Now that back-to-school season is well underway, the cultural scene is roaring back from its summer (and Covid) slumbers. Across North America, September is a month packed with festivals, performances, and new exhibitions. So sharpen your pencils, hoist your cartable, and venture out with our guide to all things French for fall.
Explore the concept of beauty in words and images
The French artist, writer, and philosopher Sophie Calle has built her long career around the interplay between word and image, imagination and representation. In 1986, she asked members of an institute for the blind in Paris to share their ideas about beauty. The resulting installation, “The Blind,” displayed excerpts from these intimate conversations alongside photographs of the subjects and images of the things they called, or imagined, as beautiful. The Art Institute of Chicago recently acquired the only full-English version of this work, which is now on display for the first time since that original showing, paired with a recent interactive work, “Because.” In this piece, also playing with what we read and see, Calle’s personal descriptions of why she made certain photographs are embroidered on wool cloths, which the visitor must lift to see the image. On September 23, curator Matthew Witkovsky gives a talk on the exhibition at the museum.
August 27 to January 23, 2023
Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL.
Sample an eclectic presentation of performance art
A highlight of the New York cultural calendar, the 15th incarnation of the French Institute–Alliance Française Crossing the Line festival kicks off on September 9, running through the end of October. This festival of dance, music, theater, and art, curated by Florent Masse and Mathilde Augé, is dedicated to new, boundary-pushing performance that confronts pressing issues of identity and global politics. The festival brings cutting-edge French and Francophone performances to the United States, and fosters an exchange of ideas between international artists and those based in New York. The shows “exemplify the spirit of inclusion that inspired us,” say the curators, featuring “casts of under-represented artists, and a mix of professionals and nonprofessionals.” Throughout the festival, “Clin d’oeil,” an exhibit by Senegalese artist Omar Ba, is on display in the FIAF Gallery at 22 East 60th Street. September highlights include Marion Siéfert’s hybrid theatrical and Instagram performance, “_jeanne_dark_” (pictured) in which a teen bullied for her virginity (Helena de Laurens) reinvents herself online in real time. Suitable for audiences aged 14 and up, the piece dramatizes the role of the audience in shaping the protagonist’s reality.
Sept 9–October 28, various dates and venues.
Plunge into the buzzing atmosphere of a major film festival
The 2022 film festival calendar is once again packed with in-person screenings and red-carpet drama. In Toronto from the 8the of September, the beloved global jamboree TIFF, now in its 47th year, offers one of the most audience-friendly showcases in North America, and a reliable indicator of Oscar buzz. Around 200 features and 40 shorts make up the packed schedule, and the French and Francophone lineup—more than 50 films this year—is especially robust. The festival will include several world premieres by French directors, including Benjamin Millepied’s new interpretation of Carmen and Christophe Honoré’s Winter Boy, starring Juliette Binoche and up-and-comer Paul Kircher, a semi-autobiographical tale of a queer adolescent on the cusp of adulthood whose life is upended by tragedy. In Hawa, from Cuties director Maïmouna Doucouré, another troubled teen (Sania Halifa, pictured at top) decides that her only route out of her situation is to convince Michelle Obama, on a visit to Paris, to adopt her. Elsewhere in the city, French-Burkinabé director Cédric Ido’s The Gravity (pictured above) imagines the fallout when a mysterious cosmic event upsets the atmosphere—literally—of the banlieue.
Toronto International Film Festival, September 8–18
Celebrate the “joyful ride” of new French theater
After two years of virtual performances, the Seuls en Scène French theater festival at Princeton University returns in person this month, “highlighting diversity and female artists,” according to its curator Florent Masse, senior lecturer in the Department of French and Italian, who also co-curates FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival. Seuls en Scène, in collaboration with the Paris Festival d’Automne, unites the talents of established and early-career actors and directors, introducing local audiences and the university community to exciting new productions, mostly in French with English supertitles. “Since its inception in 2012, Seuls en Scène has been a joyful ride every year,” Masse says. It begins this September with Stallone, a humorous celebration of grit and pop culture, about a secretary who is inspired to re-commit to her medical training thanks to the cinematic inspiration of Rocky III. Other performances confront tougher stories about new beginnings and the interplay of personal and political liberation. Don’t miss Angela Davis une histoire des Etats-Unis, a multimedia musical performance in which actress Astrid Bayiha (pictured) embodies the activist, professor, and author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s.
Various venues, Princeton University campus, Princeton, NJ.
See abstract art in a new global light
After a Covid-interrupted tour of several North American campus galleries, the dazzling exhibition Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s lands this fall for its final showing at Northwestern University’s Block Museum. Showcasing a diverse array of paintings, drawings and sculpture from across the Middle East and North Africa, created during the turbulent and transformative post-colonial period, the exhibition challenges visitors to rethink the history of modernist abstraction. Across the broad sweep of the Arab world in the late 20th century, the anti-figurative traditions of Islamic art meet and merge with the Western modernist rejection of representation, to create that art that feels rooted in history and geography yet excitingly new. Several artists from the formerly French enclaves of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco—including Ahmed Cherkaoui, whose 1965 painting Les Miroirs Rouges is pictured above—feature in the exhibition, which is drawn from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
September 22 to December 4
Block Museum, Northwestern University
40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, IL.
Joanna Scutts is the author of Hotbed: Bohemian Greenwich Village and the Secret Club that Sparked Modern Feminism (out last month from Seal Press) and The Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like It.