Arriving on Sunday morning, the minister cut the red ribbon at the entrance to Ariana cinema, signifying the official reopening of the 600-seat theatre which was built in the late 1960s and destroyed during the 1992-1996 civil war. 

The $1 million renovation is the work of the "Un cinéma pour Kaboul" association, the brainchild of several French film-makers. 

Accompanied by directors Claude Lelouch and Danis Tanovic, and actor Philippe Torreton, Donnedieu de Vabres visited the site, watched a short film on the renovation work and read a message from French President Jacques Chirac. 

"Today, the reopening of the Ariana cinema in the centre of
Kabul emerges as a great symbol," Chirac said in his message, adding that he was particularly proud that this had been a French initiative. 

A popular spot

Before the civil war Ariana was one of the most popular spots among inhabitants of the capital who went there to watch films from around the world. 

"Today, the reopening of the Ariana cinema in the centre of Kabul emerges as a great symbol"

Jacques Chirac,
French President

But the building was totally destroyed by fighting between mujahediin factions and remained abandoned under the hardline Taliban regime which banned television and the visual representation of any living thing. 

After close to a year's work, the new projection room now
meets international standards. 

The theatre, with its parquet floor and red velvet seats has had its acoustics improved and at least 30% of the movies it will show will be French and European. 

Kabul has at least seven movie houses, which mainly show Indian films and to which the overwhelming audience is men.