Address by Frédéric Mitterrand, Minister of Culture and Communication, on the occasion of the presentation of the insignia of Officer in the Order of the Region of Honour to Bernadette Lafont and Chevalier in the Order of the Legion of Honour to Firmine Richard and Mei-Chen Chalais

Dear Presidents and Directors,
Dear Bernadette LAFONT,
Dear Mei Chen CHALAIS,
Dear Firmine RICHARD,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,
You all know François OZON’s film, Huit femmes – we have
among us one of these eight women -, but today I will have the pleasure of
only three women. Why only three women and not
Eight? I’m sure there’s still going to find some bad tongues to tell us
that this is a downsizing, a new perverse effect of the Revision
General Public Policy…!
More seriously, more simply, it’s about rewarding three women
three women of cinema, engaged in the life of the city, three women
and which are each an essential face of femininity in cinema and more
Usually, from today’s woman.
Dear Bernadette LAFONT,
You are a «great lady» of French cinema, but the expression does not make
you have not only contributed to the cinema, but to the
each of us and perhaps especially generations of women.
Because for me, if I trace your immense career in my memory, you embody
above all the woman freed in the cinema: through so many important roles, beyond
all those roles that everyone remembers, what you showed and so to speak
it seems to me that this is a new way of being a woman, at the time of
the conquest of equality. I think that the spectators, but also the
thanks to you for having known, without way, with a spontaneity and a
to give a face to this liberated woman who was then – and who
is still maybe – to be invented. It wasn’t a no-brainer, even if you have it a little
forgotten today. And that’s why the film may be the most meaningful, not only
of this New Wave, of which you have one of the favorite actresses – without ever
give in what is hieratic in what is called an “icon” – but from
your journey, is perhaps The Mother and the Whore of Jean EUSTACHE. In this
film-river which is also a cult film, emblem and culmination of the New
Vague, you embody an exciting paradox: you who seem to embody the woman
spontaneous and liberated par excellence, you play the role of «the Mother» -
the official lover of Jean-Pierre LEAUD – while Veronica, the
character of «the Whore», that is to say the temptation of the unofficial lover, carried
by Françoise LEBRUN, has, on the contrary, all the appearance of a woman
traditional. By this, it seems to me that Jean EUSTACHE wanted to «move the lines»
and illustrate all the current reflections of the society in search of contours to
invent modern woman.
But I think that one of the main reasons for the pleasure of your appearance on the screen or
on the boards, relies on your ability to camp a woman who combines sensuality,
almost daily simplicity, the truth of the game and spontaneity. By your talent and your
presence, you somehow dismissed out of hand all the
questions that a changing society, a femininity in search
new horizons.
You have shown, without of course having to prove it, that it is simply enough,
to be oneself, allowing your pleasure to be yourself and this taste of
the adventure» that you yourself evoke
It is this paradox of pleasure that is the best guide to success and talent that
guided your career for our greatest happiness, since this first image
of freedom, of naturalness and sensuality, which you have given, by bicycle, to good
of the Mistons, the «wildlings» of that time, in the extraordinary jewel of François
TRUFFAUT. Everyone remembers this young Nimes who was like a
New Arlesian of the dark rooms.
Then you become, by all these qualities which I have recalled, and which
perfectly represent their ambition for a freer cinema, the face of these
who, without knowing it yet, invent – a little thanks to you – their
new way of making films. You are MARIE in Le Beau Serge, the
Claude CHABROL’s first feature, Best Director Award at the Festival
of Locarno and Prix Jean-Vigo. You succeed each other, with the same
freshness, the same grace and the same requirement, under the camera of the same
Your performance in Une belle fille comme moi by TRUFFAUT earned you a
success, to the point that a critic awards you the most
extraordinary cinematic beast of his generation», for this very physical presence,
this passionate and concentrated energy, this skin-deep sensitivity that you
kill the screen.
Maybe it’s in Nelly KAPLAN’s Bride of the Pirate, right after May '68,
that you are blowing in the most amazing and disturbing way the wind of
freedom which then agitates French society.
But the independent woman you are didn’t let herself be locked in the
Nouvelle Vague: we have seen and loved you in many Jean-Pierre films
MOCKY, notably in Le pactole, Les Saisons du plaisir (1988) and Une nuit à
the National Assembly (please don’t see any reference to battles
epics around the HADOPI Law!... ), but also of course in L'Effrontée de
MILLER, which adds a César of the best supporting role to your list already
and that was like a foretaste of the Caesar of Honor that was to you
for your entire extraordinary career, which also includes
talent and success in film directing – I think, well
sure, to . Vincent put the donkey in one meadow (and came in the other) with Fabrice
Always in motion, you constantly know how to renew yourself and you inspire
young generation filmmakers and offer them composition roles that are highly
marks: I think the abusive mother and clan leader, – maybe we need to see a
evolution of the liberated woman…? – that you camp so much
convincing in Lend Me Your Hand by Eric LARTIGAU, acclaimed by the public.
Sign, if need be, of the magnitude of your palette, this role is almost
very sensitive and attentive mother that you embody in Les
Small Holidays of Olivier PEYON. You even composed with a credibility
in The First Star, a racist owner who discovered that
its tenants, led by Firmine RICHARD, are black, welcomes them from this
Awkward and unfinished sentence: “I didn’t know you were…you
In short, you reveal, with the same movement, the impulses of freedom and the points
resistance of our company, always with the same greed and the same
familiar presence.
That is why I wanted to pay tribute to you here, even I would like to
official formula that I will soon pronounce, that you add all my
most friendly and affectionate thoughts.
Dear Bernadette LAFONT, on behalf of the President of the Republic, and
powers vested in us, we make you an officer in the order of the Legion
of honor.
Dear Mei Chen CHALAIS,
I don’t know if you or your husband, our dear François CHALAIS, have ever
met Bernadette LAFONT, but I imagine that CANNES, although overcrowded in
some seasons, has more than once brought you closer together and connected.
If I speak of François CHALAIS, it is of course because this great cinephile, this
great critic, this great reporter and great mover of the cinema, remained very dear to me
by its cult programs such as Reflets de Cannes and Cinépanorama, and which I
always in the ear his special voice, timbre and phrasing, which will remain
attached to the spirit of the festival and, more generally, to the history of our cinema.
If I speak of François CHALAIS, it is also because your life is attached to the
in all faithfulness as in all freedom, which is basically his condition
even exercise. This faithfulness is twofold and yet it is unique: it is that
which binds you, with the same enthusiasm, to the man of your life and to your country of origin, the
You are a figure of the interwoven history of France and Vietnam, until
in your destiny, both witness and emblem of this painful history and
in love, two countries that you carry in your blood, in your body and your
heart, in your memory, and who inhabit, who sometimes haunt your writings and your films:
you are like an incarnation of this meeting between two very
who loved each other but also fought, and who kept a very close
of which you are one of the living symbols.
All this historical heritage, linked to the colonial era but which also has a scope
You put it in words and images with talent, sensitivity,
nostalgia and sometimes revolt, but always with a form of piety and emotion that
are the living source.
A piety for your country, which you evoke in The Unicorn of the Rice Fields and in
The Child of the rice fields. A piety for your mother, to whom you have dedicated your
film Vietnam, back to basics, which tells your return to Hanoi – like an echo
far away from ULYSSES finding the faithful PENELOPE. A piety, I said,
for your husband, author of a memorable report on North Vietnam,
this time at war with the Americans. I also think his interview with a
certain John MC CAIN, on his hospital bed in Vietnam: images that made the
media world tour during the last election campaign in the USA, and
to which your recent documentary on Power and
the seduction that evokes notably Barak and Michelle OBAMA…
Faithful, you knew, to pay tribute to François CHALAIS and transmit his
memory, find the most inventive and relevant way, turning
constantly towards the future.
I am thinking of the Prize which bears his name and which, since 1997, awards each year,
during the Cannes Film Festival, a director for his talent for capturing the reality of
world, as Francis himself knew so well to do. It is a prize awarded
always by a very wise choice, as last year the Persian Cats, and
that the Ministry of Culture and Communication is very keen to encourage,
through the NCC.
I am also thinking of the Prix Les espoirs François-Chalais du jeune reporter, supported by
major press groups, and for 11 years now, each year,
young talent in five categories: photography, print media, radio, radio
television and the web – a choice for the future again, and one that opens up
training and transmission by offering an internship within the partner editors.
This memory of François CHALAIS, you know how to make it live from all the
possible ways, through writing and image as in François Chalais, life
as a novel, your first film inspired by the eponymous novel, but also by the
restoration of nearly 200 François programs, in collaboration with the Institut
National Audiovisual: because its interviews with the biggest stars and directors of the
world, now accessible to everyone on the INA website, are
exceptional testimonies that are part of our shared cultural heritage.
Your eyes are wide open to the whole world, its realities
and personalities that have marked him, as evidenced by the 150 films
documentaries and portraits that you have produced or co-directed for television:
I am thinking in particular of the one you recently devoted to Claude
CHABROL, in which you can only cross Bernadette’s footsteps
It is thus to this work of memory, fidelity and creation, both anchored in
History, fully present and forward-looking, which I wanted to
tonight pay tribute.
Dear Mei Chen CHALAIS, on behalf of the President of the Republic, and under the
powers vested in us, we make you Knight in the order of the
Legion of Honour.
Dear Firmine RICHARD,
“You have what you cannot learn,” said Coline SERREAU, who
revealed twenty years ago in this beautiful social fable
contemporary of Romuald and Juliette for our greatest happiness. Because what
comes out first when you are looked at – on a screen or on a stage
– it is your generous spontaneity, the warm nature of the “good mother”
which you know perfectly well to embody. It is also your temperament, marked by the
sun of Guadeloupe where you were born, and which makes you an actress
in the world of French cinema, but also in the
our company.
You are today an ambassador of the French Overseas Territories in France, where you are
come to work in the public services of the PTT and the RATP – you
discover Paris, but also the mountains, as a teacher
ski: who would then have said that this experience would serve you to play the leading role
in your last great success in theatres, last year, The First Star, which
attracted more than a million and a half spectators? After a «return to the native land» in
1979, you continued to come regularly to Paris, and fortune smiled at you and
started a star career – because you became a star, Dear
Firmine RICHARD, as modest as you are and especially as you have remained;
or, if you prefer, «a star who ignores himself», as Danièle DARRIEUX said
who was with you one of those 8 women sublimated by François OZON in 2002.
I understand that you do not believe in chance. Nevertheless, your journey has been
marked by good surprises, late but oh so deserved. For since
1988, you have become a popular figure, endearing and complex at the same time. A
through you is the black woman, maternal and spirited, who appeared in a
so far for the least accessible universe. And this, without denying your origins,
your accent so tasty, or your sometimes ironic look at the reality of the
“diversity”. From Juliette Bonaventure to “Bonne Maman” and the
Chanel, we find the same attachment to the family, the same struggle, full
of humour and generosity, against the erasure of references in children
shared between two worlds… You are working to defend and illustrate the
Caribbean culture, like when in 2005 you played at the Avignon La
Marriage among the petty bourgeois… Creole according to BRECHT.
By exhibiting clichés, by distancing frightened reticence, prejudices,
see racism – as your partner Bernadette wonderfully demonstrates
LAFONT with the character of Madame Morgeot I was talking about earlier -,
you prove that we can live and share the same world while living
fully his identity.
By listing some of the works in which you have shone, it is
a wonderfully varied palette of genres and tones. After your
first film success, you will go to the United States on the advice of
Daniel AUTEUIL to introduce you to the theatre. You will be marked by the
of Strasberg” in so far as you have been shaping your
from your intuitive sensibility. Back in France, your
The performance in Roberto Zucco of KOLTÈS in 1991 is rightly noted.
At the same time, you shot in about twenty feature films, but also
in short films and television series such as La Kine or Le Grand
Patron alongside Francis HUSTER, at the turn of the 2000s. If you
often presented as a comic actress, you also played roles
more dramatic: I think for example of the direction, by the author
contemporary Guadeloupe artist Gerty DAMBURY, from his play Trames in the autumn
2008, on the status of Caribbean women, in which you distinguished yourself.
Because you’re a committed artist, as a woman, as a Caribbean, and now
as elected representative of the Republic! You had already worked in Guadeloupe
Regional Council from 1979 to 1988, until you resigned for
a brilliant artistic career. But you’re also a municipal councillor
of the 19th arrondissement and member of the Paris Council: your recent entry into the
political forum is obviously a logical continuation of your non-conformist journey,
the continuation of the social struggle by other means.
I would also like to acknowledge your involvement as a sponsor of the association Les
Enchanted Paintings», which works to spread culture in the world
hospital: this is an issue dear to the Ministry of Culture.
When it comes to the heart, you respond present, as you have given
evidence still recently, for the disaster that struck Haiti, and in particular
at last Saturday’s concert at the Zenith. Thank you very much.
Like Bernadette LAFONT, like Mei Chen CHALAIS, but in a way that
belongs to you alone, you know how to invent and make live the contemporary woman, to
both by your roles, and by your commitment to the City, carried by the strength of your
to serve everyone. It is this exemplary contribution to the
life of our cinema and the quality of our living-together that I wanted to reward
Dear Firmine RICHARD, on behalf of the President of the Republic, and under the
powers vested in us, we make you a knight in the order of the Legion
of honor.