“And God created the Côte d’Azur”, on France 3: the radiant metamorphosis of the French Riviera

“Eighty kilometers of coastline, from Saint-Tropez to Menton

“And God created the Côte d’Azur”, on France 3: the radiant metamorphosis of the French Riviera

“Eighty kilometers of coastline, from Saint-Tropez to Menton. » The definition of the Côte d’Azur raises eyebrows. “Today [Côte d’Azur] designates the entire coast between the Italian border and Cassis,” specifies, among other things, the Larousse. This approximation should not, however, distract the public from this documentary, as its history of the French Riviera is pleasant and instructive, carried by an accumulation of happy initiatives.

First the incarnation. How did a poor, harsh shoreline transform into one of the world’s most popular vacation spots? The first important character to understand, Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), a Scottish doctor who arrived on the coast in 1763. He had the idea, eccentric for the time, of swimming, and once returned to London he boasted, the thousand virtues of this sunny place, triggering the influx of British people to Nice and Cannes.

The film traces how, from then on, surveyors, architects and botanists will shape this territory to their taste. They will be followed by the Russians, the Belgians, the Prussians… From the 1920s, the Americans take over. By ending the “summer break” (closure of resorts from May to October), they are at the origin of modern tourism.

Diplomatic issues

Incarnations again with a fascinating focus on the photographer Jean Gilletta (1856-1933), author of thousands of photos, from 1880 to 1930, who will introduce the region to the whole world through his postcards. In 1887, prefect Stéphen Liégeard published the book La Côte d'Azur, the title of which popularized the expression. Today, illustrator Joann Sfar tells how her parents arrived, like a million repatriates from Algeria, in 1962. A monk from Lérins Abbey recalls that the religious community almost sold the site to developers, In the 1980's.

The film then emphasizes the diplomatic issues of this piece of coastline. Determinant, Napoleon III proposed to the people of Nice to bring them the railway on the condition that they become attached to France. Worryingly, Benito Mussolini demanded the return of Nice to Italy in 1938. Movingly, Simone Jacob (Veil) recounts in an audio archive her arrest on March 30, 1944 in Nice, before being deported like 25,000 other Jews.

The economic-tourist development is a priori better known, moving from the cultivation of flowers to tourism then to overtourism – even if it means concreting the coastline –, before a collective awareness reverses the trend and grows, for around thirty years , to a “return to basics”.

Also, to get off the beaten track, there are many anecdotes. Let's forget the furtive scene of shooting at (real) pigeons, to evoke the fake news spread by the English in the 1890s to denigrate the Russians (accused of cooling the air!); or the proclamation, at the end of August 1944, of a short-lived People’s Republic of Monaco.

To enhance everything, the interviews (archives or on camera) with local actors bring a flavor of authenticity. Thus, a cafe owner sums up: “Commercial success is like English grass: you have to water your customers, mow them not too short and do it for a long time. » A nice foretaste of the holidays.