“Brassens, memories too beautiful for me”: the delicate and moving testimony of Agathe Fallet, who was the friend of the poet

By Annie Yanbekian (translated)

Agathe Fallet was the wife of the writer and screenwriter René Fallet, a close friend of Georges Brassens. She thus rubbed shoulders with the poet-singer for a quarter of a century, until his death in October 1981. Forty years later, in a short and superbly illustrated book, she reveals her memories.

Agathe Fallet waited forty years to unveil the treasures buried in her memory. Treasures of humanity from a time gone by, that of his youth alongside her husband René Fallet, writer ( Paris in August, Le Triporteur, La Soupe aux choux …), screenwriter, and above all a great friend by Georges Brassens, which allowed him to work closely with the poet.

The testimony: As the centenary of the birth of Brassens approaches, Agathe Fallet (her real first name is Michelle, Agathe being her nickname) has decided to share her memories, in order to return to her, “before the end of everything” , his “personal tribute”. Because she blames herself, even today, for“all his admiration and all his tenderness”.

However, although it might never have been formulated verbally, there was indeed some tenderness between Georges Brassens and the young wife of his friend René. This tenderness is palpable in the gorgeous photo used for the cover of the book. It is rare that a single illustration can thus summarize a whole work, a whole history of humanities. Georges Brassens, smiling warmly, carries with an incredible benevolence the young woman who is made very small in his arms …

A circle of poets and beautiful souls

The author was not yet seventeen when, in July 1956, she married René Fallet, twelve years her senior. By uniting her destiny with that of the writer, she joined a circle frequented by artists from all walks of life, as illustrated by the splendid photos of her wedding: they are signed by Robert Doisneau, for the most part. The only thing missing was Georges Brassens, already very famous at the time, and who “had delegated Püpchen”, his companion, because ” he was friendly enough not to steal the show from the bride and groom”, believes Agathe Fallet.

Agathe Fallet’s memories are first of all extracts from letters, such as brief chronicles, that René sent her when they were engaged, letters which speak of Brassens. It is then precious moments, but not always exhilarating, Impasse Florimont in Paris, where the young woman spends time with Jeanne, the hostess, and Püpchen, the woman of the life of Brassens, coquettish on her physical appearance. , worried about her age difference with her man (she was ten years older than him). Meanwhile, René Fallet and the poet are upstairs, in “the bedroom-office where Georges worked and enjoyed himself so much” . This piece, Agathe will never see it, “except in photo”. “Unfortunately for being a girl …”,she slips with touching sincerity. It is also an era that lives again in these lines.

Forty years later, an intact wonder

Fortunately, life, dinners with friends, trips to the provinces, tours, allow the young woman to share incredibly privileged moments with Georges Brassens. There are these trips by car where Agathe sometimes takes the wheel of the poet’s DS, at the latter’s request, after overly watered meals … There are improbable conversations, like that day when he said to her without shouting station: “Don’t you think I only hang out with idiots?”

This so personal work gracefully delivers a bunch of little stories, anecdotes, memories, which allow us to sketch portraits in nuances of Georges Brassens and his close entourage. And one always feels, from the first to the last line, this astonishment, this wonder, intact after so many years, to have been there, so close to Brassens. How not to envy Agathe Fallet for having lived all these moments?

The book ends with a small series of photos and personal archives of Agathe Fallet, an article by her husband on Brassens, cards and dedications by the poet … From delicacy and emotion, to final pages.

The cover of Agathe Fallet's book published at the end of October 2021 (ÉDITIONS DES ÉQUATEURS)


“Brassens, memories too beautiful for me”, by Agathe Fallet (Ecuador, 128 pages, 18 €)

Extract: “I listen to Brassens. When it is he who sings. Nobody should allow himself to sing it. His voice has not yet faded, as far as I know. And if that happens, we will read it and we will read it again.
It seems to me that Brassens has become for some a kind of business and that troubles me. I’m probably wrong. We really love Brassens. But Georges is forgotten. He was in the flesh. He was so handsome, incredibly handsome. His voice remains, you must not cover it. ” ( Brassens, memories too beautiful for me, page 17)Source: “Brassens, memories too beautiful for me”: the delicate and moving testimony of Agathe Fallet, who was the friend of the poet

Please don’t turn Notre-Dame into a post-Vatican II cathedral to the modern world

Like many parish churches built in the 1970s and ’80s, the Notre-Dame redesign seems to take its inspiration from sensibilities unique to our own decades, rather than drawing on time-tested understandings of God.

By Doug Girardot

It was a sunny Marathon Monday in Boston in 2019 when I got a notification on my phone that the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was on fire. I watched a live video feed as flames engulfed the lead-and-wood roof of the church. As Notre-Dame’s ornate spire collapsed, I felt a sadness that must have been similar to how people reacted as they watched the Twin Towers collapse in New York in 2001, even if for different reasons.

More than two years later, the teams working on Notre-Dame’s rehabilitation have come up with new plans for its interior. The proposed redesign hardly alters the cathedral’s existing structure, but it does envision a so-called discovery trail around the church to help visitors learn the story of the Bible, as well as spaces for meditation and digital projections of Bible verses in different languages. The tentative plans—shared by the London-based paper The Telegraph on Nov. 26—have caused an uproar among tradition-minded pundits. (The details are scheduled to be revealed publicly on Dec. 9, when the National Heritage and Architecture Commission will begin reviewing them.)

The proposed changes to Notre-Dame would not make the cathedral into a “theme park” or “woke Disneyland,” as certain commentators on both sides of the Atlantic would have indignant readers believe. The restoration designers—led by a Catholic priest, the Rev. Gille Drouin—are evidently striving to reach out to nonbelievers from around the world and to educate Christians about their own faith.

All the same, I do agree that the cathedral should stay as it was. Notre-Dame, in all of its Gothic magnificence, serves as a vital reminder of God’s grandeur. I understand where the cathedral’s redesigners are coming from, and I would not dismiss any modern innovation out of hand, but there are better avenues for them to pursue the work of evangelization they are trying to do.

Ultimately, the controversy over the proposed redesign of Notre-Dame reflects a debate about how we approach God. Do we see him as a philosophical wonder, a mystery, praiseworthy above all else? Or do we seek the more personal and active God we meet in Jesus?

Although Christianity is founded on belief in the Trinity, there are a number of dualities in our faith: Jesus was both human and divine; the contents of our faith are found in both Scripture and tradition; the Eucharist comes to us in the form of bread and wine. There is also a binary of how we conceptualize God: The Lord is the unfathomable and infinite creator of the universe, but he is also the poor man from Roman-occupied Palestine who showed mercy toward sinners and healed the sick as he wandered around Galilee.

In our time, the church has emphasized this pastoral view of God embodied in Jesus—and rightly so. In the centuries before the Second Vatican Council, the institutional church had gradually separated from the community of believers, leaving some with a more abstract understanding of their faith; for many, ritual and dogma were given pride of place over a personal relationship between themselves and God. The reforms of the council can be said to have renewed the church, reminding Christians that God is close to each of us in an intensely personal way.

The proposed changes run the risk of making a timeless monument to God’s majesty into something much more pedestrian.

Vatican II might seem worlds away from discussion of a 13th-century cathedral, but the way in which the council reframed our conception of how God relates to humankind speaks to the current controversy.

While I am sympathetic to the intentions of the team working to redesign the cathedral, I am skeptical that the proposed alterations will ultimately make a substantial difference in evangelizing people from around the world. The additions may push a handful of visitors each day to reconsider the Christian faith (or to consider it for the first time), but did the splendid architecture and reverent atmosphere of the cathedral before the fire fail in this regard? And isn’t the worldwide synod that the church is currently undergoing a better (and less expensive) tool to reach out to such groups on the margins of the church in a deeper way?

Unfortunately, like many parish churches built in the 1970s and ’80s, the Notre-Dame redesign seems to take its inspiration from sensibilities unique to our own decades, rather than drawing on time-tested understandings of God, which are as old as humanity itself. The proposed changes run the risk of making a timeless monument to God’s majesty into something much more pedestrian.

Because of our human imperfection and limitations, no cathedral can ever capture the myriad of facets of God’s divinity. But Notre-Dame in its pre-2019 iteration did a more than adequate job of expressing the transcendent nature of God, and that was enough. The cathedral’s soaring turrets, vaulted ceilings and pointed arches cause us to look up toward the heavens, spiritually no less than literally.

Like many other intellectual and aesthetic products of medieval times, Notre-Dame continues to remind Catholics of how small we are next to God in all his immensity, majesty and splendor. Just because we have opened our field of view to include the Son Incarnate does not mean that we should lose sight of the Father Almighty.

***

Doug Girardot is an O’Hare Fellow at America. He graduated from Boston College in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in history.

Source: Please don’t turn Notre-Dame into a post-Vatican II cathedral to the modern world | America Magazine

A century on, French singer and anarchist Georges Brassens still hits the right note

This story first featured in the Spotlight on France podcast: listen here

With his pipe, polo-necked sweater, moustache and cat on lap, the image of Brassens is more cudly uncle than new-man.

As Joann Sfar, curator of a major Brassens exhibition in 2011, has pointed out, “most of his songs are about naked women, death and cats”.

Brassens At the Beach

The hit song “Brave Margot” featured two of those favourite themes, with Margot drawing in big crowds by removing her bodice to breast-feed her pet.

Brassens excelled at taking aspects of ordinary French life – women, sex, death, religion, the military, migration … and, yes, cats … and transforming them into theatre through an unsurpassed use of wordplay.

He’s been described as a French Woodie Guthrie – a working class singer and guitarist who shunned stardom. He was also a self-proclaimed anarchist with a distate for the military and the clergy.

Brassens plays for a homeless man in Paris
Brassens plays for a homeless man in Paris Robert Doisneau

Bad reputation

He wrote 150 songs in his 40-year career.

Les copains d’abord, about friends playing with boats on a lake, L’Auvergnat, about the importance of generosity, and Quand on est con, are classics and feature in many a French family reunion or office party.

Some of his songs offended established values in early fifties France. Le Gorille – a song against the death penalty involving a rampaging gorilla desperate to lose its virginity and who “takes” the judge in the end, was banned on its release in 1952.

Mauvaise Reputation (Bad reputation), in which he defends individual liberties – including the freedom to desert the army, which he himself did in 1944 – was also deemed unfit for the public.

Out of time

Part of Brassens’ staying power resides in the timelessness of his songs, something he worked hard to achieve.

“I can’t use the word ‘automobile’ in my songs,” he told French public radio in 1970, “it will fix the song in a certain period.”

His superficially-simple refrains, accompanied by guitar, turn out to be very complex. But that hasn’t put off hordes of non-French speakers from taking up the challenge.

“Brassens has been translated into 82 languages and dialects, it’s enormous,” Bernard Lonjon, author of several books on Brassens told RFI.

He’s the most re-recorded French artist in the world.

Hesitant stage debut

Brassens’ entry into the pantheon of the French chanson got off to a sweaty start.

As a teenager he fled to Paris from his home town of Sète on the Mediterranean coast after a conviction for petty theft.

He first lodged with his aunt and then lived for many years in a house without electricity or indoor plumbing with a couple of friends –  Marcel and Jeanne – as a threesome. Continue reading “A century on, French singer and anarchist Georges Brassens still hits the right note”

Cécile de France: “We like to dress up and have fun like children”

The actress Cécile de France was recently at the Zurich Film Festival to defend ‘”Lost Illusions”, a film adapted from Balzac’s river story. This historical drama unfolds the disillusioned fate of Lucien de Rubempré, a provincial who moved to Paris to become a writer.

Lucien de Rubempré (formidable Benjamin Voisin) is a young poet unknown in 19th century France. He has high hopes and wants to forge a destiny. He left the family printing press in his native province to try his luck in Paris on the arm of his protectress, Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France). Soon delivered to himself in the fabulous city, the young man will discover the backstage of a world doomed to the law of profit and pretense.

“Lost Illusions”, a tale in the form of a triptych, was considered by Balzac as a major element of his great work, “The Human Comedy”. Inspired to the writer by his own experience in the field of printing, the book recounts the greatness and glory of his hero before his downfall.

Capitalism, unscrupulous journalists, traitors and mercantilism are strong ingredients of the story that has nothing to envy of the contemporary era. “Balzac was a visionary,” Cécile de France told RTS at the Zurich Film Festival. In fact, social networks are just missing to embody 2021. “But even at the time, we listened to the one who spoke the loudest,” adds Benjamin Voisin, who plays a very convincing Lucien de Rubempré.

The director of the film, Xavier Giannoli (“When I was a singer”, “Marguerite”), shot as close as possible to the places where the story took place as Balzac wrote it. And it feels. The meticulous and personalized costumes down to the smallest detail, the redeveloped streets of Paris in the 1920s, the theaters recreated from scratch, everything contributes to making the film a success in terms of aesthetics and restoring the atmosphere of the time. “We, the actors, are like children. We like to dress up and have fun. During the filming, everything was very probable and it was magical, we were amazed and that obviously helped us to play our characters”, explains Cecile from France.

An initiatory journey

The film was shot in 2019, long before the coronavirus pandemic. “I was lucky to be able to be present on the set every day. It was an extraordinary pleasure to see all these people around me passionate about this project,” says Benjamin Voisin. An initiatory journey from purity to degradation, Xavier Giannoli’s film magnifies its actors, whom he loves passionately. “He seeks beauty in each of us, despite the darkness of the film,” continues Cécile de France.

“Lost Illusions” is served by a five-star cast: Gérard Depardieu, Xavier Dolan, Jeanne Balibar, Vincent Lacoste, the late Jean-François Stévenin and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing appear on the film poster. “Being surrounded by such a band is a great gift for life”, concludes Benjamin Voisin.

Interview by Pierre Philippe Cadert

Web adaptation: Melissa Härtel

“Lost Illusions”, by Xavier Giannoli, to be discovered from October 20 on French-speaking screens.