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Letters from Paris: 'Rend nous l’art, Jean !'

The Croft Magazine // In today's Letter from Paris, Xander Brett discusses the newly imposed lockdown in France, the César Awards and the 150 years since the Paris Commune.

By Xander Brett, Third Year, History of Art and French

The Croft Magazine // In today's Letter from Paris, Xander Brett discusses the newly imposed lockdown in France, the César Awards and the 150 years since the Paris Commune.

21st March, 2021

So, as Britain is liberated, France goes the other way. From yesterday morning, the Île de France and Hauts-de-France regions have been placed under a hybrid local lockdown. The only changes: we now require an attestation to go out during the day, and we can only exercise within ten kilometres of our address. Most shops will stay open, schools and universities operate as usual and, for some reason, the national curfew has been now pushed back an hour to 7pm. The restrictions were inevitable. Though Prime Minister Castex said on Thursday the ‘third wave’ is now upon us, that wave of course actually arrived in January. France’s rates of infection have been consistently high for months. They currently stand around 35,000, opposed to the UK’s 5,000.

As infections stick, the European Union tried once more to hit out at Britain’s vaccination success, launching on claims the Astra Zeneca vaccine causes blood clots. Several countries suspended the programme, causing dangerously unnecessary upset and frustration. Just a few days later, when both the European Medicines Agency and World Health Organization had denounced the claims, these countries resumed vaccines and tried, in vain, to convince an increasingly doubtful population of the vaccine’s efficacy. Austria and Denmark have already called it a day and given up on the EU’s scheme. Desperately, Prime Minister Castex invited cameras to broadcast his first jab on Friday. Vaccines are now permitted in pharmacies, and at weekends. But the only talk in both government and the media are of lockdown management, not vaccine programmes. There’s a way to end this pandemic: it’s through vaccinations, not restrictions. But it’s as if the doses don’t exist. Just 8 per cent of France’s population have received a first dose, opposed to 45 per cent in the UK.

Hôtel de Ville | Epigram / Xander Brett

I wrote in my last letter about the French pretending – perhaps hoping – their events are of world importance. Well, the French like to think the world watches the César Awards (their BAFTAs) with attentive interest. We don’t. And this year even the French didn’t. The ceremony played out to just 1.6 million viewers, though the fall-out couldn’t be avoided. Halfway through the ceremony, actress Corinne Masiero was invited to present the award for Best Costume. Wearing a donkey suit over a blood-stained dress, Masiero stripped naked on stage, revealing a message on her torso appealing to Prime Minister Jean Castex: ‘Rend nous l’art, Jean !’ (‘Give Us Art Back, Jean!’ or, phonetically, ‘Give Us Our Money Back!’). The ceremony was politically charged, a year on from restrictions that would leave a mark on cinema and theatre attendance for future months. “My children can go to Zara,” cried director Stephane Demoustier as he accepted an award for Best Screenplay, “…but not the cinema!”.

Sunset in Paris | Epigram / Xander Brett

Also politically charged this week were events to mark 150 years since the Paris Commune. On 2nd September 1870, France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. Emperor Napoleon III was captured, and the Prussian Army marched swiftly toward Paris. They laid siege to the city until, the following March, suffering crowds swarmed to stop troops requisitioning cannons on the hill of Montmartre. What followed was three months of anarchist people’s governments, much romanticised as an experiment in ‘power to the people’. Karl Marx saw it as a prototype of his workers’ revolution. By commemorating the period, critics claim Anne Hildago (Mayor of Paris) is celebrating violence, appealing to extreme left-wingers to support her lifelong ambition to become president. Others say she’s right to highlight the Commune’s contribution to feminism and equality. Either way, polls have her at just 7 per cent of the vote in the 2022 election, well behind extreme left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. But there’s a while to go… so no harm in trying again, I guess, Anne.

Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett

Listen to Xander's weekly Burst Radio podcast 'Letters from Paris'.