Archive for June, 2013

Reading Albert Camus in Taksim Square (photo: George Henton/Al Jazeera)

Reading Albert Camus in Taksim Square (photo: George Henton/Al Jazeera)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

The above photo is borrowed from this great slide show on the Al Jazeera website, “The Taksim Square Book Club,” of standing men and women protesters reading books. Check it out. I’ve been very impressed lately by Turkish civil society and the forms of contestation that are being developed there.

Check out as well Jenna Pope’s pics in her blog post “The Turkish uprising: First-hand experiences from an American photographer.”

Claire Berlinski has an excellent article in City Journal, “Notes on the Turkish Troubles: America’s muted response is both confusing and disheartening.” Her critique of the US response to what’s been happening in Turkey is nuanced and on the mark.

See also Claire’s fine running commentary, on a site called The Tower, that carries the unfortunate title (not of her doing) “The Gezi Diaries: Can we still call Turkey civilized?,” in which, entre autres, she skewers

every single lazy journalist and policy wonk, professional sycophant, diplomat and idiot pundit who’s never so much as visited this place, the duly-funded social scientists and craven Western politicians and everyone else who for years swallowed Erdoğan’s nonsense and helped to manufacture the fantasy that Turkey was getting more and more democratic by the day.

I’m curious to know who some of these “duly-funded social scientists” are (perhaps I know one or two).

The policy wonks who have aroused Claire’s ire cannot include Michael Werz of the Center for American Progress, who, in a first-rate analysis, assures us that “Erdoğan is gone, way gone.” Inshallah.

On the FP website, Istanbul-based journalist Piotr Zalewski discusses “The Protocols of the Interest Rate Lobby.” The lede: “Whether it’s shadowy bankers, America, Israel, or Iran, there’s no end to the conspiracy theories spun by the Turkish prime minister’s supporters — and their opponents.” Make sure to watch the bit from the episode of the ‘Ekip 1’ TV soap opera he links to. One does not need to understand Turkish (which I don’t) to get the gist. It’s a doozy.

In this vein, see the piece in Al-Monitor by Istanbul-based writer Amberin Zaman, “Foreign journalists called conspirators in Turkish protests.”

ScienceInsider has an interview with Sabancı University astrophysicist Mehmet Ali Alpar, the head of Turkey’s new science academy, Bilim Akademisi—formed by scientists who resigned from the Turkish Academy of Sciences after the government took control of it in 2011—, who speaks out on the protest movement.

UCLA doctoral candidate Timur Hammond has an update from Turkey, “The past present: Turkey, Erdoğan, and the Gezi protests,” on the website of the journal Society and Space: Environment and Planning D.

On The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ site, Istanbul publisher Can Oz (pronounced ‘John’, for those not acquainted with the Turkish alphabet) says “I can never trust the Turkish police and government again. For years I did not speak up enough, but no more. I could lose everything, but I cannot live a dishonorable life any longer.”

And finally, in a post aimed at non-Turkish readers, blogger Ali Kıncal explains “Turkey’s protests: What really triggered them and why they will continue.”

My ongoing posts on Turkey will continue, you may be sure of that.

UPDATE: McGill doctoral candidate Michael Ferguson has a most interesting article in Jadaliyya on “White Turks, Black Turks, and Negroes: The politics of polarization,” in which he discusses Erdoğan’s politics of class resentment and its racialized metaphors, and how Erdoğan has denigrated the country’s Afro-Turk community while stoking up that resentment.

2nd UPDATE: Turkey-based journalist Alexander Christie-Miller has a very good article on The White Review website, “Occupy Gezi: from the fringes to the centre and back again.”

3rd UPDATE: Another interesting post by Zeynep Tufekci on the Technosociology blog: “‘Come, come, whoever you are’. As a pluralist movement emerges from Gezi Park in Turkey.”

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Anti-gay marriage demonstration, Paris, March 24 2013 (photo: Thomas Samson/AFP)

Anti-gay marriage demonstration, Paris, March 24 2013 (photo: Thomas Samson/AFP)

[update below]

This is my first post on the French gay marriage controversy—which is settled, it’s done and finished الحمد لله—and likely my last. I stayed away from the issue and generally avoided discussing it, as I was somewhat conflicted and it’s admittedly not one at the center of my preoccupations. I’m all for civil unions and strongly supported the PACS when it was enacted back in ’99 but wasn’t sure about gays marrying au même titre as heteros or, above all, adopting children—though having read some of the well-considered arguments for and against the mariage pour tous law I finally came down for it. I also felt that President Hollande was wasting time on what was mainly a symbolic issue (as the number of people directly concerned by it is very small); on this I agreed with Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who regretted that Hollande was distracting himself with secondary issues such as the mariage pour tous when there were, objectively speaking, far more important matters at hand and of much greater concern to French people in their majority (i.e. the economy and unemployment).

I have found a couple of aspects of the controversy interesting. One was the opposition to the mariage pour tous of a not insignificant minority of people on the left—including in my personal entourage, and younger as well as older—, which I cannot imagine in the US (the virulence of my numerous lefty American friends—personal and FB—on the gay marriage issue is striking, plus students who are not necessarily on the left). It reminds me of the Islamic headscarf issue and the 2004 French law; American liberals and leftists almost unanimously disapprove of the law when it comes up in discussion and are surprised, even stunned, to hear French leftists strongly defend it (I’m recounting personal experience here).

À propos, David A. Bell of Princeton University has a good article on the Foreign Affairs website, “Liberté, Égalité, but Not Homosexualité: Why French Feminists Are Fighting Gay Marriage,” on the opposition in France to the law and how the arguments differ from those in America. It begins

The only thing clear right now about the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision on the Defense of Marriage Act — the law that bars the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages — is that Americans will read the verdict as the latest salvo in a long-running culture war. But it is worth remembering that this is a culture war that is increasingly being fought internationally — and often in terms that do not line up with the debate in the United States. Americans have become accustomed to thinking of the argument against gay marriage as being motivated by religious conservatism. But that is not necessarily true elsewhere.

France offers an instructive example. Although 60 percent of the public supports gay marriage, the country has been beset by vitriolic protests since the National Assembly narrowly passed a marriage equality law last spring. From a distance, the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets may have seemed little different from the evangelical activists often seen at similar demonstrations in the United States. But Americans would be surprised to discover how different their motivations often are.

Key passages

…opponents of marriage equality in France’s mainstream parties have mostly kept their distance from religious groups. Relatively few of the street protesters interviewed by reporters talk of God, wave the Bible, or have verses from Leviticus tattooed on their arms. (Which should come as no surprise, given that France is a largely secular place, where barely half the population even still identifies itself as Catholic and regular religious attendance does not even reach ten percent.) Indeed, the most prominent opposition has come from the ranks of professional groups such as law professors and psychoanalysts, whose U.S. counterparts generally favor marriage equality by large margins. A considerable number of public intellectuals have also expressed loud opposition to the law, including the essayist Alain Finkielkraut, the novelist Jean d’Ormesson, and the philosopher Sylviane Agacinski (the wife of former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin)…

…in truth, the extent of opposition to marriage equality has at least as much to do with the vexed and tortuous story of a quintessentially modern phenomenon: French feminism.

Americans often think of France as a country well disposed to feminism, thanks to the pioneering writings of Simone de Beauvoir and others. And the reputation is not without reason. Abortion has been legal in France since 1975, and French women enjoy paid maternity leave and subsidized child care. In June 2000, the French Parliament passed a law without parallel in the United States (although quickly watered it down) mandating that political parties designate women as half of all their candidates for elected office.

Feminist issues have also divided the French intellectual world, however, and the disputes have strongly influenced how the marriage equality issue has played out. An important current of French thought, which has no real American equivalent, has maintained that while women deserve equal rights, these rights must not entail the supposed erasure of sexual difference. Historians and philosophers such as Mona Ozouf and Philippe Raynaud have seen a particular threat in American-style protections against sexual harassment, which they have labeled “sexual Stalinism.” The sociologist Irène Théry has called for a féminisme à la française that acknowledges the “asymmetrical pleasures of seduction.” The philosopher Sylviane Agacinski goes so far as to call sexual difference the true basis for sexual equality in law. The “parity” in elections demanded by the 2000 law, in her view, reflected the natural division of the human race into complementary male and female halves. Other feminists countered that the law should pay no attention to gender beyond guaranteeing equal rights for all…

This strong emphasis on the complementary roles of men and women has had a remarkable effect on the French marriage debate. Unlike in the United States, most opponents of marriage equality have had relatively little to say about the morality of homosexual sex acts, or about threats to the “institution of marriage” in general. Instead, they speak above all about children, insisting that a psychologically healthy family life rests on the union of a man and woman. Back in 1999, when the French Parliament approved a form of civil union, much of the opposition centered on this issue.

This spring, precisely the same concerns have dominated the manifestos against “marriage for all” issued by groups of law professors and psychologists. And interviews with ordinary protesters have shown just how effectively the arguments of philosophers have filtered down to street level, with one figure after another explaining their opposition to the reform in the same way. To quote a popular protest banner: “Un père et une mère c’est élémentaire” (“A father and a mother is elementary”). And the 60 percent support for same-sex marriage has not changed the fact that a majority still favors banning child adoption by homosexual couples. In short, although religion and homophobia obviously fed into the recent protests, the rhetoric employed by the opposition has trickled down from the intellectuals (as one might, indeed, expect in France)…

A second aspect of the gay marriage controversy I found interesting was the significant number of young people who were involved in the social movement it spawned on the right and the massive street demonstrations that were organized (and demos not being a part of French right-wing culture). The April 18th Le Monde had an article on this, “Une génération de droite se construit contre le mariage gay.” The lede: “Pour beaucoup de jeunes manifestants, le mouvement est un acte fondateur.” Here are passages I underlined

Pour Carol [Ardent, candidat à l’agrégation de lettres, et responsable du blog Le Rouge et le Noir], si les jeunes sont si mobilisés, c’est d’abord parce que leur génération est touchée par les divorces des parents. «Beaucoup d’entre nous ont souffert de l’absence d’équilibre père-mère et nous sommes conscients des dégâts que cela peut causer.»

The (right-wing) demonstrators got a little taste of the French police and the way they go about their job

La violence ? Il faut la chercher du côté de la police : «J’ai vu des jeunes filles de 22 ans, tout au plus, menottées violemment alors qu’elles étaient inoffensives, raconte Louis-Joseph Gannat, devant l’Assemblée nationale. Il ne faudra pas s’étonner si le mouvement se radicalise après ça.»

Ha! So now right-wingers—some of them, at least—know what it’s like to be manhandled by the police and treated poorly, even when one hasn’t broken any law…

And then there’s this, from a 22-year old law student, who denounces

une atmosphère «cathophobe» et affirme avoir perdu beaucoup d’amis «qui ne sont pas ouverts au dialogue» depuis son engagement tardif, en janvier.

Un sentiment revient en boucle : les jeunes opposants au mariage pour tous n’acceptent pas de voir leur engagement «caricaturé», réduit à une démarche violente et homophobe par les politiques et les journalistes. «On nous dénigre, estime Clémence Grosjean, jeune professeure d’histoire-géographie.  Il y a un ras-le-bol de ne pas être pris au sérieux. On nous a traités de fascistes mais je n’ai pas envie de mettre fin à la République ou à la démocratie !»

A “cathophobe”—i.e. anti-Catholic—atmosphere. Earlier this year a student (French, bright) in one of my Master’s courses spoke emphatically during a class discussion—on the culture of French laïcité—of what he considered to be a strong anti-Catholic sentiment in France, with practicing Catholics being stigmatized. He said that this was even true for students in private Catholic schools, with those who opt to take catechism—an elective class in schools sous contrat—being made fun of by their peers. He was seconded by a couple of other students, one an Italian, who recounted his own story of what he felt was a prevailing anti-Catholicism in France. Very interesting. As I tend not to frequent regular church-going people (or regular mosque or temple-going), I had no idea.

The Le Monde article concludes with a quote from a student about how the anti-mariage pour tous movement has forged a new generation of activists on the right, in much the same way as the anti-CPE movement did for young people on the left (and the anti-FN movement of the 1990s). One thing is for sure: the right in France is more mobilized these days than is the left. And will likely continue to be in the coming two or three years.

UPDATE: Richard Posner has a good essay in TNR on “How gay marriage became legitimate.” (July 24)

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Standing men and women, Kadıköy, June 18 2013 (photo: Stephen Freer)

Standing men and women, Kadıköy, June 18 2013 (photo: Stephen Freer)

[update below]

Latest links.

Journalist Nicholas Birch has an article (h/t Claire B.) in The Majalla explaining that “The alternatives to Erdoğan offer more of the same,” in which he disabuses those—myself included—who may be trying to see in Gül or Arınç an AKP alternative to Erdoğan. They’re like the sympathetic mother (Gül, Arınç) and the stern father (Erdoğan), so Birch suggests. When dad is away—as Erdoğan was for four days in the Maghreb a couple of weeks ago—mom is there to comfort, but when dad gets home he retakes charge and mom stifles herself. As for Fethullah Gülen, BTW, he is much more on the same page with RTE than he is not, despite some differences between the two.

On the Al Jazeera website, Umut Özkırımlı, professor of contemporary Turkish studies at Lund U. in Sweden, has an interesting analysis of “The odour of Gezi: On the dangers of crass populism,” in which he asserts that “The Gezi protests have shown us that ‘White Turk elitism’ has created its own Frankenstein – ‘Black Turk populism’.”

Translated into American, “black Turks” are akin to “real Americans,” mainly from the Red State heartland—hard working, pious, conservative, etc—and with Erdoğan their Sarah Palin (on steroids); “white Turks” are the elitist liberals, who live on the Upper West Side, Chicago’s Hyde Park, San Francisco, Boulder, Madison, etc. C’est ça.

À propos, Jonathon Burch of Reuters reports that “In Turkey’s pious heartland, protests seem world away.” The dispatch is datelined Konya, which is—no offense to Konya—Turkey’s Tulsa Oklahoma. The Konyans generally don’t approve of what’s happening in Gezi Park.

FWIW, Canadian analyst Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya—who has some liaisons dangereuses and may be a bit louche—has a report on a website called Global Research on “The tale of a Turkish summer: is there a link between ‘Occupy Gezi’ and the IMF?

And Richard Weitz, in a pretty good take in The Turkey Analyst on the Obama administration’s reaction to what’s been happening, says that “Turkey protests rattle Washington.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Yegane Güley of Öztürk & Partners in Istanbul has a must read article (h/t Claire B.) in The Lawyer, “Protests in Turkey: a lawyer’s experience.” Money quote

The blind eye to Gezi Park legal proceedings is only one example of Erdogan’s “rule of law”. Constitutional amendments on 12 September 2010 provided him with the tools to redesign the judiciary and the legal system and having achieved this, he is now simply uncontrollable. If a court’s decision is not what Erdogan or his clan wants then the judges sitting to hear that particular case are replaced by those who will have the decisions the prime minister wants.

And in Slate, Istanbul-based writer Jenna Krajeski has an article on pious women in the Taksim Square movement, “‘Our Sisters in Headscarves’: In Turkey, both sides want to claim religious women as their own.”

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Emine, Tayyip & Angela, Istanbul, March 29 2010  (photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Emine, Tayyip & Angela, Istanbul, March 29 2010
(photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

[update below]

Europe edition.

Reuters had a dispatch on Thursday on “Turkey warn[ing] Germany not to play politics over EU entry talks,” which quotes Turkish EU affairs minister Egemen Bağış trash talking Angela Merkel, who has criticized the Turkish govt’s response to the protest movement

If Mrs Merkel is looking for domestic political material for her elections, that material should not be Turkey…If Mrs Merkel looks into it she will see that those who mess about with Turkey do not have an auspicious end…

Yeah, don’t mess with Turkey. Or else…

The prospect of Turkey joining the EU in the coming decade has been looking increasingly improbable these past two or three years but with this kind of talk—not to mention the fallout of the protests—, I would say the probability has lessened that much further.

And then there’s this report of PM Erdoğan “declar[ing] that foreign-led conspirators he alleges are behind the anti-government movement in his country also are fomenting the recent unrest in Brazil,” with him saying (and I trust the translation of the quote is accurate)

“The same game is now being played over Brazil…The symbols are the same, the posters are the same, Twitter, Facebook are the same, the international media is the same. They (the protests) are being led from the same center…They are doing their best to achieve in Brazil what they could not achieve in Turkey. It’s the same game, the same trap, the same aim.”

One wonders who this “center” is and who “they” are. And if the good Turkish PM doesn’t, by chance, have them in mind…

I think it would be nice for a modern, forward-looking Turkey to join the EU in the next decade—say, on the centennial of the founding of the Turkish republic—, but if this is the prevailing mentality at the summit of the Turkish state, no way. Not a chance.

À propos, Yigal Schleifer has a post on the informative EurasiaNet website asserting that “‘Kneejerk Anti-Westernism’ could complicate Ankara’s foreign policy.” And not only with Europe. Looks like Turkey has gone from having zero problems with its neighbors to having all sorts of problem with them. And with countries that are not its neighbors.

Also à propos, Turkish Policy Quarterly has an article (written before the current protests) by U. of Toronto doctoral candidate Tuba Eldem, “The End of Turkey’s Europeanization?

And if all this weren’t enough, the WSJ’s Moneybeat blog had a downbeat post on Friday on the Turkish economy, saying that “Turkey can’t catch a break.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Twenty prominent Turkish academicians, artists, and intellectuals have signed a letter (en français) to the foreign affairs ministers of the EU member states—”Un appel des démocrates turcs à l’UE“—calling on the European Council not to freeze Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU. Turkish liberals—who are with the protest movement to a man and woman—are strongly supportive of Turkey’s EU candidacy and would clearly feel undercut if the prospect of membership were to fade.

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Last December I had a post on Robert Kagan’s article, “The Myth of American Decline,” that, as I noted, President Obama was quite taken with. I thought it was good too. In this vein—of America continuing to be Nº1—, here’s something from the not bad website Business Insider, on the “10 reasons why America will continue to dominate the global economy for years” to come. Every bit on the list is correct. I have never believed for a nanosecond that China will overtake the US in any of the domains essential to being a superpower: economic, military, and cultural global reach. In the latter two China cannot hold a candle to the US and never will (never meaning in the lifetime of anyone reading this). Economically there are too many structural impediments to China overtaking the US in the foreseeable future (not the least of which is that its nominal per capita GDP is less than one-eighth that of the US; and closing that gap before the end of the century is realistically not in the cards). As for the EU overtaking the US, no comment.

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Taksim Square, June 18 2013 (Photo: AP)

Taksim Square, June 18 2013 (Photo: AP)

[update below] [2nd update below]

Duran adam. That’s Turkish for ‘standing man’, which is the new and original form the protest movement has taken since Erdoğan’s crackdown last weekend—way to go, Turkish civil society!—, and that UNC prof Zeynep Tufekci analyzes in a very interesting post, “Be quiet and don’t move so you can be heard.” Among other things, she writes that the Gezi Park movement was in fact coming to a peaceful conclusion after the PM’s meeting with the Taksim Solidarity Platform but that Erdoğan dramatically worsened the situation with his demagogic rallies over the weekend, incendiary and mendacious rhetoric, and in sending in the police to brutally clear the park.

Turkey’s PM may be an authoritarian bully but “Turkey’s problems go beyond Erdogan,” as Istanbul-based Atlantic Council fellow Sabine Freizer argues in a cogent analysis of the country’s political system and its numerous problems (e.g. the functioning of political parties, the electoral system’s 10% threshold).

On the FP website, Steven A. Cook had a good piece three days ago on “The strong man at his weakest,” in which he argued that “Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has never had more support — or a bigger challenge to his rule.”

In a dispatch from Turkey in the Boston Review, misleadingly entitled “Turkey’s non-crisis,” Pakistani-Americans Wajahat Ali and Haroon Moghul offer their impressions of events there. Turks had a soft spot for Pakistan back in the ’60s and ’70s, as Pakistan was one of the very few countries which showed sympathy for the Turkish position on Cyprus (though Pakistan did not recognize the “independent” state the Turks set up there after 1974, an issue on which Turkey has been 100% isolated internationally).

On the subject of Pakistanis, the ageing international caviar gauchiste Tariq Ali has a post on the LRB blog on his visit to Ankara this past week and what he observed there. I normally avoid Tariq Ali except when he writes about his native country—the only subject on which he is of interest, in my book at least—but had to read this one. And it’s not uninteresting, as he describes the nightly demos that have been taking place in my old quartier in Kavaklıdere, where I spent four of my teen years and still feel an attachment to four decades later.

On Turkey’s capital—which has become a nice, livable city since my time there—, METU sociology doctoral candidate Önder Güneş has a piece in Jadaliyya, “‘All of a sudden!’: Gezi Park resistance in Ankara.”

And continuing its fine coverage of the events in Turkey, Jadaliyya has an article just up by Zeynep Kurtulus Korkman (sociologist) and Salih Can Aciksoz (anthropologist) on “Erdogan’s masculinity and the language of the Gezi resistance.”

On the subject, more or less, of the tough guy Turkish PM’s manhood, the well-known Boğaziçi U. sociologist Çağlar Keyder has a post on the LRB blog on the Gezi Park protesters and “The law of the father.”

And for those who read français, journalist Defne Gürsoy has a new blog on the Mediapart website on the events in Turkey.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Istanbul-based journalist Yigal Schleifer had an interesting blog post last week, “Turkey: One nation, one flag, one state, one man,” which he concluded with this observation

Put all together, the elements of Erdogan’s speech [in Istanbul on June 16th] made it clear that the turmoil that is gripping Turkey right now is not really a battle between Islamists and secularists, but one between “old” Turkey and “new” Turkey. The PM and the AKP might have been a fresh force in Turkish politics when they were first elected in 2002, but Sunday’s Erdogan did not sound much different than the hard-line Kemalists he took on and defeated over the course of the last decade (albeit with a religious veneer). “Now the AK Party discourse appears xenophobic, anti-Western, inward-looking, anti-globalization and pro-status quo. I used to describe the Kemalists-secularists-nationalists in these terms just a few years ago,” Ihsan Dagi, a professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University and former supporter of the AKP, wrote yesterday in a Today’s Zaman column.

At one point during his speech, Erdogan touted his party’s achievements by listing the endless kilometers of new roads it has built and the multitudes of expensive infrastructure megaprojects it has in the works. It was another indication that Erdogan was firmly stuck in the past. These are all impressive achievements, but a truly new Turkey needs to built through more than constructing new roads, bridges, airports, dams and malls. It also needs to built by raising a new generation that’s no longer captive to the paranoia, fear mongering, nationalism and jingoism of the past. With yesterday’s speech, Erdogan decisively made clear he was leading a march back to Turkey’s intellectual bondage of the past.

And the folk group Kardeş Türküler (Songs of Fraternity) has this song, “Tencere Tava Havası” (Sound of Pots and Pans), which looks to be a theme song of the Gezi Park movement.

2nd UPDATE: Author Jason Goodwin has a blog post, “Erdogan and the Janissaries: Istanbul residents have always treasured their green spaces.”

Erdem Gündüz, the first 'duran adam'

Erdem Gündüz, the first ‘duran adam’

Erdem Gündüz, June 17 2013

Erdem Gündüz, June 17 2013

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This was the hit light comedy in France this spring (English title: The Gilded Cage), seen last weekend at our neighborhood cinoche (held over by popular demand). It’s a comedy à la portugaise, about a Portuguese concièrge in an upscale building in Paris’s tony 16th arrondissement (quartier Passy)—where she has faithfully served the haut bourgeois propriétaires for thirty years—, her (skilled) construction worker husband, and their two children—high school and university age—, who, having grown up in France, are more French than Portuguese. The film begins with the couple learning that they have unexpectedly inherited property and a tidy sum of money in their home village in Portugal but that requires them moving there within three weeks, otherwise it will all be donated to the local parish. They naturally decide to take early retirement and do so but their haut bourgeois tenants pull out all the stops so that they stay—finding good concièrges these days is not easy—, plus the husband’s boss, who considers him irreplaceable. And the matter is further thickened by the romantic involvement—initially unbeknownst to the parents—of the bourgeois boss’s son with the immigrant worker’s daughter. Again, it’s a light comedy. Un bon divertissement. An inoffensive crowd pleaser. Some of the scenes are quite funny, e.g. when the immigrant couple invite the boss and wife—and future in-laws—over to dinner. It’s the first film I can think of that focuses on the Portuguese community in France—and makes light of clichés about Portuguese immigrants—, which has been the single largest immigrant community in the country since the 1950s (and which is sizable in Paris’s eastern banlieues, out where I live). Maghrebis and Africans, who are now well-covered in French cinema, aren’t the only significant immigrant population in this country. The immigrant characters are all played by Portuguese-origin actors—though they mainly speak French in the film, which they wouldn’t in real life in talking among themselves—and with director Ruben Alves dedicating the film to his family (so it’s his personal story too). My wife particularly liked that the film showed real working people, which she insisted French films rarely do (I’ll have to think about that one). The film also depicts a profession—building concièrges, such a fixture in France—that is fading, as condo owner associations are increasingly contracting with outside cleaning and maintenance companies once the concièrge retires (and as ours has done). Reviews of the film were good and with Allociné spectators giving it the thumbs way up. A crowd pleaser, like I said.

On the subject of crowd pleasing French films, one I saw recently—on DVD—was Guillaume Canet’s ‘Les petits mouchoirs’ (English title: ‘Little White Lies’), which was a big box office hit in France in 2010 but that I paid no attention to at the time. It’s a French version of ‘The Big Chill’—and that Canet said inspired the film—, about a group of mid 30ish friends from Paris, all bobos, and their annual summer vacation together in Cap Ferret on the Atlantic coast, and with all their interpersonal dramas and histoires—and with the backdrop the terrible motorcycle accident of one of the members of the group who was to be with them. French reviews of the film ran the gamut and American were mixed (though Roger Ebert liked it), but Allociné spectators gave it the thumbs up. And as I always say, the Allociné spectators are invariably right. Trailer is here. The film is not flawless and, at 2 hours 20 minutes, is long for what it is—and the length was one of the reproaches of the critics—, but I didn’t think this was a problem. The cast is A-list, the acting good, and it’s an all-around engaging film (and, after all these years, I will finally assert that Marion Cotillard is beautiful; yes she is). I saw it with several people—American, French, and German—and we all liked it (and I liked it more than I did ‘The Big Chill’). So if one is looking for weekend evening entertainment, this is a safe choice.


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