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The "cinescenie" reviewed by Tate

Sud Vendee.. Haut Bocage.. Coastal Region.. Marais Poitevin.. Marais Breton.. Bas Bocage.. Plaine.. Marais Olonne..
It was 8pm on a mid June evening and despite darkening skies holding the portent of rain Trevor and I were going to drive for an hour to Les Epesses to sit on hard benches in the open air until after midnight. You might think that we’ve gone mad, especially when I tell you that we had both done it before, but we were going somewhere very special, we were going to see the Cinéscénie of the Puy du Fou. The founder of the Puy du Fou is Phillipe de Villiers, he is a former French Presidential candidate and the current Conseil General of the Vendée, a post that he has held since 1988. Who would have thought when in 1977 at the age of twenty seven he came across the ruins of an old renaissance castle, his scenario would develop into the phenomenon that it is today. The Puy du Fou is comprised of The Grand Park which an historical theme park and the Cinéscénie (a word they invented) which is a sound and light spectacular only presented on Friday and Saturday nights between early June and mid September. It is performed on the largest stage in the world covering almost sixty acres which is dominated by the ruins of the castle. There are seventy horsemen and twelve hundred actors including men women and children, all of whom are unpaid volunteers they in turn sport eight thousand costumes through the course of the evening. This is not just a show, this is truly a spectacular in every sense of the word. Having taken their seats in the twenty thousand seat outdoor arena the crowd entertain themselves with the Mexican wave until darkness falls when the epic story begins. The quality of the sound is truly awe inspiring, I’ve heard it described as of cinema quality, but I think it is beyond that. The narrator has a deep, soulful voice and when the tale begins you see in the distance a pedlar walking home carrying a lamp. The pedlar is Jaques Maupellier and his family is seen as symbolic of the Vendéen People and in telling his son the tale of his ancestors he is actually representing the history of all of the people of the Vendée. His story begins in the Middle Ages and ends after World War II, twisting and turning through 700 years of Vendéen life and death, seesawing from the total joy and abandonment of dancing and laughter in times of peace and plenty to the absolute despair of war and loss. During the two hours of magical spectacle, the audience has their emotional strings pulled one way and then another as the story is told by an amalgam of not only the actors but also by fabulous horsemanship, animals of all kinds pigs ducks and dancing horses, jugglers acrobats and fire eaters. The special effects are quite unbelievable, with upwards of 3,000 digitally operated projectors, laser and hologram projection, 2,500 computerised fountains, floating sets, fire, smoke, and the largest regular firework display in Europe.

The sum of these parts is a fantastic historical drama that is at once as enchanting as it is epic, the production gathers the viewer up and carries them on the shoulders of an adventure the like of which they will not find anywhere else in the world. It explores the artistic and cultural harmony between the Vendéen people and their past and portrays their deep historical commitment to their spirituality. It is part drama part ballet and part opera, the music lifts the soul only to dash it once again on the rocks of despair, frequently the actors freeze to form living tableaux, creating snapshots in time, I would defy anyone not to be impressed by this awe inspiring production which brings Vendéen history alive. It is said that to understand the Puy du Fou is to understand the passion that has driven the French for more than a millennium to build their churches, castles and cathedrals. The organisation is exceptional and the disabled are bussed to the stadium where those who can are walked and those in their wheelchairs are pushed through a corridor under the auditorium to emerge like gladiators at the front of the stadium. At the end of the show when the enormous crowd are pouring down the stands to get out each handicapped person is escorted by a member of staff through the crowd to disappear back down the tunnel like a footballer leaving the pitch triumphant. The show is extremely popular and pre booking is a must as the shows are often sold out months in advance. If you do get the opportunity to watch the Cinéscénie I would advise you to take it. It is in itself as unique an experience as visiting Victoria Falls or the Carnival in Rio it is something you will not be able to experience anywhere else in the world and something that will live long in the memory, I highly recommend it. Tate - 2010

About the Authur: Tate spends his summers in the Vendee and the winters in Devon, he is passionate about all things Vendeen and writes exclusively for the Vendee-guide.
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