaking the law can result in a fine and the threat of ‘Citizenship Education’ (how very Orwellian), and if anyone is found guilty of forcing another to cover their face against their will, a prison sentence of twelve months is on the cards.

Interestingly, this law came into being long before the Islamic terrorist attacks that have struck France over the past year or so, thus proving that exposing the faces of Muslim women in public since 2011 clearly worked as a security measure to prevent such acts. In the wake of recent events, France couldn’t really add to a ban that predated them, though that obnoxious, corrupt midget Nicolas Sarkozy has been stirring it again in his attempt to return to public office, exploiting the understandable paranoia surrounding Islam in a way that allies him with the likes of Marine Le Pen. In response to external pressures, the government of incumbent and under-fire President Francois Hollande has raised no objections to the controversial bans of the so-called Burkini by several French holiday resorts, resulting in this week’s images of police enforcing the ban by ensuring women wearing it remove it.

Ironically, a glance at photographs of late nineteenth and early twentieth century female bathing suits shows a distinct aesthetic connection between those and the Burkini. If a woman’s modesty was considered worthy of preserving on the beach a hundred years ago, why should a woman have to have everything on display in 2016? The problem with the Burkini is its close association with Islamic dress, which is evidently a delicate issue in France today, especially considering that Nice, one of the country’s top seaside resorts, suffered the most recent Islamic-related terrorist atrocity.

However, imposing a ban on an item of clothing that doesn’t even hide the face and therefore doesn’t contradict the Burqa ban of 2011, seems a rather ridiculous way to respond to a State of Emergency and appears even more ridiculous when one compares the Burkini to the virtually identical wetsuits worn by some members of the French Olympic swimming squad in Rio this summer. Context is apparently everything where clothing in France is concerned. And here’s me, a repressed Englishman, thinking the French, who gave the world Brigitte Bardot, were so much more laidback than that.

© The Editor