C’est bien elle !

I’m still recovering from the shock I experienced two days ago when I saw that Virginie Contesse (now Virginie Castellani)—whose post-FIA whereabouts have always been a mystery and the subject of so much speculation over the years—posted a message to our blog, saying hello (see below).

She has kindly sent some recent photos of herself. These should put to rest any suspicion we’re dealing with an imposter (like the mustachioed « fausse bonne soeur » who Marie-Laure encountered at the door in Leçon 34…I love that scene). She looks so much like her younger self…even has pretty much the same haircut!

I think we all suspected little Marie-Laure would grow up to be a beautiful woman. Here’s the proof. Thank you for sharing these, Virginie, and welcome at long last to the family of your adoring fans! We’re ecstatic!

IMG_0766IMG_0769IMG_0773

Here is an email Virginie sent to me with more details on her life post-FIA.

Bonjour John , 

Merci infiniment pour votre message et pour votre bon français. Effectivement il m est difficile de communiquer en anglais !!!

Oui j’ai beaucoup de regrets de ne pas avoir pu assister à cette réunion que j ignorait !  

Peut être qu un jour il y en aura une autre ? 

J’aimerai avoir et essayer de reprendre contact avec les autres notamment Valerie que je n ai jamais oublié . 

Merci en tout cas de ne pas m avoir oublié depuis tout ce temps .

J’ai arrêté ma carrière suite à un déménagement dans le sud de la France.

Ensuite j’ai fini mes études et j ai rencontré entre temps mon futur mari qui habitait Monaco.

Mon mari est français et chef saucier dans un grand restaurant.

Quand à moi j ai travaillé avant d être maman dans l’hôtellerie , ensuite j’ai décidé de me consacrer à mes enfants .

Aujourd’hui  je fais des extras en vente sur Monaco, fais de la danse orientale ou je retrouve le public quand nous faisons des spectacles et aime voyager.

J’adore les chats j en ai 3 !!!

Je garde en tout cas un très bon souvenir de ces années de french in action j’ai d’ailleurs pas mal de photos.

Je vous ferais parvenir des photos récentes pour le blog.

À très bientôt

Virginie ( Marie Laure ) .

If you’re in the U.S. or Canada, you can watch the scene avec Marie-Laure et la fausse bonne soeur here at minute 5:10.

Mystère et boule de gomme ! Marie-Laure est découverte après toutes ces années !

Dear FIA-fans,

Ça fait longtemps. Je sais. But it’s time to wake this blog from its slumber. What could occasion such a thing? How about a comment posted to the blog from Virginie Contesse! I have a feeling it’s really her. The age she gives for herself is correct. The email she used is from someone indeed named Virginie, but with another surname, probably that of the husband she mentions. Two children! They could be the age she was when FIA was filmed!

She posted it on the Fancy Robot Archive page where few will see it, so I reproduce it below, along with my reply.

I feel as if a rare and beautiful butterfly has alighted beside me and the last thing I want to do is scare it off. I am hoping she’ll humor us and respond to a few questions if we’re polite and respectful. Let’s let Virginie know how pleased we are she’s come out of hiding to her adoring fans and append your questions to her below as comments and let’s see what happens!

Doigts croisés !

Bonjour à tous les fans de french in action je suis Marie Laure ( Virginie Contesse. ) et je suis tombée par hasard sur ce site .
J ai vu les messages depuis plusieurs années qui m ont fait très plaisir . Aujourd’hui j ai 42 ans et je suis mariée , mère de 2 enfants . Je ne suis plus dans le milieu du cinéma aujourd’hui .
Je vous embrasse .
Marie Laure.

Je n’ai pas de mots…(et pas seulement parce que j’essaie de répondre en français). Vous nous avez beaucoup manqué toutes ces années ! J’espère que vous me permettrez de vous contacter par email. Il serait super si vous pouviez nous dire un peu plus. Pour nous, vous êtes une vrai Super-Star et nous sommes extatique de mieux vous connaître ! Bienvenue à notre site !

UPDATE! Marie-Laure—I mean Virginie—wrote us a longer note in the Fancy Robot comments, I reproduce it below. Merci, Virginie !

Dear Everybody,

I’m so excited to write a comment for you. I just found this website, but I can see that this blog has been created since a long time.

I’m the real Marie-Laure, Virginie Contesse before, and Virginie Castellani now (my husband last name).

I can’t post a photo of me, but this is my e-mail : virginie.castellani1 (at) gmail (dot) com.

It will be a pleasure to talk with you and to send you a lot of photo !

As I wrote before I’ve two childrens : Florian (21 years old), and Anais (17 years old), … I was married at 21 years old (that’s why my childrens are older than you can think).

I try to understand all of your beautiful messages, and I want to tell you that only this message is written by me. (All others are wrong).

My son, helped me a lot to write this message. I hope you will understand me.
As I helped you a lot to learn French, I want to continue and I’m going to translate this message in French.

I wish you all the best to everyone, and do not hesitate to contact me.

Virginie CASTELLANI (Marie-Laure)

Translation in FRENCH !

Bonjour tout le monde,

Je suis tellement excitée d’écrire un commentaire pour vous. Je viens juste de voir ce site, mais je peux voir que ce blog a été crée depuis longtemps.

Je suis la vraie Marie Laure, Virginie Contesse avant, et Virginie Contesse maintenant (le nom de mon mari)

Je ne peux pas poster de photo de moi, mais voici mon e-mail:
virginie.castellani1 (at) gmail (dot) com.

ça sera avec plaisir de parler avec vous et de vous envoyer des photos.

Comme je l’ai écrit avant j’ai deux enfants : Florian (21 ans) et Anais (17 ans), je me suis mariée a 21 ans (voila pourquoi mes enfants sont plus âgés que vous pouvez penser).

J’essaye de comprendre tous vos beaux messages, et je veux vous dire que seul ce message est vraiment écrit par moi (tous les autres sont faux).

Mon fils, m’a beaucoup aidé à écrire ce message. J’espère que vous me comprendrez.

Je vous souhaite tout le meilleur, et n’hésitez pas a me contacter

Virginie CASTELLANI (Marie-Laure)

marie-laure mireille

Remembering Pierre Capretz at Yale

Dear FIA-fans,

I’ve been remiss about not posting anything about the Pierre Capretz memorial service that took place at the Battell Chapel at Yale University on Saturday, October 11. I was present at the event and participated. The other speakers on the schedule were Barry Lydgate, Béatrice Abetti, Maurice Samuels, Suzanne Boorsch, and Brian Reilly. All the others had known Pierre Capretz well. I had met him only briefly at the 2011 Reunion. But with the impact he has made on my life via French In Action, I wasn’t at a loss for words and was grateful to have been included. I felt I was there to represent the hundreds of thousands Pierre touched through his magnum opus.

Luckily, thanks to the appearance of a surprise guest, I wasn’t the last speaker, as shown on the schedule copied below. Charles Mayer was with us and gave a heartfelt and poetic tribute to the man who cast him as Robert. (Afterwards at the reception at the Graduate Club, Charles shared some memories of that experience.) We can’t imagine French in Action without Charles Mayer as Robert, Valérie Allain as Mireille and of course it never would have existed without Pierre Capretz.

In my remarks, I reflected on Pierre Capretz the myth-maker, Pierre Capretz the « sage of the human condition » and Pierre Capretz the talented actor. I played some of my favorite clips of Pierre from FIA (unfortunately I’m unable to post videos on this blog). In between speakers there were musical selections that accompanied a slide show of photos from Pierre’s life including many splendid ones from his childhood. The entire event was recorded, although I do not know when or if it will be available to be seen. I will of course post something here if it is.

It was lovely to see many of the folks I had met four years ago at the reunion, including Sylvie Mathé, Pierre’s partner of many decades, as well as to meet some others for the first time, including Pierre’s son.

Sylvie passed along to me a number of great photos of Pierre she wished me to share with you, many of them taken by Sylvie herself. (Pierre photographed well and Sylvie is a talented photographer: she took the stills you’re probably familiar with of Mireille and Robert used in FIA.) They are posted below scans of the leaflet and invitation for the service.

As I said in my remarks, there is a timeless quality about French in Action and in a very real sense Pierre Capretz remains with us.

Capretz1

Handout at the Pierre Capretz Remembrance service

Capretz2

Handout at the Pierre Capretz Remembrance service

Capretz3

Announcement for the Pierre Capretz Remembrance service

Capretz4

Announcement for the Pierre Capretz Remembrance Service

PC juin 1950

Pierre Capretz in 1950. The year he finished his PhD and started teaching at the University of Florida

Photo PC 1 Pierre bar à champagne Pierre black tie Pierre cabine

Pierre Paris Pierre Riviéra Pierre-in-Action Pont 1

Memorial Ceremony for Pierre Capretz

Dear FIA fans: A memorial ceremony for Pierre Capretz on the Yale campus has been scheduled for Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 1:30 PM. Check here for details. I know your attendance would be appreciated if you can make it. I plan to go and will say a few words at the event. Many of you have already left comments here about the significance of Pierre Capretz and French in Action in your life, but I would be pleased to relay more of your thoughts and reflections to those in attendance. Please leave as a comment to this post anything you’d like me to read. Thank you.

une très triste nouvelle

photo by Lyre Byrd

Pierre Jean Capretz (1925-2014), photo by Lyre Byrd

Dear FIA fans,

It is with great sadness that I convey the news that Pierre Capretz passed away on Tuesday, April 1.

Below is the note sent out by Alice Kaplan of Yale’s French Department, and Barry Lydgate of Wellesley College.

Dear Friends, 

I wanted share with you the sad news of Pierre Capretz’s death. Pierre died last night in Aix-en-Provence, where he had been hospitalized.  He was 89.

Pierre gave the gift of the French language to countless students of French, here at Yale and throughout the world.  Before there was online teaching, people were watching French in Action on PBS and reinventing the story of Robert and Mireille. Pierre gave many of us our first lessons in teaching–and today his method is still the gateway to transmitting French language and culture for our faculty and graduate students. 

We will have a chance to celebrate Pierre’s life in the fall, with a commemoration at Yale.  In the meantime, our thoughts and wishes go out to his companion Sylvie Mathé, to his children, and to his many devoted friends.

Alice Kaplan, Department of French, chair

Barry Lydgate, Professor of French & Chair, French Department, Wellesley College

And here is a news release prepared for Agence France-Presse by journalist Marie-Dominique Gréau d’Oléron-Bédouet:

COMMUNIQUE

Il avait appris le français à presque 1 million d’Américains.

A l’âge de 89 ans, Pierre Capretz est mort hier à Aix en Provence.

Il avait inventé la méthode « French in Action » mise au point alors qu’il était depuis 1956 un des rares Français professeur de français à l’Université de Yale.

Dans les années 80, Yale University lui permettra de développer sa méthode faite de petits films construits comme un feuilleton et surtout d’une pédagogie différente.

Tels les enfants qui apprennent à parler leur langue maternelle par mimétisme, avec « French in Action » Pierre Capretz avait adopté la méthode «  je parle, tu écoutes, tu répéteras  et plus tard tu écriras ».

Les plus prestigieuses universités américaines ont adopté cette méthode d’enseignement.

De Yale à Columbia en passant par Middlebury c’est au moins une génération d’Américains qui ont appris le français grâce à « French in Action » et le parlent quasiment sans accent.

Les obsèques de Pierre Capretz auront lieu lundi 7 avril à Aix en-Provence à 15h au cimetière du Grand Saint Jean.

*UPDATE 4/4/14: here is an article on Capretz in the April 4  Yale Daily News and another in the Yale Alumni magazine.

I will always count meeting Professor Capretz at the 2010 French in Action Reunion at Yale University among the best experiences of my life. I know that many of you who were able to attend expressed the same sentiment afterwards.  What a wonderful event it was. I am glad if this blog and our participation at that event let Professor Capretz know how much we loved him. French in Action is a gift that keeps on giving. It so happens that a friend and I watched Leçon 15 (Mireille and Robert’s second meeting & in which Robert and Marie-Laure get introduced) on the evening of April 1, the day I now learn our beloved professor passed away. Yes, French in Action is known for the innovative « immersion » technique of language learning and as a showcase for the beautiful Mlle Allain, but we love it for something more: the infectious Gallic charm radiating from Pierre Capretz that infused each episode. This was a professor you didn’t want to disappoint, whose approval you wanted.  Boy, did I feel like a million bucks when he told me he enjoyed my presentation at the reunion!

We’ll miss you, Professor Capretz, but you’ll always be with us.

Capretz

Sylvie Mathé & Pierre Capretz, October 30, 2010.

FIA 25th Anniversary Reunion videos now online !

FIA fans, it’s a great day for us: Tim Shea of Yale Press, organizer of the French in Action 25th Anniversary Reunion at Yale last October has just posted additional videos from that great event. They are available on the offiical FIA Reunion blog, on the Yale YouTube Channel and embedded here below.

Foremost among them is of course the skit written and performed by Charles and Valérie, « On n’a pas tous les jours 25 ans . . . » in which Robert et Mireille meet par hasard on the Yale campus and catch up on their lives over the past quarter century. Think of it as French in Action Leçon 53! Unfortunately le Prof doesn’t make an appearance at the end to break down all the dialogue with rewinds and visual aids, so if you’re like me you’ll want to replay parts of it several times over to catch everything.

Then, you’ll want to watch Pierre Capretz’s describe the « Genesis and Inception of French in Action. »  Wonderful stuff!

But there’s more.  A panel of French instructors discuss the strength of FIA with co-creator Barry Lydgate.

Here Tim Shea talks about the future of the FIA texbook, workbook and other materials and Prof. Capretz reports the discovery of Marie-Laure’s diary!

At long last, these join the video of me making the case that FIA constitutes a cult (if not a dangerous one).

Thank you for posting these, Tim!  I’m predicting the Robert et Mireille video will set a record number of views for the Yale YouTube Channel!

incroyable, inoubliable !

[UPDATE  16 Nov ’10: Tim Shea of Yale Press has set up a site for the official photos (up now) and audio and video (coming later) from the réunion at http://fiareunion.wordpress.com/.  Merci, Tim !  Photos that I and my wife Therese took can still be found here and Lyre_byrd has more great photos here. Particularly with all this documentation, I thought the word « inoubliable » needed to be added to the title of this post.]

Back from the réunion.  I’m still pinching myself.  Was it all just a dream?  Did I really meet Professeur Capretz, Valérie Allain and Charles Mayer?? Wait…I have all these photographs. It must have really happened!

It was a fabulous time, as those of you who were lucky enough to have been able to attend know.  It was wonderful to meet a number of you.

My photos of the great event (and those taken by my wife, Therese) are now available on Flickr. Enjoy !

Also, here’s a nice interview of Prof. Capretz that ran in last Friday’s Yale Daily News.

Some who couldn’t attend have asked for a summary of the events.  That’s a tall order!  What I can do is reproduce the schedule from the two days which will give you some idea of what you’re seeing in the photos. All the events were videotaped and, if I understand correctly, will be eventually be made available to the public. Probably the highlights for us FIA fans were Professeur Pierre Capretz’s description of the history of FIA, the question-and-answer session with Charles and Valérie and of course the skit they put on Sunday morning.   A special surprise was that all attendees received an 8×10 glossy of Mireille et Robert, autographed by them.  I hope that we won’t have too long to wait for the official videos and photographs!

The French in Action Reunion at Yale

A 25th Anniversary Celebration

Saturday, October 30

Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street

8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.: Registration and continental breakfast

9:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.: Opening remarks by Pierre Capretz and Barry Lydgate

Introduction of guest speakers Carol Herron, Diego Arciniegas, and John Lytle

10:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.: How French in Action was born: a synopsis of the development, filming, and launch of the program: Pierre Capretz

10:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.: Coffee break

11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.: Question and anwer session with Pierre Capretz, Valérie Allain, and Charles Mayer, moderated by Brian Reilly

12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m.: Reinvention de l’histoire: examples of student work shown on video

12:45 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.: Lunch break

2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.: Teaching and Learning with French in Action in 2010: A panel discussion featuring Barry Lydgate, Carol Herron, Ruth Koizim, Catherine Ostrow, and Sylvaine Egron-Sparrow, moderated by Brian Reilly

3:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.: Coffee break

3:45 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.: Looking Ahead: French in Interaction and new editions of the textbooks and workbooks

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: Cocktail hour, Yale Commons, 168 Grove Street

7:30 p.m.: Banquet, Yale Commons

Sunday, October 31

Whitney Humanities Center

9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.: Breakfast

10:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.: John Sullivan: French in Action dans le monde

10:45 a.m. to 12 noon: On n’a pas tous les jours 25 ansLes Retrouvailles de Robert et Mireille: A Special Performance by Valérie Allain and Charles Mayer