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Ownership of The Arts Voyager & Dance Insider, as well as our sister publication Art Investment News, is available FREE to a new owner who will keep the present editor on staff part-time and help him get a carte de sejour to return to France, plus provide health insurance in France. For details please contact editor & publisher Paul Ben-Itzak.

Flash Film & Livestock show Review, 1-25: Let there be blood
Cinema verité in French "Nana"; Grand illusions at the Fort Worth Rodeo & Livestock Show

L'enfant sauvage: Kelyna Lecompte in Valerie Massadian's "Nana." Photo: Valerie Massadian.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2013 Paul Ben-Itzak

I still don't know which shocked me more: The wild boar hanging upside down with its purple blood dripping onto the concrete floor in front of the butcher's stall, or that I was the only person in the busy indoor Marche St. Quentin in Paris's cosmopolitan 10th arrondissement that early Saturday morning who seemed to notice it. Years later, checking out the annual animal fair in the rural southwestern village of Le Bugue, I may have also been the only person who thought the donkeys behind a rope looked depressed, no doubt at the prospect that they might be destined to finish as donkey salami. (Smells like dung, tastes delectable, but you have to get the kind that's mixed with pork; the Savoyard is best.) Comparing the livestock component of the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo (the oldest indoor rodeo in the world) with Valerie Massadian's 2011 "Nana," the French film which opens January 25 at New York's Anthology Film Archives, I think I understand better my typically American reaction to the sanguine sanglier, and the solution: At the stock show which opened January 18 and continues through February 8 at the Will Rogers Center, the animals on display in the Swine Barn are pampered (which nevertheless doesn't impeach the stench) (in the cattle barn the bovine's fur is brushed and blow-dried to make them more marketable; in France even live cows are sometimes called 'beef.'). And never mind that most of those gorgeous goats of varying species (I like the boers, with their soft ivory coats) will finish as meat; you won't see any blood at the Texas livestock event. None of the arms sold at the numerous gun shows in these same facilities will return here to be used on an animal. "Nana," by contrast, opens with a handsome pig being lead to the outside of a barn (by a man in a smock identified in the credits as "the killer of pigs," interpreted with sangfroid by Yves Monguillon), where children including the four-year-old infant of the title (Kelyna Lecompte) nonchalantly watch, even when the man takes out a gun and shoots the pig after straddling it to the ground, stabs it when it refuses to die, then finally pokes a hole in the animal's gut to release a bath of blood, at which point its legs finally stop quivering. "Is it blood or paint?" Nana asks, signifying the dawning of awareness that's just taken place. But cultural mores die hard. Even though Nana witnesses the pig killer's then covering the beast in straw before rolling it into a smoldering pit, I didn't realize until just before she threw it into the hearth near the end of the film that the straw in which Nana'd placed a dead bunny she'd just found in a trap was meant not as a cuddly bed but for insulation when she tossed it into the flames to cook. To underline the carrying on of tradition, the film concludes with Nana, carrying a large stuffed panda bear, tredging across a field (rural as the setting seems, "Nana" was apparently filmed in the Paris region) with her grandpa (Alain Sabras), the large pique-nique valise he's hoisting presumably containing the rabbit, ready to be feasted upon.

Here cooks Peter Cottontail: Kelyna Lecompte in Valerie Massadian's "Nana." Photo: Valerie Massadian.

I won't say that "Nana" totally avoids romanticizing French rural life. Would a young woman really go out to forage for kindling in a short flowered dress and booties, as Nana's mother (the succulent Marie Delmas) does? (Indeed, if it were cold enough to merit a fire, would she even be so scantily dressed? Ca caille!) (More authentic is that, yes, in the country even a four-year-old would have to know how to stoke a wood-burning stove; to keep those centuries-old stone houses warm, everyone has to pitch in so that the fire never goes out.) And would I still find Nana's prattling -- often in soliloquy -- adorable or merely annoying if she were doing so not in sonorous French, a language that still sings for me, but in plain English? No, the miracle here is that a four-year-old manages to achieve the verité that many actors chase a lifetime and rarely find. (And that she manages to either memorize or improvise all those riveting lines; Massadian says they simply 'played.') On a more universal scale, I now understand better why no one else -- i.e., no French people -- stopped to gawk at that dead boar dripping blood onto the floor of the market, where anyone might step in it. (I also have a new understanding of why my Parisian neighbors always insisted on visitors to their flat in our building on the rue de Paradis taking their shoes off.) I would even submit that sending your children to a movie which opens with a pig's blood being let so that it can be barbecued and eaten breeds a much healthier attitude towards animals than sending them to a rodeo to see scared calves being roped, violently hurled to the ground and brutally straddled for sport, and that a stock show which demonstrated pigs being slaughtered would be a lot more honest with children than a petting zoo. (Nevertheless, for Americans anyway I don't recommend sitting down to watch the opening of "Nana" after you've just cooked up and are about to devour a plateful of chicken livers. It's not quite the same as watching pigs preening at the stock show while you're gobbling down a jumbo corn dog.)

Story-time: Kelyna Lecompte in Valerie Massadian's "Nana." Photo: Valerie Massadian.

"Nana" plays through January 31 at Anthology Film Archives. If the film whets your appetite to kill and devour your own pig, you can peruse some candidates Saturday January 26 at 1 p.m. and Sunday January 27 at 8 a.m. during the Swine Show in the Swine Arena at the Will Rogers Center, as part of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo running through February 9. (Personally, I'm not quite there yet; when I lived in my own centuries-old stone house in the southwestern France pre-historic village of Les Eyzies, my friends Bernard and Stephane tried to convince me to buy a baby mutton, for just 30 Euros. "You don't even have to feed it! In June and July you put it out in your field and it eats all the grass. In August you kill it and we dig a big pit in the ground and have a michourie, a grand barbecue-fete." ((Stephane even promised to play the accordion for the fete.)) "I can't do that! I'd give it a name and then it would be too hard for me to kill it and eat it." Two weeks later, the gangly Stephane knocked at my door. "I have your mutton!" "Comment ca, you have my mutton? I told you I don't want a mutton!" Stephane ignored me and kept repeating, "I have your mutton, it's in the car," whence indeed a high-pitched "baaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh" could be heard. Upon investigation, I opened the trunk and discovered not a young lamb but a short, salt-and-pepper mustachio'd, middle-aged Frenchman. It was Bernard.

Bon appetite!

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