Culture - Issue 121 - Magazine | Monocle

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Serious about series

Espionage, royal caprice and showbiz tantrums: turn the subtitles on for the best in French-language drama.

The Bureau/Le Bureau des Légends, 2015 – present
Back from a six-year undercover mission in Syria, intelligence officer “Malotru” is a French spy whose dangerous days aren’t yet behind him.

Call My Agent!/Dix Pour Cent, 2015 – present
Surviving as a talent agency is hard enough without the boss suddenly dying. Cameos abound, as do gags about the unrealistic expectations of movie stars.

Hippocrate, 2018 – present
Three medical students and a forensic expert get stuck in a quarantined suburban hospital, where everybody’s survival depends on this bunch of underprepared doctors.

Versailles, 2015 – present
Everything at court is marred with intrigue, including the extortionately expensive building of France’s grandest palace: proof that architectural overspending has always made for great gossip.

Vernon Subutex, 2019
The eponymous protagonist is Paris’s textbook boho – formerly full of women, currently low on money – until he finds recordings of his (now dead) rockstar friend. An innovative black comedy.


Ones to watch

No need for blockbusters: the French are unrivalled at the arthouse. Here’s the past few years’ moodiest and most tender ‘films d’auteur’.

Sorry Angel,
Christophe Honoré’s tale of love and Aids in the early 1990s is a tragedy with a light touch, endearing in its portrayal of a couple divided by a wide age gap and opposite personalities.

L’amant Double,
It’s an audacious thriller, this – both sexy and disconcerting (and all the more titillating for being both). François Ozon takes a cue from a novel by Joyce Carol Oates and adds his own risqué touch.

A gay sex worker looks for love among his countless encounters. There’s no predictable, sickly romanticism or crude eroticism, only tenderness – and realism.

120 BPM,
The political and personal intertwine in this riotous story of Aids activism. It’s as much an absorbing love story as it is a glorious call to action.

Au Revoir Là-Haut,
Surreal moments might seem at odds with this film’s sombre tone but they add whimsy to a scathing critique of France’s treatment of its servicemen in the aftermath of the First World War.


Reading time

Our round-up of the best French journals and newspapers.

Nice-based quarterly De L’Air showcases an eclectic mix of contemporary photography talent alongside dearchived images from the past century. Slick photography is also key to the appeal of glossy Paris Match. It’s one of a handful of French publications that ensures a photographer accompanies a reporter to every story it covers. Paris-based Regain was founded last year by Monocle’s own Daphné Hézard and is a beautifully designed quarterly celebrating rural escapism. Arles is a biannual magazine exploring the influence of the Mediterranean on contemporary culture. Le Canard Enchaîné is a satirical broadsheet that’s staffed by investigative journalists adept at uncovering political scandals. Left-wing daily Le Monde was founded in 1944; since 2013 it has focused on developing its digital presence. Through its holding company Les Nouvelles Éditions Indépendantes it has moved into music festivals and record labels. Chunky bimonthly Étapes showcases the best of international graphic design and Les Others is a hefty biannual dedicated to the great outdoors.


Mix tape

Beyond chanteuses and French Touch (but with sultriness aplenty), here’s our line-up of the nation’s slick tunes.

Christine & the Queens

La Marcheuse
The monarch of French pop proves to be a step ahead.

Therapie Taxi

Coma Idyllique
Infectious optimism in an ode to living well.


Il Fait Chaud
Vintage disco for late nights in beach resorts.


Qui es-tu?
Disco guitar, violins, keys – a throwback with an 1970s edge.


Toi et Moi
Smooth electronica for a slow dance.


La Forêt
Minimal and moody with a side helping of slick new-wave.


Rien à prouver
Drawn-out beats for a sexy take on hip-hop.

Polo & Pan

Sampling a Brazilian classic makes for sleek raving material.

Bonnie Banane & Chassol

Feu au Lac
Enthralling R&B.

Vendredi sur Mer

Écoute Chérie
Paris-based Charline Mignot ticks all the breathless pop boxes.

Tomás Saraceno

Dream works 03

As part of our regular feature we ask artists from across the cultural spectrum to tell us about a career ambition that is, as yet, unfulfilled. Our latest contributor: Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno.

Many of Tomás Saraceno’s artworks look like idealist experiments so it’s no surprise that the Argentinian artist is inclined to push his visions one step further. “My works have been concrete utopias,” he says. “Art always drives provocation, articulating things we may have overseen.” His practice is unafraid of tackling big political topics such as global pollution so, for his dream project, he’s taking on the world’s monetary system.

“I’ve been influenced by cryptocurrency,” he says. “If we criticise the economic system we’re in, can we invent another way to trade?” Saraceno’s idea consists of creating tokens to be exchanged between like-minded people (including a substitute for air miles that rewards those flying on days when winds help speed up travel). It’s an evolution of his solar-powered flying sculpture “Aerocene” (presented at Art Basel Miami Beach thanks to the sponsorship of Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet), which he’d like to call Aerochange. “I don’t know what value these tokens would change into – maybe a time bank, maybe something completely different.”

Join up
Since 1986, Raids has been shipping its journalists off to follow France’s elite troops as well as international forces on global missions. Many of its editorial team come from army ranks and have risked their lives both as soldiers and journalists. The monthly result of their exclusive reporting is a magazine unbeaten in its niche.

Fair watch: The Armory

New York — Art

Born as The Gramercy International Art Fair 25 years ago (when it began in New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel), the event now known as The Armory Show has grown into one of the US’s staple art fairs, drawing 194 galleries from 33 countries. After a series of location changes it has settled on Manhattan’s Piers 92 and 94.

As well as special sections such as “Presents”, for galleries not more than 10 years old, and “Platform”, dedicated to large-scale installations, The Armory Show will host the Curatorial Leadership Summit, which director Nicole Berry proudly calls “a professional platform for dialogue and exchange between art professionals”. There will also be talks reflecting shifts in global art (the focus is on female artists and textiles), while the VIP programme promises exclusive visits and tours.


  1. Hackett Mill, San Francisco
    The gallery will be juxtaposing the venerable UK painter Howard Hodgkin with US sculptor Manuel Neri to startling effect.

  2. Selma Feriani Gallery, Sidi Bou Said
    This Tunisian gallery is a newcomer to the fair and will be showing fellow countryman Nidhal Chamekh, whose pencil drawings on cotton paper are punctuated with flecks of gold leaf.

  3. Ronchini Gallery, London
    Head to this stand to see artists working to revive overlooked traditions in textile art, including pieces by Rebecca Ward, Tameka Norris and Samantha Bittman.

Open: [Italy] Enrico Mentana, one of the bel paese’s best-known television journalists, started Open with a Facebook appeal in which he vowed to invest money in a journalism start-up that was led by young people. “Italy’s newsrooms are old,” he said. Five months later, in December 2018, came the launch, with most of the team of 24 journalists under 30. Open is designed for smartphone and desktop use and focused on issues that are relevant to its core 18-to-35 audience. Set up as a non-profit, Open relies on Mentana as its sole investor, supplemented by advertising. “It is my moral duty to give back,” he says.

Naked ambition

Kiev — Art

Swiss-British film-maker Marc Raymond Wilkins was in Kiev when he visited the Mystetskyi Arsenal, a former military facility now transformed into the city’s foremost cultural venue. There he saw works by many of Ukraine’s contemporary artists – and decided to open a space of his own in the city.

With co-founders Lizaveta German, Marianna Fakas and Maria Lanko, he inaugurated The Naked Room in December 2018 with an exhibition featuring work by Olena Subach and Viacheslav Poliakov. One of the few commercial galleries in Kiev (where collecting was stifled during Soviet times), The Naked Room wants to expose the raw potential of the eastern European art market. It’s set in the stripped-back interior of a pre-revolution building in the city centre and will attract passers-by with its bookshop, bar and events.

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