The warm and balmy summer nights of Provence are perfect for relaxing at an open-air film screening or live performance. Don't forget to bring cushions or folding chairs and a light sweater in case the wind blows up. Plus, if you want, a picnic! The evenings listed below are all free.

You'll need to pick your event carefully as plays and most movies are likely to be in French: check the schedules to see if English-language films are being subtitled (VO / version originale) or dubbed (VF / version française). But here are some open-air events that everyone can enjoy.

In Aix, two operas from the music festival are being transmitted live: Simon McBurney's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Théâtre de Verdure (9 July, 9.30pm) and Handel's Ariodante at the Jas de Bouffan (12 July, 9.30pm). At the same time Ariodante is also being screened in Marseille at the open-air theatre of Fort Saint Jean, by the MuCEM.

Warning: the Insider went to one of the screenings in Aix last year and it was a total fiasco, with no sound or image for the first half hour of the opera! Let's hope the techie team has got its act together this time round.

Most of Aix's open-air movies are being shown in dubbed versions but there are a couple of exceptions: Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey at the Parc de la Torse (20 July, 9.50pm), Richard Curtis' 1960s comedy about pirate radio The Boat That Rocked at the Jas de Bouffan (10 August, 9.20pm) and Rebel Without a Cause at the Pavillon de Vendôme (31 August, 8.50pm).

chateau borelyOver in Marseille, to tie in with the current exhibition of fashion at the horse races at the Château Borély, pictured, three classic films with appropriate themes are being screened in the Cours d'Honneur in front of the Château: A Day at the Races (5 July, 10pm), Funny Face (7 August, 9.30pm) and The Sting (6 Sept, 8.45pm). As a bonus, the Château itself is open until 9pm on those evening to give you a chance to see the show as well.

And don't forget the fabulous rooftop terrace of the arts complex La Friche la Belle de Mai. As well as its Friday and Saturday night discos (see below), La Friche has free film screenings every Sunday. Two of these are American movies with French subtitles: The Thomas Crown Affair (13 July, 8pm) and Little Miss Sunshine (24 August, 7pm).

Tables, chairs and deckchairs are supplied; bring your own picnic or buy snacks from the grandes carrioles, La Friche's gourmet street food sellers. Click here for the full programme.

Opening on 12 July, the big summer 2014 show at the Musée Granet in Aix en Provence is Chefs d'Oeuvre de la Collection Pearlman: Cézanne et la Modernité (Masterpieces from the Pearlman Collection: Cézanne and Modernity). It's here until 5 October and is one of the cultural highlights of the year in the city.

Kokoschka Henry PearlmanA successful New York businessman, Henry Pearlman made his fortune in the unglamorous world of marine refrigeration.

But he was also an enthusiastic art-lover, collector, benefactor - and mensch, judging by the relaxed and beaming, bald-headed character in Oskar Kokoschka's luminous 1948 portrait at the beginning of the exhibition, pictured.

Pearlman (1895-1974) collected art, not as a financial investment or in the pursuit of trophies, but out of personal passion. And, in the ultra-conservative America of the post-war era, he made some startling and imaginative choices.

His first serious acquisition, in 1945, was an intense Expressionist landscape by Chaïm Soutine, of which he said, "I haven't spent a boring evening since that first purchase."

Pearlman eventually bought over 50 contemporary works from the late 19th and 20 centuries. They form one of the most important private collections of European art in the United States.

Nearly half of them are by Paul Cézanne, mainly some very fine late watercolour landscapes, and so the Musée Granet is a natural venue to host this show. Pearlman was a regular visitor to Aix and donated to the campaign in the 1960s to purchase Cézanne's studio for the city and rescue it from property developers.

Like Frieder Burda's personal collection, which was the Granet's main show last summer, each piece had been so carefully chosen by its purchaser that it's difficult to single out the highlights.

There is a controversial erotic wood bas-relief by Paul Gaugain, several portraits by Modigliani, including a dandy-ish Jean Cocteau, a superb piece by van Gogh, The Tarascon Stage Coach, and some more violent and brilliant paintings by Soutine.

Apart from the landscapes, the Cézannes include two rarities: an Aix street scene (a subject which the artist rarely painted) and his only vertical-format painting of the Mont Sainte Victoire. Pictured: Three Pears by Cézanne (1888-1890).

Three Pears by Paul CezanneAlso on display: paintings, drawings and sculptures by Degas, Manet, Pissarro, Toulouse-Laurec, Lehmbruck and Lipchitz.

These works' permanent home is the Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation at the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey. The show was previously at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, this spring before arriving at the Musée Granet.

The loans to Oxford and Aix are the first time the Pearlman collection in its entirety has travelled to Europe. In the autumn, it will go back across the Atlantic to Atlanta and Vancouver.

The Granet exhibition's main signage is in French and English. Individual paintings are labelled in French only but audio-guides are available in English and a range of other languages, including Japanese. Website for the Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation.

In 2014 the Festival d'Aix (like other cultural festivals all across France) was disrupted by strikes, demonstrations and other militant action from freelance arts workers protesting against incoming legislation that would dramatically affect their benefits. In 2003 both the Avignon and Aix festivals were cancelled altogether due to a similar situation.

The main victim of the pickets was the premiere of Ariodante, which was drowned out by chanting and at one point a car alarm.

However its cast, including Sarah Connolly, Patricia Petibon, Sandrine Piau, Sonia Prina and Bernard Richter, sang valiantly on, while Richard Jones directed and Andrea Marcon conducted.

Simon McBurney's extraordinary production of The Magic Flute was not a world premiere but had been staged in Amsterdam in December 2012 and in London by the English National Opera in December 2013. Pablo Heras-Casado led the orchestra in Aix.



Rossini's opera buffa Il Turco in Italia (whose first night also had to be cancelled owing to strike action) was directed by Christopher Alden while Marc Minkowski conducted the Musiciens du Louvre. The 2014 Festival d'Aix line-up was completed by two smaller-scale "musical spectacles".

One was Die Winterreise, while the other was Trauernacht, a Bach cantata staged by Mitchell and performed by the conductor Raphaël Pichon and the singers and musicians of the Académie Européenne de Musique.

Both Kentridge and Mitchell had appeared recently in Aix, Kentridge with The Nose in 2011 and Mitchell with Written on Skin in 2012 and The House Taken Over in 2013.

written on skin2Pictured: Barbara Hannigan and Bejun Mehta in the Aix production of Written on Skin.

Three new works inspired by the surrealist poet René Char were commissioned from the German composer Manfred Trojahn and the cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras had carte blanche to give concerts and recitals with musicians of his choice.

And a concert version of Jean-Philippe Rameau's opera Les Boréades, featuring young singers selected by the Académie Européenne de Musique, marked the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. Marc Minkowski conducted.

The World Orchestra for Peace gave a concert to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War and there were tributes to Patrice Chéreau, who died shortly after directing a highly acclaimed production of Richard Strauss' Elektra at the 2013 Festival.

Click here to read about what was performed at the Aix Music Festival in 2015, in 2016 and in 2017.



I2014 Avignon Festival poster largen 2014 both the In and the Off Avignon theatre festivals (like other cultural festivals all across France) were threatened by strike action from les intermittents du spectacle, part-time arts workers protesting against proposed cuts to their unemployment benefits. In 2003 the Avignon and Aix festivals were cancelled altogether due to a similar situation.

That didn't happen again in 2014. But the opening night of Avignon's main festival was cancelled and the colourful procession that traditionally launches the Off festival was replaced by a sombre silent march.

Bad weather caused further disruptions and, by the end of the month, over a dozen performances in the In had been either cancelled or interrupted and the new director, Olivier Py, had made a loss of nearly 300,000 €uros at his first Avignon Festival.

In terms of its artistic programme, however, the 2014 festival was well-received. Marking Py's determination to bring in new talent, eleven of his 36 guest directors were under 35, including Thomas Jolly, whose ambitious, 18-hour version of Shakespeare's entire Henry VI cycle - presented in one marathon block punctuated by seven intervals - was that year's major critical success.

The-Assault-Verdun-Henri-de-Groux-smallThe centenary of the beginning of the First World War is being marked in many ways across Europe, and the focus will naturally be on the battlefields of the north. But Provence made an important contribution to the war too and is having its own commemorations.

Avignon, in particular has been staging a number of events. Earlier this year, there was an exhibition of work by the trench artist Henry de Groux, Pictured: Groux' L'Assaut, Verdun (detail).

On 4 August a temporary bivouac was set up in Avignon on the banks of the Rhône river to mark the departure for the front of local soldiers (known as poilus, or "hairy ones") a hundred years ago to that day.

Aix en Provence has had an exhibition, La Faute au Midi, exploring the maligned role of soldiers from Provence in the early days of the First World War. It seems these troops were made scapegoats for the incompetence of their officers in a disgraceful miscarriage of justice. You can read a very good account of it in English here and a new bande dessinée, or graphic novel of the same name tells their story.

The First World War also inspires various strands of the a-part Festival of Contemporary Art all across the Alpilles. In this year's edition artists from different eras respond to the horrors of war. Pictured: the peace flag created by Jesús Díaz de Vivar.

Flag apartLes Baux de Provence is mounting an exhibition of 82 of Francesco Goya's powerful and disturbing engravings Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), made after the invasion of Spain by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808.

In another element of the a-part festival, contemporary artists create their own interpretations of Goya's images. And, in perhaps the most intriguing event of all, 107 artists involved with a-part in previous years have been invited each to design his or her own flag as a symbol of peace, and these are fluttering all over the Alpilles. Until 24 August. logoClick here to book a hotel in Provence



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