Shadow plays are an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment, which uses opaque, often articulated figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. According to ever-trusty Wikipedia, this form of entertainment for both adults and children has a long history in Asia.
Speaking of French, as fate and circumstance would have it, in addition to China, India, the Ottoman Empire, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, shadow theater has a long history in France as well. The Ombres chinoises, or Chinese shadows, first came to France in the middle of the 18th century, brought over by French missionaries to China and travelers to the Orient. Performed in Paris – especially in Montmartre, in Marseille and later in Versaille, for the pleasure of the royal family and its court, these shows caused quite a stir. After a time and some local modifications, the Asian shadow theater eventually became known as Ombres françaises.
Leave it to the French to hoard and appropriate other places’ cultural traditions. Just kidding… sort of.
P.S. This post is a special shout-out to my dear friend Tanya, who likes to take pictures of her shadow in interesting places. (Yes, the same Tanya I visited in Vienna last fall.)