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Find the Cool with This Month’s French Cultural Happenings Around the US

A group of people posing for a photo
August might be the traditional vacation month in France, during which businesses close up and people flee the big cities for the nearest lake, ocean or shady plane tree, out-of-office replies firmly switched on until la rentrée. But in the U.S., the cultural calendar doesn’t stop for the summer heat, so here’s our regular roundup of art, music and film with a French twist, all prêt to enjoy during the hot and bittersweet month of August.
The Maids poster
Discover an avant-garde theatrical classic
In Charlotte, NC, the experimental performance collective XOXO offers up a funny and frenetic interpretation of Jean Genet’s 1947 play, The Maids, at the Mint Museum Randolph. The play, billed as a “giddy trip through a fun house maze of power, class, identity and desire,” explores the dynamic between two sisters, Solange and Claire, who work as maids for a rich and glamorous employer, known only as Madame. While Madame is out, the maids act out increasingly elaborate revenge fantasies, swapping back and forth the roles of mistress and servant, and dramatizing the push-pull of desire and violence in a context of inescapable social inequality. When it was published, the play was a major work in absurdist canon and was inspired by a real-life story of two maids in Le Mans who murdered their employer and her daughter. In Genet’s hands, the lurid tabloid tale becomes something much stranger, more shocking, and more compelling.
Various dates, August 4–14
Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road, Charlotte, NC
Enjoy the return of a stylish French band
Since the early 2000s, the French band Nouvelle Vague has made a name with its dreamy, 1950s-60s inspired bossa nova (Portuguese for “new wave”) covers of punk and new wave classics by bands including The Clash, Joy Division, and Blur. Their live performances and recordings showcase the talents of a revolving cast of female vocalists – on this tour, Mélanie Pain, Phoebe Killdeer and Elodie Frégé. Backed up only by acoustic guitar and a handful of keyboards, their voices create an atmospheric unplugged sound that transforms familiar songs into something elegant, fresh and unique. Throughout August the band is on tour through North America, with U.S. stops including Washington DC’s Howard Theatre, New York’s Webster Hall, City Winery Boston, and further venues in Chicago, Salt Lake, Denver, Seattle, Portland, Oregon and California. The band is supported by Strange as Angels, another venture of Nouvelle Vague founder Marc Collin, which reworks and reimagines songs by The Cure, in collaboration with the singer Chrystabell.
Various dates and locations, August 15–September 3
Details at the band’s website.
Revisit classic French cinema at this long-running festival
St. Louis’s annual French film festival not only presents a vibrant line-up of cinematic masterpieces from across the 20th century, but offers audiences insightful introductions and discussions with renowned filmmakers, critics, and scholars. Supported by the Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation, the Robert Classic French Film Festival this year celebrates one of St. Louis’s own: the iconic Josephine Baker, recently inducted into France’s Panthéon, with a screening of her debut film Siren of the Tropics, with an original score and live accompaniment. The rest of the program combines crowd-pleasers like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie and Godard’s Breathless, along with several new restorations, including Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge and Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep (pictured.) Currently airing as a splashy new reboot on HBO Max, the original 1996 film by Assayas showcases a latex-clad Maggie Cheung as a Hong Kong action star who arrives in Paris only to find herself plunged into a chaotic, surreal environment where reality and cinematic fiction start to blur. The festival takes place at Webster University, and individual tickets or multi-screening passes are available.
Various dates, August 5–21
Winifred Moore Auditorium, Webster University
470 E. Lockwood Ave, St. Louis, MO.

Celebrate the vibrancy of art from the urban margins

The inspired pairing of Oakland, CA and Saint-Denis, France, in the hybrid exhibition, “In the Banlieues/Centering the Margin: Oakland/Saint-Denis” showcases artists from communities traditionally “outside”—on the periphery, overlooked, and forgotten by those in their powerful respective centers of San Francisco and Paris. In recent years, these neglected areas have become hugely influential as laboratories for art and social projects confronting the challenges of urbanization, inequity, and gentrification. The exhibition brings together a wide range of paintings, architectural models, videos, and installations that are “composed of places, people, and stories, drawings – far from clichés – portraits of composite urban areas on the peripheries,” according to the curators June Grant and Laure Gayet.
After opening at Paris’s Pavillon de l’Arsenal and in Saint-Denis, the show now moves to the U.S. for a concurrent run at venues in San Francisco and Oakland. In San Francisco, the venue is SPUR, the city’s Planning and Urban Research Association, a nonprofit focused on urbanism and public policy, while in Oakland, the show will run at Oakstop, a coworking and creative space supporting entrepreneurs and communities of color.
SPUR Urban Center, 654 Mission Street, San Francisco, August 23- Nov 30.
Oakstop. Various locations. August 25-October 30.
Shown above left: Photograph of Reine Ruthza by Sophie Comtet Kouyaté. Above right: PAST PRESENT FUTURE by Oakland International Media Academy.
Escape the heat in the company of cool marble
Where better to ride out the sweltering heat of August than with an exhibition of Rodin’s extraordinary sculptures? The Clark Art Institute’s exhibition Rodin in the United States: Confronting the Modern highlights the vital relationship between the sculptor and his American collectors and patrons, who helped establish his reputation while he was still an outsider in France. Working in the late nineteenth century, when rigid conventions still governed fine art, Rodin was controversial for his use of ordinary people as models, and his efforts to bring out the humanity of accepted religious and classical figures and poses. Leaving chunks of rough stone exposed, his work laid bare the extraordinary physical and imaginative process of conveying tangible humanity through such an intransigent material as marble (as in 1882’s “Fallen Caryatid,” pictured.) His most famous works, including “The Kiss,” were unabashedly frank in their evocation of sexuality and desire, scandalizing and attracting audiences in equal measure. The Clark exhibition, guest curated by independent scholar Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, brings together drawings, sketches, and models in marble and bronze, a vibrant reminder of the scale and scope of his talent.
Through September 18
Clark Art Institute, 225 South Street Williamstown, MA 01267
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