Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Resto 51, Vallée du Kashmir, Paris

September 6, 2017

We wanted something cheap and cheerful before seeing Dunkirk (or Dunkerque as they have it round here) in the Gaumont up the road. I was drawn into the Valley by remembrance of curries past, specifically of eating in an Indian by the Jardin des Plants after a freezing day’s walking with my then small children and the manager bringing us our own table-side calor gas stove. I was so cold and grateful I nearly cried. That is what I call customer service; the food wasn’t bad either.

We didn’t need a heater in the V du K but I would advise sunglasses. They have enough lights inside to land a jumbo jet. Flashing lights that would have Huw Stephens giving a stern avertissement for those with epilepsy. Lights in the ceiling. A TV churning out cheesy Indian pop videos. Lighted walls. Hell, I suspect they have lights on their lights.

I can just imagine their discussions with their accountant when they’re asking him why they’re not turning a profit:

‘But guys, in a businesses of your size you really shouldn’t be spending €20,000 a month on electricity. Are you sure someone hasn’t hooked up your supply to an industrial turbine?’

‘It’s the lights. We like lights.’

‘The lights? Yeah, I noticed those … And I’m blind. You need to do something about that.

‘We worship the lights.’

‘Bof, it’s your money.’

They like lights. They worship lights.

There was only one other guy in there but it was early by French standards. I remembered that things come in a curious order in French Indians but I couldn’t remember exactly how. We went for standards (as usual when testing a new place) with samosas and onion bhajia up front then a chicken jalfrezi for me for main and a Himalayan lamb for him. One popadom was placed on a side plate so we ate it while waiting for the beer (I didn’t know they did kingfisher in bottles so small but it was good and cold). We wondered why there were no chutneys but the mystery was solved as they arrived with the starters. As did the nan. Hmm.

The samosas were excellent, plenty of veg inside, and spicy. Onion bhaji in France is an onion ring, which is not to the British taste is it? I wanted sweatyoily balls of gut destroying deliciousness. These seemed insipid and trop civilisés. We were waiting for him to bring the mains but eventually realised that we were expected to eat our nan first. We chutnied the nan, the chutneys were good if nothing special while the bread lacked the crispness and ghee enriched luxury of its British cousin.

Then for the curries. My jalfrezi was curry but it wasn’t as ferocious as I wanted it to be. Oh my Standard, oh how I missed you. I’ll never betray you again. I couldn’t even see evidence of chili. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. I took a swig of Kingfisher and mopped up the last of the juices with RICE. Not nan because we’d eaten that. Everything was out of whack. Though the service was exemplary it didn’t make up for the wrongness of the food.

Perhaps my Valley of Kashmir induced hankering for Britain was responsible for my weeping through Dunkirk. Or it might have been Hans Zimmer’s astute, just this side of cichéd use of Elgar on the soundtrack. Or it might have been a not particularly good actor reading Churchill’s speech on a steam train (you can’t ruin rhetoric like that, it’s inobliterable). Or Nolan’s direction. Anyway I did that and I don’t mind, it’s good to have a good cry every now and then isn’t it?

Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can. Sorry Jay, you can’t; and I’ll never go for a curry in Paris again.


#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Sarko, fascos and jihadis

November 6, 2016

This is a repost of a piece I wrote for the French History Network on Louis Malle’s Lacombe, Lucien cleaned up and retooled for my own site.

Two things prompted me to write this post in appreciation of Louis Malle’s Lacombe, Lucien. The first was a mundane training exercise for a new teaching job. The other was a two page spread in Le Monde discussing Olivier Roy’s new book on jihadism, Le Djihad et la Mort.[1] Roy’s book arrives at an opportune moment, with the Paris and Nice atrocities (among many others) still painfully recent, and the ongoing military campaign against Islamic State in the Middle East appearing in the news daily.


It also arrives during the primary campaign for the candidature of the right for the French presidential election of 2017; a campaign that has hinged on a debate between Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy (as well as the other candidates) about the causes of radicalisation among a small section of young men and women, and the nature of national identity in France.[2] This debate will only get more extreme whether it is François Hollande, the consensus-seeking Juppé, or the more divisive Sarkozy who goes on to face the Front National leader Marine Le Pen if, as predicted, she makes it to the final round of voting in April 2017.

And the training? I’m sure I’m not the only VL who’s had to do a bit of online training regarding the government’s ‘Prevent Strategy’, aimed at flagging up the signs of radicalisation in students. The various scenarios enacted in the videos I watched seemed occasionally comically self-parodying of the scrupulous even-handedness of all university administration-derived material. However, being a parent of two university age boys, and remembering the angst of being such a thing myself at one time, I did my best to take it seriously. Flippancy isn’t really appropriate for such an important subject, even if it’s tempting at times.

The recollection of troubled teenagerdom is what reminded me of Lacombe, Lucien. In the opening scene of the film the central character, Lucien, who is a cleaner in a hospice, callously kills a songbird with a slingshot in between his cleaning duties.[3] At the time that I saw it for the first time I really wish I’d had a more intellectual response but I think my thoughts were more along the lines of, ‘What the dick has he done that for?!’ Of course Malle and Modiano are laying a foreshadowing motif of further cruelty to come. But on a personal level it also brought back one of those involuntary memories that are especially painful because they’re buried so deep. Of being a young boy in a crappy provincial town who threw stones for no good reason at an older but entirely innocent school fellow. If only those madeleine moments were always sweet. Why would I have done that?

And this is the question that has most troubled critics of Malle’s film. Both those who see it as a defining film about the Occupation in France, and those who see it as ‘sidestepping the issues of political choice, morality and guilt’ by representing Lucien’s journey from casually cruel peasant to torture indifferent Milicien as merely a piece of chance.[4] Mulling over why I might not have turned from stone cold rock thrower to gun-toting radical (it’s not entirely improbably, most of the examples in the Prevent training, for obvious reasons in the Westminster context, were of the radicalised right. The North East of England where I grew up was, and continues to be in my experience, a significant source of National Front style agitation) I saw structural reasons that Malle and Modiano give for Lucien’s actions that also go some way, and I emphasise some way, to contextualizing current radicalisation in Western Europe.

The most trenchant critic of the film accuses the protagonist of being ‘a cipher’, merely attracted by the symbols of power – a gun, a Milice identity card, bigwig friends – rather than having any ‘social causes for collaboration.’[5] More subtle readings, however, have dominated writing on the film since the 1970s, with Leah D. Hewitt, to my mind, putting her finger on Malle and Modiano’s explanation for the supposedly mindless way in which Lucien is induced to join what to modern eyes seems is a grotesque troupe of collaborators.[6]

Malle, in interviews contemporary to the film’s release, said that his first instinct had either been to set the film in Algeria or in Mexico. Algeria during the War of Independence – a common feature of Malle’s films even if he never used the war as a main subject – or Mexico during the violent put-down of a student protest by bussed in peasant workers in the 1960s. Thus one can see that Malle’s finished film was primarily prompted by an interest in how one group of young people could be attracted or induced into violently oppressing another group with whom they had varying degrees of common culture and not by the specific circumstances of the Occupation. He said he wanted to ‘scrutinise a kind of behaviour that is very hard to understand and was certainly contemptible.’[7]

So how might we understand Lucien’s own contemptible behaviour? Here is a young man, already habituated to the petty violence of rural life, who is rejected on three occasions in the opening scenes of the film. First, a forced rejection by his father, who is carted off to Germany to labour with the Service du Travail Obligatoire. Secondly, his mother and her lover, who let out the family home without telling Lucien and set up house together. And then when the local maquis leader, a teacher, rejects him for being too young and potentially ill disciplined. In the next scene he falls in with the Milice and the film proper begins.

In these rejections, and in Lucien’s response, Kedward sees ‘an agonised expression of generational conflict’ with Lucien’s youth being central to the film.[8] This brings us to some of the ways that we can explain the current radicalization of young people in France and Western Europe that doesn’t rely on Sarkozy’s or Le Pen’s boneheaded (to a purpose, it’s all about the them and us) characterisation of Islam as un-French and more prone to violence than any other faith. As Olivier Roy points out violence in the name of Islam, as inspired by IS has more in common with the Red Brigade or the Baader Meinhof Faction than with Islam, being essentially nihilist. It is a very extreme and foul way of expressing dislocation from society but it has to be explicable, it doesn’t happen by chance.

Just as Lucien is dislocated by the lack of a reliable father figure in his community and in the end picks the worst such men of all so might young men and women who are continually characterised as a group as not belonging to the society in which they live, often at the margin and with family ties stretched taut by the experience of migration, end up rejecting that society. Throwing a stone at a classmate didn’t lead to anything but a guilty conscience in my case but then I had little genuine reason to feel like an outsider in my town and little temptation or opportunity to express my sense of rejection in a more systematic and violent way.

Lucien does. The fascist political structure, even if Lucien is not motivated by its ideology, is on hand to direct his energies. He hears its anti-semitic views on the radio and amongst his comrades and it attracts his loyalty through the glamour of the gun and of the aristocrat, the starlet and the cyclist who make up the fascist gangsters and who encourage him to feel as though he belongs with them. So too does IS use the glamour of violence and power via the media to give its own adherents, however distant they may be from the purveyors of the message, to feel as though they belong to a separate group from the society in which they live. Which I hope does not overstate the analogy between the two examples. Rather, I hope to show that Lacombe, Lucien, which can be justifiably used as a piece of historical interpretation about a specific time and place, can also be used as a parable to explore a much more universal experience.

To see a trailer for the film go here.

[1] Le Monde, 13th October 2013. Olivier Roy, Le Djihad et la Mort (Paris: Seuil, 2016)

[2] Gilles Finchelstein, ‘Identité: le piège se referme sur la droite’, Le Monde, 26th October 2016

[3] Louis Malle and Patrick Modiano, Lacombe, Lucien: Texte Intégrale (Paris: Folio Plus Classiques, 2008), 8

[4] A view ascribed to the reading of the film by Cahiers du Cinéma at the film’s release in 1974 in H.R. Kedward, ‘The Anti-Carnival of Collaboration: Louis Malle’s ‘Lacombe, Lucien (1974), 227-239 in Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau, French Film: Texts and Contexts (Routledge: London), 228

[5] Lenny Rubinstein, ‘The Fascism of Banality’, 10-12 in Cinéaste 6:4 (1975), 10

[6] Leah D. Hewitt, ‘Salubrious Scandals/Effective Provocations: Identity Politics Surrounding ‘Lacombe, Lucien’, 71-87 in South Central Review, 17:3 (2003)

[7] Malle, quoted in Hewitt, ‘Salubrious Scandals’, 73

[8] Kedward, ‘The Anti-Carnival of Collaboration’, 232

On Pop Music

April 15, 2015 at Somerset House

This last week or so has been an unusually poppy week (being more a classical hound by nature (of which more anon … that’s for another post)) but I wasn’t thinking to write about it until I stumbled across the Secret 7″ exhibition space at Somerset House.

By chance it was the first day of its opening to the public (yep, most of my most hipsterish moves are usually by accident rather than by design and I was wandering around Aldwych in a post-pub (The Lyceum on the Strand, recommended if you’re skint in the West End, you can get a booth and you don’t mind Sam Smith ales) funk trying to kill time before going to a mate’s party. The party is relevant.). So yes, a little caffeine freshener at Fernandez & Wells in the courtyard of Somerset ‘Arse (stumpy, it has to be a stumpy) and then a wander to see what they had on for free, my visits to the Courtauld being less frequent now that I’m no longer a UoL student and have to stump up cash like a regular Joe.

And there, at the river end of the building, I found a crowd of hipsters admiring rack upon rack of hand-made single covers. The record cover as a fetish object with people having selfies, taking portraits, coveting and discussing them. Secret 7″ ask celebs, artists, designers and other random groovy f*ckers to decorate the sleeves then display them anonymously. The public are then invited to pay half a ton for a unique, potentially very valuable, item on the day of the end of the exhibition. The  proceeds of this and other charitable acts (a roll-a-penny chute that tishes a cymbal,  limited editions of the records by named designers) goes to Nordoff Robbins, a charity that uses music as part of its therapy for people with problems of a variety too numerous to go into here.

A view of the bridge from Secret 7"

A view of the bridge from Secret 7″

All very worthy but why bring it up here? ‘What is point?’ as the feller on Down the Line would ask. The aforementioned friend just gave a paper at a conference about the nostalgia for Britpop (he’ll be giving another on this phenomenon at the seminar series I co-convene at the end of June). I also saw Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young the previous weekend. And the night before I went to the exhibition (and my friend’s party) I’d been to see Courtney Barnett at the Electric Ballroom in Camden.

So this is my theme. Nostalgia in pop music. In Baumbach’s film the young hipster is a man obsessed with the eighties, or the bits of it that he likes (the Miners’ Strike, Kajagoogoo, Ipswich Town’s decline from a footballing powerhouse to a provincial bit-player and Thundercats don’t get a mention), who has a pristine record collection (i.e vinyl, see above) alongside his domestic chicken pod. In short, he’s a major irritant for using nostalgia as a generator of supposed originality.

Which I guess was one of the points that Baumbach was trying to make. That we seem to be living in a desperately unoriginal and conservative culture, in spite of the constant hum of creativity being the supposed fuel of post-industrialised Western economies. And that this conservatism appears to be affecting the very people who shouldn’t be giving a shit about what their parent’s generation did, i.e. people like me (sorry Mum, I know the 70s had good bits but I never chose to be born in them).

And I began to see this everywhere. At Secret 7″ – which is a fantastic cause, don’t get me wrong, and has some wonderful things for sale that would grace any hipster’s wall. But what music do they have on the singles? The Rolling Stones, The Supremes, Peter Gabriel, Underworld, oh and The Maccabees and St Vincent for the ‘kids’. You can almost sense the ad agency carefully weighing the revenue/gender/ethnicity issues in a finely calibrated balance. But not age because age always wins out in the world of pop music nowadays. The labels have to exploit those old acts. Dinosaurs are big in music.

And Courtney Barnett? She’s a great performer, I love her lyrics, I wish her well. But her sound? It’s a bit underwhelming; it reminds you of other things. And when I go to a thing I might want to be reminded of other things but not other things that are better than what I’m at. And the last few gigs I’ve been to (The Orwells (who at least had the relative novelty of being absolutely badly behaved, quite rare in modern pop), Darlia, Barnett) have not been original enough for me to have thought that I wouldn’t have been better off going to a pub and watching a local band do something that I could get a decent pint at and chat to them afterwards (if I wanted to, unlikely given that I’m not especially sociable).

Which is part of the point that Dion was making in his paper. Recycling is happening (of course it’s always been there in pop music, brazenly) and it’s more commercialised than ever before. Blur release an album on the twentieth anniversary of Britpop to rave reviews and wall to wall coverage. Somehow Liam Gallagher is popular enough with the (dwindling) purchasers of the NME to merit being on its cover on a seeming four week cycle. And young acts want to tell you they love Bowie/Gabriel/Suede instead of wanting to spit on their corpses and kill their wizened fans. London, that once spiky culture, has turned into Paris, the most faux-radical city in the world.

No wonder when anyone under 40 can hardly afford to live in the place and it costs excruciating amounts of money to get around. The ‘creatives’ can’t afford to connect with the places where the money is. Unless they connect with the conservative culture that money tends to like.

So, in anticipation of a further post about London’s thriving classical music scene I’ll finish by saying that I think that the most radical things are now being done in those areas that I would have thought the most conservative when I was a youngster – jazz and classical. If I want to hear something I haven’t heard before I’m more likely to get it at Café Oto or the Guildhall than in Camden or Brixton.

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