“Mort Aux Vaches” – a slightly injurious French expression turns into a hymn for rebellion, love, and friendship

There is likely no one in France – native or not – who does not know Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, and Léo Ferré, the Holy Trinity of French 20th century songwriters. Their chansons are universally loved, and still as popular now as decades ago when they were first written and performed. What makes them so immortal? What do they have in common? How did they become a part of the French cultural heritage? These are the questions that intrigued Bruno Mamola, actor and director of Théâtre L’Impertinent, and a lover of French music from his youngest age on. He set out to find the answers, and he did: “Mort Aux Vaches” premieres on Friday, 21 April and plays through May 7.

The expression itself holds little charm, it is the equivalent of “Death to Pigs”. Coined in the Franco-Prussian War, it has since been used colloquially to express dissent with authorities. A taste for anarchy was just one of the traits the three chansonniers shared, along with a strong sense of love and friendship, and it is therefore hardly surprising that the term also made it in one of Georges Brassens’ song:

Frénétiqu’ l’un’ d’elles attache
Le vieux maréchal des logis
Et lui fait crier : « Mort aux vaches,
Mort aux lois, vive l’anarchie ! »

— (Georges Brassens, Hécatombe, 1953)

Fascinated by the three musical giants’ rebellious personalities, Bruno Mamola examined their texts up closely and discovered to his surprise that their songs hold a “dialogue”, with their lines playing off of each other. So he asks questions… and gets answers, lifted straight out of their music.

“Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, Leo Ferré, avez-vous le sentiment d’être devenu des adultes?

BREL : Moi non.
FERRÉ : Moi non plus.
BRASSENS : Nous autres, nous avons un peu une vie en marge de la vie normale, en dehors du réel. On ne peut pas devenir adultes.

Peut-être parce que vous n’avez pas voulu vous adapter au système traditionnel ?

BREL : Ou qu’on n’a pas pu !
BRASSENS : Parce que c’était notre caractère de ne pas nous y adapter, voilà tout. On ne l’a pas fait exprès. Il n’y a pas de vantardise à dire qu’on est solitaire. On est comme ça.
BREL : Bien sûr. C’est une question de tempérament finalement… Le tout, c’est de savoir ce qu’on fait devant un mur : est-ce qu’on passe à côté, est-ce qu’on saute par-dessus, ou est-ce qu’on le défonce ?
BRASSENS : Moi, je réfléchis !
BREL : Moi je le défonce !
FERRÉ : Moi je le contourne !
BREL : Oui, mais le point commun, c’est que tous les trois, instantanément, on a envie d’aller de l’autre côté du mur qui se dresse. Il n’y a que ça d’important, et c’est ce qui prouve que nous ne sommes pas des adultes. “

Nice Matin called the show “intelligent and poetic”, and it is, along with a side of wit. But Mort Aux Vaches is actually a dual homage, both to the Brassens, Brel and Ferré trio, and to Paul Poggi (1942-2011), the eminent actor, director and drama teacher at the St. Laurent du Var Music Conservatory. He was also the (spiritual) father of “À L’Act (Les Enfants de Paul Poggi)”, the company that performs this play.

Along with Bruno Mamola, find Caroline Martinaux, Manon Perrouelle, Joelle Dichiara, Lin Lin Thao, Fabien Barlet, Axel Bianchi, Bernard Ciceron, Bernard Leandre, Kelly Rolfo, and Yohan Mader on stage…. You may remember Manon Perouelle from her appearance at the Nice Berlin Solidar(t)ité charity event, powerfully interpreting an excerpt from Pierre Deproges’ Les rues de Paris ne sont plus sûres.

For dates, times and booking information go to the BilletRéduc site, or reserve by SMS at +33 6 63 17 78 22

Mort aux Vaches

Théâtre L’Impertinent
9, rue Tonduti de l’Escarène
06000 Nice

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All images courtesy Théâtre L’Impertinent

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