Christophe Maé

Music: Christophe Maé

An acoustic singer-songwriter from Vaucluse, Christophe Maé’s songs are stained with heartbreak but stitched together with hope. His voice, a patchwork of passionate outcries and soft sighs carried by the roll of a southern French tongue, combines with an earthy melody and the occasional harmonica to fashion a raw and authentic style.

Inspired by Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley, Christophe Maé released his first album, Mon Paradis, in 2007, which became France’s second best-selling album of that year. Paving a path to further success, he won the l’Artiste Masculin de l’Année award in both 2008 and 2009 from World Music and NRJ Awards, and has had several songs reach number one in the French charts.

La Rumeur, from his most recent albumm On Trace La Route, released in 2010, is hope to a hopeless heart, gliding effortlessly through the usual barriers of language. “Pour ne pas tomber ouvre ton cœur (…) pour ne pas sombrer attends ton heure.” Striving to retain poetic presence, this translates to: “Open your heart, await your hour, so as not to fall, so as not to drown.” Each word in this song encloses a sense of sadness – the kind of music you imagine listening to while raindrops run down your window. And yet it is a promise, wrapped up in a beautiful, melodious picking pattern and an uplifting, airy chorus of sighs, that someday the rain will cease.

Je Me Lâche, by contrast, is an exhilarating struggle as Maé’s voice strives to break free from the song itself. The song title, translating to “Breaking Free,” reflects this restless energy and our inability to resist bouncing to the beat. Parce Qu’on Ne Sait Jamais and Belle Demoiselle dance around a similar upbeat rhythm that may begin to reset your pulse if listened to for long enough.

If for no reason other than to expand your French, listening to Christophe Maé will teach you the French words for sorrow and soul mate, la douleur and l’âme soeur. His honesty may also open up the heart and give us a lesson of love, if we’re willing to listen.

A Very Long Engagement

Cinema: A Very Long Engagement

A spider lowers itself to land gracefully on Manech’s cheek; he wipes it away with a gentle flick of a finger and drifts back to sleep. Elsewhere, he’s writhing beneath a blanket of his friend’s intestines blown apart before his eyes. In this film, the tiny details are as captivating as the big ones.

As Mathilde limps towards the fiancé the world insists has been dead three years, her footsteps on the dark wooden floor echo her heartbeat, raising the audience’s tension to dangerous heights. We’ve been led to believe by a former sergeant that Mathilde’s lover, 19-year-old Manech, a solider at the Somme during the first world war, died in no man’s land in the company of four others condemned to die for self-inflicted wounds. Mathilde, however, investing in a private detective in order to discover the truth, never truly let herself believe in the death of their love.

A Very Long Engagement, released in 2004, is a romantic war film exploring the boundaries of faith based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeune, the acclaimed director of Amélie, it comes as no surprise that this film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography at the Oscars. Mathilde is brought to life by the captivating grace of Audrey Tautou and Manech by the handsome Gaspard Ulliel. The bond between these two lovers is breathtaking. “Each time his wound throbs, Manech feels Mathilde’s heart in his palm. Each beat brings her closer to him.” The strain on Manech’s face tells us that he can hear her heart beating “like morse code.”

The three Ms that Manech carves into the church bell near their home, into a tree in the middle of no-man’s land, and wherever else he is given the chance, stand for “Manech aime Mathilde,” a phonetic pun symbolising their love that runs parallel to the perpetual hope these characters cling onto throughout. “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”: this Chinese proverb captures beautifully the endearing strength of the human heart presented to us in this film.

Paul Verlaine

Literature: Paul Verlaine

The poems of Paul Verlaine are packed with pain, yet in the same moment there exists an unrefined honesty in his words that lifts the poem from the page and the reader from his seat. Meticulously crafted metaphors such as “L’espoir luit comme un caillou dans un creux” (Hope shines like a pebble in a hollow) and “L’espoir luit comme un brin de paille” (Hope is like a wisp of straw) establish Paul Verlaine as one of the greatest French poets to rise from the symbolist movement of the late 1800s. Below is one of his most well-loved poems, Il pleure dans mon cœur, with my accompanying translation. The rhyme scheme is unusual, with a repetition of semantics central to this poem at the start and end of each stanza.

Il pleure dans mon cœur

Il pleure dans mon cœur
Comme il pleut sur la ville;
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon cœur?

Ô bruit doux de la pluie,
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un cœur qui s’ennuie,
Ô le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce cœur qui s’écœure.
Quoi! nulle trahison? …
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C’est bien la pire peine,
De ne savoir pourquoi
Sans amour et sans haine
Mon cœur a tant de peine!

It rains inside my heart

It rains inside my heart
Like it rains down on the town,
This pain, what is it?
It penetrates through my heart.

The soft sound of rain
On the earth and on the roof,
For a heart dull with boredom
Give the soft song of rain.

It rains without reason
Inside this disheartened heart.
Why? What treason?
In this grief there is no reason.

Indeed, the worst pain
Is not knowing why,
Without love and without hate
My heart has so much pain.

Interestingly, the first three lines of this next poem were used to signal the start of D-Day operations for the Battle of Normandy. The end simile is particularly beautiful, hovering tentatively between the boundaries of delicacy and cruelty.

Chanson d’automne

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Song of Autumn

The long sobs
Of the violins
Of Autumn
Hurt my heart
With monotonous
Languor.

All suppressed
And pale, when
The hour strikes
I remember
The old days
And cry.

And so I go,
A cruel wind
Carries me,
Hither and thither
Like a dead leaf.