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Summer Viewing List

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Bonjour chers lecteurs,

My name is Ilyssa Silverman, and I’m an intern at the Alliance Française this summer. I am a rising sophomore at Tufts University, a French and Biopsychology major, and an avid francophile and movie addict. This weekend, I’d like to share some of my favorite French movies with you. Sit back, relax, and enjoy these fantastic films, all of which are available at our Médiathèque:

 

Les intouchables (The Intouchables)

2011, Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, 1 h 53 m

Besides Amélie, this is perhaps the French film anglophones know best. Les intouchables has truly earned its fame. Watch an unlikely friendship develop between a wealthy quadriplegic and his caregiver from the projects. If you’re sick of people telling you to watch it, and you haven’t watched it already, please do. If you have already watched it, you likely don’t need convincing to want to watch it again. This movie will make you laugh, make you cry, and likely stick with you for a long time.

 

 

 

La grande illusion (The Great Illusion)

1937, Jean Renoir, 1 h 57 m

Before I scare you away by saying this film is from 1937 (too late), I must tell you that this is one of the most perpetually-relevant films of all time. On the surface, this black and white film seemingly about WWI is not exactly what draws the crowds in 2017, but this film is so masterfully-crafted that it can be appreciated in any era. La grande illusion has the extraordinary ability to express anti-war sentiments through unconventional yet effective means. In lieu of showing gruesome images of war, the film shows similarity and sympathy between supposed enemies, blurring lines between nationalities and social classes and calling into question the validity of borders between people and places.

 

 

OSS 117: Le caire, nid d’espions (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies)

2006, Michel Hazanavicius, 1 h 39 m

There is no profound reason why this movie is on the list other than that I’ve never laughed out loud so hard at a television screen. If you think of French film as the intersection of artsy and pretentious, you should definitely let this king of all French comedies prove you wrong. Somewhere between James Bond and Jacques Clouseau, Agent 117 is dashing yet dimwitted, suave yet simple-minded.

 

 

 

L’arnacoeur (The Heartbreaker)

2010, Pascal Chaumeil, 1 h 44 m

Another comedy for your summer enjoyment, L’arnacoeur (A play on the words arnaqueur and coeur, “con-man” and “heart”) is about a man who makes his living by breaking up couples who don’t belong together. He and his ingenious team convince unhappy couples to split with the best tool they have: seduction. Chick flick? Perhaps. Uproariously funny? Absolutely.

 

 

 

 

La haine (The Hate)

1995, Mathieu Kassovitz, 1 h 38 m

This film, a drama shot documentary-style, won director Mathieu Kassovitz the Best Director award at Cannes and Best Film at the Césars (not to mention my utmost respect). The matter-of-fact manner in which the film is presented throws you into the harsh reality of three young men in the Paris banlieues, their anger towards police and society, the anger aimed back towards them, and their struggle to turn their futile existence into something more meaningful and escape the hold that the banlieue has on them. Not only is this film a close examination of its characters and their motivations, but it is an examination of society. You learn why society sees Vinz, Hubert, and Saïd the way they do (and vice versa), but you’re still left with large, lingering questions about our societal structure as a whole.

Summer is Sizzling: Lisons Ensemble!

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Summer Reading List 2017

As much as I love hanging out by the beach and playing volleyball, nothing compares to relaxing with a good book in the summer sun. The only challenge is finding the right thing to read before the Chicago cold returns. Luckily, the Brown Médiathèque has chosen a dozen books that are the perfect companion for the season. Some are fast-paced romances that will fit in your hectic schedule; others will give your mind a workout on days when you’re not feeling the gym.

Below are some of my favorites from the selection.

Fiction (en français)

Que serais-je sans toi? by Guillaume Musso

The concept of Musso’s novel is far from simple, so a sentence-long summary can’t do it justice. It goes like this: Gabrielle, an American woman, is the daughter of a world-famous art thief. Her father, Archibald, is on the run from a young Parisian cop named Martin. The Frenchman just so happens to be Gabrielle’s first love. Their short affair ended fifteen years prior to the novel’s events, but feelings still remain for both of them.

As you might guess from the summary above, Que serais-je sans toi? is a light-hearted story. If you are looking for a philosophical treatise, this isn’t for you. However, if you’re looking to pass time while waiting for the A/C to be fixed, this book is worth checking out.

Biography (in English) 

Émilie du Châtelet: Daring Genius of the Enlightenment by Judith P. Zinsser

Zinsser’s biography covers the subject of our June salon event, Émilie du Châtelet. As Émilie was a woman of many interests, readers will easily find something in common with her. I, for one, was intrigued with her Discours sur le bonheur, a series of writings on the meaning of happiness. Others may be interested in her translation of Newton, which remains one of the most used editions in the francophone world. And, indeed, she did have torrid affairs with men like Voltaire, so her personal life reads like a soap opera.

Non-Fiction (in English)

The Streets of Paris: A Guide to the City of Light Following in the Footsteps of Famous Parisians Throughout History by Susan Cahill

It’s hard to walk around Paris without thinking of the figures who have been there before you. After all, something as nondescript as a corner café could have been your favorite writer’s hang-out spot. Streets of Paris was written with this phenomenon in mind. Susan Cahill takes you on a tour through the capital, bringing with her luminaries like Madame Curie and Edith Piaf. With this guide, you can be in Le Marais and Lincoln Park at the same time.

If any of these titles are to your liking, stop by the médiathèque on the second floor of the Alliance.

Bonne lecture!

Ethan Safron

Coup de coeur… Les Pépites

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Dear students, dear friends, dear all of you…

When we see something we like, it’s hard to keep it to ourselves. That’s who we are at the Alliance Française de Chicago. We like to share!

So it’s our great pleasure to talk to you about the movie Les Pépites, a documentary that will be shown once (and only once!) at the Gene Siskel Film Center of Chicago, on December 10th at 11:15 a.m.

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If you too you have a dream, this movie is for you.

 

The plot

In 1995, a retired French couple, Christian and Marie-France, come across the Phnom Penh (Cambodia) landfill full of hazardous waste, flies by the thousands and…hundreds of kids from 6 to 15, searching through the pile of garbage for food or anything good enough to sell.

Absolutely overwhelmed by this experience, Christian and Marie-France decide to start an association “Pour un sourire d’enfant” in order to provide food, basic care and education to these children. 20 years later they have given 10,000 kids the chance to dream as well…

Not convinced yet? Have a look to the trailer …

The info?

Les Pépites (2016, 88 min), by Xavier de Lauzanne
In French with English subtitles
December 10th at 11:15 a.m.
Gene Siskel Film Center of Chicago

TO REGISTER

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Library Recommendations: Francophone African Literature

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The Brown Médiathèque at the Alliance has a great selection of Francophone novels from Africa. Culturethèque, the online French library, also offers Francophone African literature. Alliance members have FREE access to Culturethèque! Register here. You can browse the online selections for ‘Littérature Afrique du Nord’ here and ‘Littérature Afrique Noire’ here.

Check out this list of 5 must-reads from talented African authors! All of these books are available at our library or on Culturethèque.

verrecasse1. Verre cassé by Alain Mabanckou
*Selection for Café Littérature
*More books by Mabanckou on Culturethèque here

Review:
“A man known as Broken Glass (Verre Cassé) is a regular in Credit Gone West, a run-down bar in the Congo; the bar’s owner, aka the Stubborn Snail, selects him to record the stories of the bar’s other sodden, down-and-out habitués. That slight premise is all Mabanckou needs to spin a raucous tale of the regulars, the bar, corrupt and inept government, and life in Trois-Cents, an impoverished district of an unnamed city…it is the author’s sense of humor—and he can find humor in even the most tragic or vulgar circumstances—that makes Broken Glass a memorable and successful novel.” –Booklist

About the author:
Alain Mabanckou was born in Congo-Brazzaville in 1966. He is a Francophone Congolese poet and novelist whose absurd sense of humor resulted in his being known in France as “the African Samuel Beckett.” Learn more here.

femmesdalger2. Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement by Assia Djebar

Review:
“Algerian-born writer and filmmaker Djebar… makes her American debut with a collection offering memorable portraits of Arabic women in a time of change. Spanning the years 1958 to 1979, a period when Algeria fought a bitter war of independence from France and experienced a socialist revolution, Djebar’s stories are intended to be ‘the voice of all the women they’ve kept walled in’ in Islamic society…. As much a critique as a picture of [this] society, Djebar’s debut―plus its informative afterword―is an elegant and evocative introduction to a too little-known world.” –Kirkus Reviews

About the author:
Assia Djebar (1936-2015) was born in Cherchell, French Algeria. Her novel Fantasia, an Algerian Cavalcade won the Franco-Arab Friendship Prize and she has written and directed two feature-length films. Learn more here.

 

 

3. L’enfant de sable by Tahar Ben Jellounlenfantdesable
*More books by Ben Jelloun on Culturethèque here

Review:
“Seemingly cursed to father only daughters in a society that devalues females, an Arab conceals the birth of an eighth girl by proclaiming the child, Ahmed, a son and heir. The tale that follows is a cynical, dreamlike exploration of the roles into which Arab men and women are shaped: shackles to some, yet a clear identity and a well-defined bridge connecting the individual to society.” –Publisher’s Weekly

About the author:
Tahar Ben Jelloun was born in Fez, Morocco, in 1944 and has lived in France since 1971. He is an internationally recognized novelist, poet, playwright, and essayist, and has received numerous awards for his works. Learn more here.

 

4. Meursault, contre-enquête by Kamel Daoudmedium
*Available on Culturethèque here

Review:
“A thrilling retelling of Albert Camus’s 1942 classic, The Stranger, from the perspective of the brother of the Arab killed by Meursault, Camus’s antihero. The novel…not only breathes new life into The Stranger; it also offers a bracing critique of postcolonial Algeria… The premise is ingenious: that The Stranger, about the murder of an unnamed Arab on an Algiers beach, was a true story…Meursault is less a critique of The Stranger than its postcolonial sequel.” –The New York Times Magazine

About the author:
Kamel Daoud is an Algerian journalist based in Oran. A finalist for the Prix Goncourt, Meursault, contre-enquête won the Prix François Mauriac and the Prix des Cinq-Continents de la francophonie. Learn more here.

 

 

5. Aya de Yopougon by Marguerite Abouetaya

Review:
“Studious Aya and her flighty party-girl friends, Adjoua and Bintou, live in suburban Ivory Coast in 1978. Aya hopes to continue her studies and become a doctor, while her father, a manager at a local brewery, would rather see her marry well…This realistic story immerses readers in the life of an Ivorian teen of the period. Yet for those familiar with the civil unrest occurring in this part of Africa during the ensuing years, the simplicity of life depicted can’t help but be extra poignant…This pleasing volume will make a good addition to graphic-novel collections.” –School Library Journal

About the author:
Marguerite Abouet was born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in 1971 and now lives outside of Paris. Her graphic novel series taps into Abouet’s childhood memories of Ivory Coast in the 1970s. More than 300,000 copies of Aya have been sold and it has been translated into 12 languages, including English. Learn more here.

 

AF Student Spotlight: Dennis Smithenry

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AF Student Spotlight: Dennis Smithenry

 

When Dennis Smithenry learned that his ancestors were from Alsace, France, he became motivated to learn French in honor of his family heritage. His journey at the Alliance Française de Chicago began in 2012 when he became a member and started taking French classes.

Growing up in southern Illinois on a farm, his community did not place much value on learning foreign languages. Before starting French classes at the Alliance, Dennis had only taken French in high school, where the curriculum was more focused on writing than speaking. Dennis now benefits from a more well-rounded approach to learning French. “I try to balance the main four: listening, speaking, writing, and reading,” he says.

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An education professor at Elmhurst College, Dennis is passionate about learning. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Dennis also conducted postdoctoral research in environmental engineering and science education at Stanford University. You can view his professor bio here.

During his sabbatical, Dennis has been able to combine his academic interests with his love for French by presenting his research in French at a conference in Montréal. Dennis attended the Congrès de l’ACFAS (Association francophonie pour le savoir) from May 9 to May 13, 2016.

In his 25-minute presentation, entitled “Conceptualisation et enseignement – planifier et enseigner à partir des concepts,” he discussed how to plan a course from start to finish, and also, how to teach a student to plan courses effectively. One of the main ideas that Dennis covered was “macro-planification à rebours,” or backwards planning. This method involves starting with the end, or the learning, first. Then, a teacher designs an effective course from start to finish based on the desired end result.

Dennis loved being immersed in the French language while he was in Montréal, both at the conference and with a language partner that he met online. He went to see a play in French and also conversed in French with his AirBnB host. He is thankful for the experience.

For four years, Dennis has been dedicated to taking French classes at the Alliance and learning French in his free time as a hobby. “I think this speaks to the well-thought-out program,” he says. “The books build off of one another very well and the curriculum is more focused on speaking French rather than just writing it.”

Dennis said that he is often critical of curriculum and pedagogical techniques because he specializes in education. However, he believes that the pedagogy at the Alliance Française de Chicago is extremely effective.

He enjoys how challenging the French language can be and looks forward to continuing his studies.”Language learning is a puzzle,” he says. “The more you learn, the more complex it becomes.”