The Time of the Assassins

Jesse McCarthy in The Point:

ScreenHunter_1842 Apr. 10 20.13The Bataclan is one of the oldest music venues in Paris. Situated on the Boulevard Voltaire and named after an 1855 operetta by Jacques Offenbach, it has operated as an entertainment venue more or less continuously since its opening in 1865 under the Second Empire. After a period of decline in the Sixties and Seventies it was reopened in 1983 with a particular emphasis on providing a platform for post-punk and rock on the Parisian scene. Perhaps befitting its name, onomatopoetic for a sonorous cacophony, it has long maintained a reputation for eclecticism.

Offenbach’s 1855 Ba-ta-clan is an orientalist comic operetta about a Chinese emperor whose subjects are ostensibly in a conspiracy to revolt and overthrow him. It turns out, however, that the emperor and the conspirators are all French aristocrats who share a desperate homesickness for the gay life of Paris that they enjoyed in their youth. It’s a light satire spoofing Napoleon III and the hapless members of the courtier class around him. But it also suggests a pervasive French fantasy: that cultural differences are really more like costumes, and that underneath those exotic garbs, which are amusing but insubstantial, all people want to be French—or at least to live the life of pleasure as the French conceive it. When things are set aright, as they must be at the end of any comic play, all will sing together as one. All will be dissolved in the irresistible cheer of a French republican chorus.

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