Le French May: 'More and more a Hong Kong festival'

Le French May: 'More and more a Hong Kong festival'

Film noir, contemporary arts and hip-hop highlight the month-long cultural exchange between Hong Kong and France
le french may
Philippe Ramette performed "Le Balcon II" 10 years ago by floating down Victoria Harbour while clinging onto a wooden balcony.

Hong Kong’s 19th annual French arts festival, Le French May, starts its 10-week run on Friday.

Organized by the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, the program will include more than 100 exhibitions, performances and screenings.

The festival, which began as a modest month-long event, is now the largest of its kind in Asia.

It may be a little taste of home for Hong Kong’s rapidly expanding French community -- 13,000 French citizens live here, with that number growing at 10 percent per annum or 150 people per month -- but the new French Consul General, Arnaud Barthélémy, insists that the festival benefits the local community as well.

He points out that the majority of Le French May’s 60,000 spectators are Hong Kongers, adding that most of this year’s performances involve a mix of French and local artists.

“It’s French, but it’s more and more a Hong Kong festival,” he says. 

Organizers this year have increased their focus on contemporary visual arts and performances from a new generation of French talent, in a move that could help to attract younger audiences.

“It’s always a challenge to create a program that is demanding but that can be seen by the largest possible number of people,” explains Barthelemy, adding that it is important for the program to show the most recent talent to emerge from France.

When Le French May began in the 1990s important economic links between France and Hong Kong were established. Today, Hong Kong has France's second largest trade surplus and cultural exchange is increasingly in the spotlight. 

Barthélémy notes that while Hong Kong may not have as profound a devotion to the arts as Paris, interest is strengthening. This manifests largely in the city’s booming art market, but cultural trends are growing too.

“I have absolutely no doubt that despite its trading and financial roots, Hong Kong has the means and the will to develop as a successful cultural centre,” he says.

Festival Highlights


le french mayJohnny To's classic "As Tears Go By."A month-long, three-part film noir retrospective backed by directors Johnnie To and Jacques Audiard will celebrate a genre that holds an important place in French and Hong Kong cinema.

Some 30 films will be screened at two venues throughout June, opening with Audiard’s 2009 "Un prophète" and including the rarely-seen director’s cut of Tsui Hark’s "Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind."

June 3-26, Broadway Cinematheque & Palace IFC.

Rose, c’est Paris by Bettina Rheims & Serge Bramly

le french mayPhotographer Bettina Rheims.A free exhibition of 80 black and white photographs from iconic photographer Bettina Rheims tells the story of a woman searching for her twin sister in Paris, while a film by Serge Bramly expands on the narrative. 

The show also includes portraits of stars such as Naomi Campbell and Michelle Yeoh. 

May 27-June 21, Hong Kong City Hall, Exhibition Hall.

The Upside Down World of Philippe Ramette

le french may"Le Balcon II, 2001" by Philippe Ramette.This free outdoor exhibition showing photographs of contemporary performance artist Philippe Ramette will mark 10 years since the creation of his landmark "Le Balcony II" in Hong Kong.

The artwork depicted Ramette floating on Victoria Harbour, apparently standing on a wooden balcony. He says the vision came to him in a dream in the mid-1990s.

April 28-May 29, Avenue of Stars, Tsim Sha Tsui.


le french mayFrench hip-hop pioneers IAM.The Egyptian-French band gained international fame as pioneers of the French hip-hop scene.

Formed in Marseilles in the late 1980s, the group was the first to put out a rap album in France. They toured with Madonna on her Blonde Ambition tour and have collaborated with Beyoncé and Wu-Tang Clan.

May 21, KITEC, Kowloon Bay.   

Boxe Boxe

le french mayMartial arts dance at "Boxe Boxe".Choreographer Mourad Merzouki and his Käfig Dance Company will present surreal modern dance fused with boxing and martial arts.

The high-energy performers will be accompanied on stage by a live string quartet, which will play versions of music by Ravel, Verdi, Mendelssohn and Schubert.

May 12-14, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Grand Theatre.


le french mayCocorico.Nobody does physical comedy quite like the French. In this performance, Patrice Thibaud and Phillipe Leygnac pair up as a classic mime duo: Small, passive Leygnac spars with large, jolly Thibaud in a show that is part-circus, part-poetry.

Cocorico premiered at the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris in 2008.

May 6-7, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Studio Theatre.

Laurent Korcia & the Hong Kong Sinfonietta

le french mayLaurent Korcia.The violin virtuoso known as “Laurent le Magnifique” will open this year’s festival with two concerts alongside the Hong Kong Sinfonietta.

Korcia was named a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2002 for his contribution to music. He will perform classics such as Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Vivaldi’s Summer, as well as the world premiere of Lotus by Hong Kong composer Lam Lan-chee. 

April 15-16, Hong Kong City Hall, Concert Hall.

Beethoven Sonatas

le french mayRenaud Capuçon.Renowned violinist Renaud Capuçon will team up with pianist Frank Braley to perform Beethoven’s complete "Sonatas for Violin and Piano" over three consecutive nights.

The music was composed between 1797 and 1812 and represents a formative period in Beethoven’s life.

“[There is] no place to hide in these sonatas,” says Capuçon, “You have to find their spinal column, create a structure and sing.”

April 25-27, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Concert Hall.

Perfume Tales and Legends: Past, Present, Future

le french mayHistory of perfume in 100 objects.Curated by Anne Camilli and Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg, this free exhibition will present the history of perfume via more than 100 objects from the 17th century to the present day.

An olfactory workshop will shed light on the art of the contemporary parfumier.

June 3-16, Pacific Place, Admiralty.

Le French GourMay: Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

le french mayProvençal in focus for Le French Gourmay.Throughout May, selected restaurants, bars and shops in Hong Kong and Macau will celebrate the food and wine of France’s Provençal region with tastings and special menus.

Participating restaurants include Chez Patrick, Petrus, the Press Room, Hutong and the Stable Grill at Hullett House.

May 1-31

For more information and ticketing details, visit www.frenchmay.com.

Samantha Leese is a Hong Kong based writer and editor, focusing on travel, arts and culture. Her articles have been published internationally by titles such as Condé Nast Traveller, The Spectator, Artforum and Time.

Read more about Samantha Leese