The French Connection
By Lynn Lieu
Over 220 years ago, France was in a cultural and political upheaval as the masses, crying “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” called for an end to the old hierarchy and the feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges that existed for years under the absolute monarchy. With a class structure dating back to the Middle Ages and saddled with a national debt tied to Louis XIV’s uncontrollable spending, the resentment from multiple social classes fueled a moderate reform that spiraled out of control and led to a revolution now known throughout the world as The French Revolution.
For 26 years, France fought a battle among itself, changing its face entirely. Today, while battles lines are not drawn, France still struggles with its identity. In celebration of the revolution and France, the fifth and possibly final Tournées Festival at UC Riverside, will feature full-length films attributing to the modern face of France though Feb. 25.
“‘Liberté, Identité, Modernité!’ [the theme of this year’s festival] is an altered version of the cry of the French Revolution; having just passed the Revolution’s 220th anniversary, this seemed like a good time to highlight the ways in which the cry of the people continue to resound in the 21st century, albeit in many differing ways,” says Regina Yung Lee, the festival organizer and comparative literature doctoral candidate at UCR.
“It’s a play on the ideals of the French Revolution,” says Heidi Brevik-Zender, festival advisor and UCR professor. “We updated those ideas to include liberty, identity and modernity. Really the questions of identity and modernity in France are very pertinent questions since France has been changing so much over the years with regards to the influx of immigration throughout the 20th Century.”
“Part of the issue at hand is that, even as some want to tighten and streamline that very definition, many, many other people—immigrants, citizens, the invisible, the non-standard—all seek ways to either fit into or wildly alter this French identity into something of their very own, creating spaces in which they, too, can also be at home,” adds Lee.
In its final year—grants to fund the festival from the French American Cultural Exchange are provided for a maximum of five consecutive years—the festival will feature five films total (all on 35mm) at the University Village UltraStar Cinema; from the pseudo documentary, The Class to the modern day indie rock musical Love Songs.
“All of our films deal in the spaces, gaps, differences, and conflicts between social convention, state governance, and personal identities, still in contention 220 years on,” says Lee. “[The] theme is particularly present in I’ve Loved You So Long and The Secret of the Grain, both of which deal in strangers and visitors who must decide for themselves how they want to rejoin or go on in society, and whether they can do so without becoming something other than themselves.”
While the people of France continue to struggle to find a place in an ever changing nation ripe with culinary greatness, art, literature and, of course, cinema, the Tournées Festival offers an eagle-eye perspective on a shifting culture.
The Tournées Festival at UltraStar Cinema, University Village, 1201 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 784-4342; www.ultrastarmovies.com/tournees.asp. Thru Feb. 25. 7PM. Tickets $5-$8.