Ep 69 – Navigating “Je Ne Sais Quoi” with Debra Ollivier

Je ne sais quoi is a phrase American women love to use to describe their French counterparts, but according to best-selling author Debra Ollivier,  the French don’t use it at all.
She’s here to talk about why – and what this means about the French approach to popularity, likeability, and identity.


Debra Ollivier is French-American best-selling author, ghost writer and book doctoring specialist. She is the author of What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind (Penguin) and Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl (St. Martin’s Press).


Head to Debra’s website to learn more about her and her work.

Iconic French Band ‘Air’ to Headline VIVID Sydney
with “Moon Safari” for their 20th Anniversary Event


As VIVID Sydney gears up for its 14th edition, the festival is set to welcome the legendary French electronic duo Air to its illustrious lineup. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of their seminal album “Moon Safari,” Air will perform the record in its entirety for the first time ever at VIVID Live. They will be on stage this Saturday, 25th of May from 8 to 10 pm and this Sunday, 26th of May from 4 to 6 pm, as well as from 8 to 10 pm.


They will also be the guest of a unique masterclass at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) on Wednesday, May 22, from 2 to 3:30 pm. This discussion between Jean-Benoît Dunckel (Air) and Cameron Patrick (composer, AFTRS Discipline Lead for Screen Music) will be moderated by Robbies Miles.


Formed in the mid-90s by Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, Air quickly rose to prominence with the release of “Moon Safari” in January 1998. The album became a pop culture sensation, selling millions of copies worldwide and spawning unforgettable hits like “Sexy Boy,” “Kelly Watch the Stars,” and “All I Need.”


Beyond their musical achievements, Air’s collaboration with filmmaker Sofia Coppola on the soundtrack for “The Virgin Suicides,” particularly the track “Playground Love,” further solidified their status as innovators in the realm of electronic music.


This won’t be Air’s first appearance at VIVID Sydney; they graced the festival’s stage in 2017, leaving audiences mesmerised with their ethereal soundscapes and captivating performances.


VIVID Sydney, renowned as an annual celebration of creativity, innovation, and technology will transform Sydney over 23 days and nights from May 24th to June 15th, 2024. This year’s artistic direction, Vivid Sydney, Humanity“, invites attendees to explore the depths of human emotion and connection, showcasing light, music, ideas, and food that resonate with themes of love, kindness, compassion, and creativity.


As the leading multi-artform festival in the Asia-Pacific region, VIVID Sydney promises an unforgettable experience, culminating in Air’s exclusive performance of “Moon Safari,” a momentous occasion for music lovers and cultural enthusiasts alike.


*Please note that all AIR concerts at VIVID Sydney are currently sold out.



James Baker | What the France Live Shot

At the heart of the Chantier des Francofolies in La Rochelle, What the France had the opportunity to meet the young and talented James Baker! At just 22 years old, James tackles the realities of his generation, such as the omnipresence of technology, the culture of entertainment, and the social masks we wear daily. The singer uses music as a way to deconstruct himself and find answers to the many questions he has about the world.

Ready for a Live Shot with James Baker?

For someone who likes “to have control over his emotions,” the stage becomes a space of release and self-discovery, a bubble where he can forget everything. His goal is to connect with the audience so that they can detach from the outside world and forget life’s troubles for the duration of the concert. With his striking lyrics, James Baker is sure to draw you into his unique musical universe!

Also discover James Baker in our playlist Le Chantier des Francofolies 2024:

Diplomacy and Resistance:
How Dune shows us the power of language – including sign language

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

In Dune’s sandswept colonialist dystopia of the distant future, power is a force best handled – and transferred – surreptitiously. In a world of ultra-wealthy spice barons and interplanetary warfare, the greatest asset in both diplomacy and resistance is an intangible one: language. Nowhere is this clearer than in the films’ portrayal of sign language.

The Bene Gesserit is an all-woman dynasty leading an empire from behind the scenes. Their arsenal of powers include the mastery of dozens of languages. With these, they conduct diplomacy in public for the benefit of the men they pretend to serve. Meanwhile, they enact their true plans in secret, through whispers, telepathy and the native languages of their conspirators.

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is a reluctant messiah, whose prophetic ascendancy is spurred on when there are attempts to have his family exterminated. Believed dead, Paul retreats to the desert with his Bene Gesserit mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). There they find the Fremen, the free Indigenous peoples of the dune planet Arrakis. Paul and Jessica’s knowledge of the Fremen language is crucial to their acceptance by the community. Paul’s initiation into their ranks is also linguistic: the choosing of a Fremen name.

But Jessica and Paul’s use of the Bene Gesserits’ sign language is the most literal and urgent use of language as they survive threats in both Dune: Part One (2021) and the new Dune: Part Two (2024).

The complexity of sign

In the first film, the mother and son are abducted and transported across Arrakis in a helicopter. Feigning resignation, they use sign to plot their escape, unnoticed by the guards who don’t know this language. In part two, as enemies land just over the dune concealing Paul and his mother, they sign to plan an escape route in silence. Later in the film, a Bene Gesserit advisor signs to subtly annotate a verbal exchange with an untrustworthy group.

When Dune’s characters sign, it is with their hands by their sides, usually without eye contact, and often in brief sentences or even single signs.

This is very different to how sign languages are used in signing communities. In everyday communication, signers use a “sign space”, an approximate rectangle of space in front of the head and torso, and out to the distance of about the elbows. Eye contact is essential, as are facial expressions and body angle, which not only convey emotion but syntactical markers.

All of these components are part of a complete grammar that make sign languages as complex, emotive and capable of abstraction as any verbal language.

The signs used in Dune are closer to military or maritime hand gestures, used in situations that require communication without sound or across distance. These generally convey basic messages rather than grammatically complete sentences, with little emotional or contextual detail.


Deaf gain on screen

Although not a true sign language, the use of sign in Dune can still teach us a lesson about the value of sign language.

Deaf Gain” is an academic principle that considers deaf experience in generative and positive terms: it emphasises what is gained through deafness and sign access, rather than what is lost through hearing loss.

Examples of deaf gain include language skills and cultural belonging, as well as physical skills such as enhanced vision or perception of vibrations. This is not to mention the benefit of being able to switch off a hearing aid or take off a cochlear implant in the presence of distracting or painful sounds.

Deaf gain is becoming increasingly present on contemporary screens.

In the horror franchise A Quiet Place, in which the world is overrun by blind, super-hearing murderous aliens, the family of a Deaf girl use American Sign Language to communicate, and even to thrive, without attracting the monsters’ attention.

In Avatar: The Way of Water, the characters use the Na’vi sign language (invented for the film by Deaf actor CJ Jones) to communicate under water, considering those who cannot sign to be underdeveloped.

But this is not just a contemporary concept. As far back as 1959, in the Marilyn Monroe comedy Some Like It Hot a mob boss switches his hearing aid off just before he gives the order to gun down a group in an enclosed space.

While not deaf themselves, Dune’s characters show us deaf gain through deft manipulation of their environment, from the stealth of their signs to their attunement to the vibrations they make in the sand, which they use to attract or repel the giant beasts below.

These films show us how we can be in our bodies differently; how to navigate the world in different physical, linguistic and sensory ways.

The power of language

The director of Dune, Denis Villeneuve, has a history of making films that understand the subtle power of linguistic control.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) depicts another multilingual society in a similarly gold-hued, environmentally destroyed dust bowl, in which knowledge of different languages provides access to closed spaces and protection from surveillance.

In his sci-fi drama Arrival (2016), extraterrestrial vessels visit Earth to global awe and creeping panic. Military and political forces cannot determine the aliens’ purpose, and interplanetary war inches closer. It is only a linguist who is able to decipher the aliens’ goal: to gift Earthlings their remarkable language. This language is an inky, visual code – much closer to a sign language than a verbal one – which rewires the brains of those who master it, so they can see through time.

In the Dune films, as in Arrival, language is not only a means through which we can come to know something. It is something which can transform the limits and nature of knowledge itself. As Paul and Jessica understand, sign language can be both a hiding place and a tool – for survival, and for empowerment.


Read more about this subject on The Conversation.


Correction: the role played by Rebecca Ferguson was originally incorrect. She plays Lady Jessica.

The story of Esther Wise becomes integrated into the Victorian curriculum



The moving story of Holocaust survivor Esther Wise has been immortalised in a poignant documentary titled “Never Forget”. This film was made possible through the joint efforts of Esther Wise herself, Myriam Boisbouvier, the Honorary Consul of France in Melbourne, the Victorian French Teachers Association driven by Lucie Dickens, and Vivian Parsons of the Association for Holocaust Survivors.

Despite the difficulty or retelling her story, 99-year-old Esther says her desire to voice the truth to today’s students gave her the strength to take part in the filming of the documentary. Esther Wise’s story begins in Paris in 1942, when the German occupation forces rejected the presence of Jewish people in all public places. At just 15 years old, Esther had to face the worst when her mother, her father and younger brother were arrested and sent to Auschwitz where they died. Esther then found herself alone with her sister, in a town under Nazi rule.

After struggling to survive in France for more than two years, Esther found refuge in Melbourne, Australia, where she built a new life. Now aged 99, she shares her poignant story so that the world never forgets the horrors of the Holocaust. Following the broadcast of the documentary about Esther Wise’s moving story in July 2023, a team of volunteer teachers worked on the design of an educational kit based on her personal story, as told in the documentary.

The publication of this teaching kit, released this year to mark Esther Wise’s centenary, aims to raise students’ awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust and to promote values of respect and tolerance. This teaching kit provides teachers with structured and appropriate resources for tackling this sensitive subject in the classroom, offering activities for understanding and reflection based on Esther Wise’s poignant testimony. This approach helps to perpetuate the duty of remembrance. The documentary will be used in conjunction with a student workbook, tailored to the year 9 to 12 curriculum. This documentary serves as an important reminder to all those studying French, to learn from the past and never forget. Especially seeing as French is the second most taught language in Australian schools.

Esther Wise’s life is a testament to courage and resilience, her story will continue to inspire and educate future generations.


Sacreblue! x SBS
The April Selection

Every month, Sacreblue! highlights francophone films from the SBS catalogue.
These movies will be available for the whole month for free on SBS On Demand.

Here is our April selection of SBS French films, cuddle up on the couch for a cozy movie night!


Back Home / Revenir (2020)

Director: Audrey Diwan
Cast: Niels Schneider, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Patrick d’Assumçao, Roman Coustère Hachez, Hélène Vincent
Genre: Drama

Back Home won the award for Best Screenplay at the 2019 International Venice Film Festival, it includes stellar performances from lead actors Niels Schneider and Adèle Exarchopoulos, displaying emotional honesty and psychological nuance.

French drama Back Home is the very embodiment, and an honourable one, of what distributors mean when they say a ‘small film’ – in other words, one that they like but can’t easily see themselves pitching to a paying public. The second feature by writer-director Jessica Palud – following 2013’s Les Yeux Fermés – is a quietly moody rural drama of the sort that is the bread and butter of French art cinema. Its strong suits are its performances, its emotional honesty and, at 77 minutes, it is refreshingly concise. While it may be too intimate and narratively low-key to score highly except with hardcore adepts of Gallic psychological realism, its integrity and confidence make you wonder what Palud might achieve if she gets to tackle a third film on a slightly bolder scale.

By Jonathan Romney, 3 September 2019, Screendaily

Head to the Screendaily website to read the whole film critique.
Watch it on SBS on Demand here.


The Rose Maker / La Fine Fleur (2020)

Director: Pierre Pinaud
Cast: Catherine Frot, Fatsah Bouyahmed, Manel Foulgoc, Olivia Côte, Marie Petiot, Vincent Dedienne, Rukkmini Ghosh, Serpentine Teyssier, Pasquale d’Inca
Genre: Comedy / Drama

Eve is one of France’s greatest artisanal horticulturalists, but her rose business is business facing imminent bankruptcy or liquidation. When her secretary hires three inexperienced ex-convicts, they must team up to rescue the business in this verdant comedy.

The Rose Maker is a feel-good comedy, achieving a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film highlights France’ strong artisanal and agricultural perosna, featuring renowned French actrice, Catherine Frot.

Watch it on SBS on Demand here.


Me, Myself and Mum / Les Garçons et Guillaume, à table ! (2013)

Director: Guillaume Gallienne
Cast: Guillaume Gallienne, André Marcon, Françoise Fabian, Nanou Garcia, Diane Kruger, Reda Kateb, Götz Otto, Brigitte Catillon, Carole Brenner,
Charlie Anson, Yvon Back, Renaud Cestre, Oscar Copp, Pierre Derenne
Genre: Comedy

Me, Myself and Mum is a 2013 French autobiographical coming-of-age comedy film written, directed by and starring Guillaume Gallienne. The film follows Guillaume as a boy as he develops his own identity and sexuality, as well as his relationship with his mother.

The film premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for 10 César Awards and won 5, including Best Film and Best First Feature Film. Despite its recognition, the film received mixed reviews due to its quirky and expermiental nature, making it teh perfect film to watch and debate with friends.

Read the film review by The Sydney Morning Herald here.

Watch the film on SBS on Demand here.

9 César Nominations!
5 Films from the Alliance Française French Film Festival
shine bright at the César Awards

Congratulations to all the incredible talents recognized at this year’s César Awards ceremony!
We are thrilled to see the French film industry thriving, and honored to have some of these outstanding films featured in the Alliance Française French Film Festival:

All Your Faces directed by Jeanne Henry mesmerizes with its captivating performances, including the brilliant Adèle Exarchopoulos, who rightfully earned the César for Best Supporting Actress. One of my personal favorites of the Festival! https://lnkd.in/gsyTHpyb

Ella Rumpf’s stellar performance in Marguerite’s Theorem shines brightly, earning her the well-deserved title of Best Female Revelation. A Sensitively Crafted Gem! https://lnkd.in/gJd8T_Bn

The Animal Kingdom sweeps 5 awards with its exceptional achievements in categories such as Best Original Music Score, Sound, Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Costume Design, showcasing the remarkable talent and dedication behind the scenes. Creativity and Emotion, a Riveting and Original Masterpiece of the Festival! The Animal Kingdom is a must-see. https://lnkd.in/gFCgeQgT

 The Three Musketeers enchants audiences with its breathtaking sets and epic storytelling, earning accolades for Best Production Design. The Three Musketeers is the opening of the Festival and also features in a Sunday special double feature including the first episode D’Artagnan + the second Milady ! https://lnkd.in/g4_Vrsje

A special mention to Simple comme Sylvain, directed by Monia Chokri, for winning the prestigious award for Best Foreign Film, showcasing the global appeal and diversity of francophony. Simple comme Sylvain is an intelligent and hilarous RomCom. https://lnkd.in/gYzSdCwD

The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival takes pride in showcasing the best of French cinema and nurturing emerging talents. The AFFFF looks forward to continuing its journey of celebrating cinematic excellence with these remarkable films and artists.
Bravo to all the winners and nominees (Jeanne du Barry, Last Summer, The Taste of Things, Abbé Pierre, the President’s Wife) !

Sacreblue! x SBS
The February Selection

Every month, Sacreblue! highlights francophone films from the SBS catalogue.
These movies will be available for the whole month for free on SBS On Demand.

Here is our February selection of SBS French films for a special francophone summer !


Happening / L’Événement (2021)

Director: Audrey Diwan

Cast: Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet Klein, Luàna Bajrami, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Louise Chevillotte, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire, Leonor Oberson, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger, Éric Verdin, Alice De de Lencquesaing, Madeleine Baudot, Fabrizio Rongione, Isabelle Mazin, Julien Frison, Édouard Sulpice

Set in 1963 France, when abortion was illegal, a young and talented student, Anne, discovers she is pregnant. Her opportunities to finish her studies begin to slip away from her while she attempts to receive help from two male doctors. Since abortion was illegal at this time, both doctors refuse to help her. As her final exams approach and her social life begins to fade, Anne struggles to find somebody who is willing to give her an abortion, even if she must risk prison and/or death to do so.

An adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s eponymous novel, the film premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival in 2021 where it won the Golden Lion and received universal acclaim from critics. The film also premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and was released in the U.S. on May 6, 2022. It was widely received, being nominated for and winning numerous awards at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, BAFTA, Gotham Awards, Lumières Awards, and César Awards.

Watch it on SBS on Demand here.


Murder Party  (2022)

Director: Nicolas Pleskof
Cast: Alice Pol, Eddy Mitchell, Pablo Pauly, Pascale Arbillot, Gustave Kervern, Sarah Stern, Zabou Breitman, Lucien Jean-Baptiste, Miou-Miou

An architect is entrusted with the rehabilitation of a wealthy family’s mansion. When the family’s patriarch is found murdered in the middle of a Murder Party, the architect is drawn into the investigation to unmask the murderer.

Murder Party is a visual treat. It’s a richly coloured film that sticks to a bright, almost cartoon-like palette. There’s a sumptuousness expressed in the scenery and costuming that brings us into an unusual retro world reminiscence of 50s and 60s Technicolor, but placed in the modern era.

Watch it on SBS on Demand here.


Haute Couture (2021)

Director: Sylvie Ohayon
Cast: Nathalie Baye, Lyna Khoudri, Pascale Arbillot, Claude Perron, Clotilde Courau

Esther is at the end of her career as Head Seamstress at Dior Avenue Montaigne workshop. One day, she gets her handbag stolen in the metro by a 20 year old woman, Jade. Instead of calling the police she decides to take care of Jade. She sees in her the opportunity to pass on her skills, the craft of dressmaking, her only wealth. In the frenetic world of Haute Couture, Esther will give Jade la beauté du geste, a way to reach beyond herself.

For a ful review head to theburb.com.au


Watch it on SBS on Demand here.

French Films at the 31st Mardi Gras Film Festival

Established in 1993, Queer Screen is now one of Australia’s largest film festivals of any kind, and one of the top five queer film festivals in the world.
It is highly regarded by filmmakers all over the world, and is the most important platform for promoting LGBTIQ titles to distributors and exhibitors in this territory.

Offering a diverse international selection, here are this year’s French films:



Filmed over four years, queer director Agniia Galdanova captures the vulnerability and incredible bravery of Gena as she stages breathtaking performances in otherworldly costumes on the streets of Moscow. These performances become a new form of art and activism aiming to change people’s perception of queerness in Russia. Filmed amidst the invasion of Ukraine, life becomes all the more urgent and precious as Gena battles acceptance from her grandparents in small town Magadan and the increasing risk of conscription.

2023 L.A Outfest – Special Mention Documentary
2023 Zurich Film Festival – Winner Audience Award

A remarkable film that weaves empowerment with unsettling tension and artistry with pure barbarism. It is by far the most affecting documentary of the year. – The Pink Lens

Book here


Along Came Love

Madeleine is a single mother working as a waitress when she meets writer Francois, and in desperate pursuit of a nuclear family, they wed quickly. Soon the cracks start to show, as Madeleine comes to grips with her husband’s hidden desires. This sumptuously shot film showcases how love can exist beyond social norms, and how deeply the ties can bind between two lost souls.

Quillévéré weaves a Sirkian tale of guilt and unsuccessfully repressed desires that takes in homosexuality, race and polyamory. – Screen Daily

Sydney Premiere

2023 Festival du Film Francophone – Winner Best Film and Best Actor

Book here

Power Alley

17-year-old volleyball player Sofia is on the cusp of being scouted for a Chilean scholarship, and is in a new relationship with teammate Bel. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she’s determined to terminate the pregnancy, but abortion is a crime in Brazil. Once the local community finds out, she becomes the target of fundamentalist groups out to stop her at any cost. A gripping film about women’s bodily autonomy and fighting back against inequality, it showcases the power of queer community in the face of adversity.

A punchy, confrontational energy infuses this celebration of queer sisterhood in the face of Brazilian conservatism. – Screen International

Australian Premiere

2023 Cannes Film Festival – Winner FIPRESCI Prize, Nominee Queer Palm
2023 Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival – Winner Best Director and Best Editing

Book here



When stuntwoman Anna meets the magnetic famous actress Eve, she unlocks a part of her she’d always kept hidden. What starts as an innocent exchange of glances soon ignites into a turbulent, sensual love affair. Directed by a French feminist author and filmed with an 80% female crew, Split explores the queer female gaze and its transformative impact. Shown in its entirety, the five episode series is a daring, innovative and genre-bending unpacking of power and trauma through the feminist lens.

Australian Premiere

Book here


The Lost Boys

17-year-old Joe is preparing to return to society after being in juvenile detention. Just before his release William enters the facility, and the boys find the passion and affection they had been yearning for, leading Joe to question what kind of freedom he truly desires. Khalil Gharbia and Julien de Saint Jean (Lie with Me, QSFF23) are electric as two boys finding each other in an environment designed to keep them apart.

Sydney Premiere

Graton’s film rests on Gharbia and Jean’s wondrous performances. A movingly intertwined tale of longing, loss, and liberation. – Attitude UK

Book here


Sacreblue! x SBS
The January Selection

Every month, Sacreblue! highlights francophone films from the SBS catalogue.
These movies will be available for the whole month for free on SBS On Demand.

Here is our January selection of SBS French films for a special francophone summer !


The Big Hit / Un Triomphe (2020)

Director: Emmanuel Courcol

Cast: Kad Merad, David Ayala, Lamine Cissokho, Sofian Khammes, Pierre Lottin, Wabinlé Nabié, Alexandre Medvedev, Saïd Benchnafa, Marina Hands, Laurent Stocker, Mathilde Courcol-Rozès, Yvon Martin

Part of the 2020 Cannes film festival official selection, The Big Hit is about an actor who is in a slump and agrees to run a theatre workshop in a prison in order to make ends meet. Surprised by the prisoners’ acting skills, he decides to put on a play with them, on the stage of a real theatre. Based on a true story, The Big Hit It is a free adaptation of the experiences of Jan Jönson when he staged a theatre performance with prison inmates.

Watch it on SBS on Demand here.


Keep Going / Continuer (2019)

Director: Joachim Lafosse
Cast: Virginie Efira, Kacey Mottet Klein, Diego Martín, Mairambek Kozhoev, Damira Ripert, Belek Mamatkoulov, Mukhit Raikulov, Assel Kuanbayeva

Based on Laurent Mauvignier’s 2016 novel ‘Continuer’, director Joachim Lafosse explores a complicated mother-son relationship with teh cinematic backdrop of the Kyrgyzstan countryside.

Selected as part of the 75th Venice International Film Festival, Keep Going divided viewers. For an in-depth review by Variety Magazine, click here.

Watch it on SBS on Demand here.


Simone Veil, a Woman of the Century / Simone – Le Voyage du Siècle (2021)

Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Elsa Zylberstein, Rebecca Marder, Élodie Bouchez, Judith Chemla, Olivier Gourmet, Mathieu Spinosi, Sylvie Testud, Philippe Torreton, Philippe Lellouche, Esther Valding, Antoine Gouy, Laurence Côte

Simone Veil was a French magistrate, Holocaust survivor, and politician who served as Health Minister in several governments and was President of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1982, the first woman to hold that office. Olivier Dahan explores her life in this intimate bipgraphical portayal through a series of non-chronological memories.

Part of the 2022 Angoulême Francophone Film Festival selection, Simone Veil, a Woman of the Century went on to win the 2023 César Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.

Watch it on SBS on Demand here.