Vive la révolution
With high unemployment, low morale, damaging political scandals and threatened cutbacks to services and welfare, France has been losing its joie de vivre. But revolution is in the air. Here are 10 trailblazers who are leading the way
Purrveyor of calm
As the economic crisis pushes French panic levels ever higher, this 26-year-old Parisian cat-lover has controversial plans to offer an alternative stress therapy. France’s first “cat cafe” is to open in the Marais district of Paris in the autumn. The concept, based on Japan’s more than 300 Neko cafes, involves allowing customers to play with and pet a friendly feline while sipping a coffee or eating lunch.
“It will be a calm space, a friendly place,” explains Gandelon, who raised the money for the project through crowd-funding and from individual investors. She has yet to confirm the location, but insists it will be a space of “freedom and happiness” for cats and clients, with up to a dozen rescued furry moggies enjoying better treatment than in their previous lives at animal shelters.
The therapeutic effects of playing with and stroking a pet are well established, says Toulouse-based vet Jean Yves Gauchet. “Purring therapy”, as he calls it, has a calming effect on the brain, and acts “like a medication with no side-effects”. When the body struggles with painful situations such as stress, insomnia and anxiety, a cat’s purring increases the production of the “happy hormone” serotonin, he says.
Animal rights groups, however, are more concerned about the cats’ stress levels. The Bardot Foundation in Paris has argued the project will reduce them to “teddy bear” status. “I say to those people,‘Come and see my cafe when it opens’,” says Gandelon. “Clients will not be allowed to wake up a sleeping cat, and they cannot pick up a cat that doesn’t want to be picked up. I have the utmost respect for animals.”
The next Thierry Henry?
Call it karma if you will, but ever since Thierry Henry stuck out his left hand to juggle the ball and manhandle Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup, French football fans have been having a rum time of it. Henry and his team mates returned from the finals in South Africa in disgrace, having failed to win a match, fallen out with their coach, boycotted a training session and endured a dressing down over their behaviour from the sports minister. An improved performance was delivered at last year’s Euro finals, but France still exited early – and quietly – after a 2-0 defeat to Spain.
If Les Bleus are to see a return to the halcyon days of 1998, when over a million people celebrated on the Champs Élysées after France won the World Cup, their long-suffering supporters will need a new generation of heroes. Step forward Yaya Sanogo. You may not yet have heard of this gangly 20-year-old, but he has certainly caught the eye of Arsenal’s astute French manager Arsene Wenger, who specialises in signing little-known footballers from his home country and turning them into international superstars.
The Massy-born striker – who scored 10 goals in just 13 matches for second division side Auxerre last season and went on to impress for France at the under-20 World Cup in Turkey this month – is Wenger’s latest French import. He follows some illustrious predecessors, not least among them one Thierry Henry.
She charmed the world as Peppy Miller in the black-and-white 2011 silent film The Artist. More recently it was a speaking role that won her more hearts: by lobbying the European Parliament to retain the “cultural exception” that protects French film-makers from Hollywood domination, the French-
Bérénice Bejo is regarded as the ideal ambassador for the industry. France has since managed to keep the audiovisual issue excluded from transatlantic trade talks.
The Buenos Aires-born 37-year-old, whose family moved to France when she was three, told MEPs that without l’exception culturelle, The Artist, in which she starred opposite Jean Dujardin (who won an Oscar for his efforts), would never have been made.
The exception was introduced by the French during trade talks in 1993 in a bid to treat culture differently from commercial products, and has been guarded preciously since.
Bejo, who won this year’s Cannes Best Actress award for her role in Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, told MEPs: “This is not against Americans – we need all cultures.”
Hollywood heavyweights have also supported the deal. This year’s Cannes jury president Steven Spielberg called the tradition “the best way to support diversity in filmmaking”, and then proceeded to announce a list of prizes for films hailing from France, the US, Japan, China, Mexico, and Iran.