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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Festival Revels in French Language

Francophiles have a treat for the next two weeks as Russia hosts a flurry of events in celebration of the French language. To mark International Francophone Day, and with the aim of stimulating interest in the French language, the French Embassy has organized a host of films, exhibitions, talks and plays from now until April 5.

French Ambassador Hubert Colin de la Verdiere, who was on hand to give out prizes to the winners of a video competition at the French Cultural Center on Saturday, described the Francophone days as "a world festival." "It's a symbol, a demonstration of mutual affection between Francophone countries," the ambassador said, adding that "it's also a movement toward those who wish to share our love of the French language and French-speaking cultures."

French was the language of choice for the Russian aristocracy during pre-Revolutionary times but has long since been eclipsed in Russia by English.

Today, more than 140 million people of nationalities other than French have French as their native language.

Events will mainly be based in Moscow but will also take place in St.Petersburg, Kazan, Yekaterinburg and cities as dispersed as Arkhangelsk, Yakutsk and Krasnodar.

Yura Sharanov, 15, from Kostroma was the overall winner of the Allons en France '98contest for the European Russia region, earning himself a trip to the World Cup finals with his video documentary portrayal of his hometown's sporting life.

While congratulating the assembled teenagers on their mastery of the French language, the ambassador joked that, during the year France is hosting the World Cup, he was not sure that he should be using the term "football". Pointing out that French does occasionally accept the odd import, he graciously conceded that le ballon au pied didn't quite have the same ring to it as its tried and tested English counterpart.

Not actually part of the "Francophone days" is Wednesday's friendly match between the French and Russian national teams at Dynamo stadium.

Kick off is at 8 p.m., presumably to be followed by French fans demonstrating some of the more colorful aspects of their mother tongue.

The ambassador called French "an international instrument of communication" that "has no desire to fight against others, such as English, Arabic, Chinese, but to exist alongside them." The ambassador went on to say that "today, when the word 'globalization' is on everyone's lips, it's important that a certain number of great languages of communication, which are also great languages of culture, should affirm themselves."

As part of the festival, currently on display at the French Cultural Center in the Library of Foreign Literature, is an informative, although not especially gripping, selection of posters tracing the career of Leopold Sedar Senghor, first president of Senegal and an important African poet and essayist.

More compelling are the masks and art objects from various regions of Cameroon, a country with 240 tribal languages of its own but which claims French as an official language, alongside English. On display are several warrior masks from the Bamoun region of Western Cameroon, each with threatening, exaggerated features carved out of the wood of the mangossi tree.

Traced in copper on the forehead of the masks, some of which are more than 100 years old, are animals summing up each individual warrior's attributes. There are also brightly-painted masks for festivals and funerals, and some charismatic statuettes in bronze and wood.

As befits a celebration of language, the most interesting events scheduled will consist of talking. On Tuesday Henri Lopes, director general-adjunct of UNESCO in Africa and a prize-winning novelist, will give a lecture on "African Francophone Literature in the 20th Century," and Lebanese poet and novelist Venus Khoury-Ghata will chair a debate on "The Lebanese Francophone War Novel" followed by readings from her works.

Other events included an international Internet quiz competition, in which more than 700 teams took part worldwide.

The aim was to scour the Web for French-language sites containing the answers to 30 questions set by the Paris-based jury. Answers had to be submitted in flawless French for the two-man teams to stand a chance of winning the first prize -- a trip to French Guyana.

The poster exhibition runs until April 5 at the French Cultural Center, open 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., in the Library of Foreign Literature, 1 Nikoloyamskaya. Nearest metro: Taganskaya.

The exhibition of African masks and art objects runs until March 30 in the French Cultural Center.

Henri Lopes' lecture on "African Francophone Literature of the 20th Century" will take place on March 24, 4:30 p.m., Library of Foreign Literature.

"For the Sake of a Yes or a No" by Nathalie Sarraute will be staged at 7 p.m. on March 27 at the French Embassy, 45 Bolshaya Yakimanka.

Venus Khoury-Ghata's debate on "The Lebanese Francophone War Novel" will be held April 2 , 4:30 p.m., French Cultural Center.