Analysis: FRANCE's FILM INDUSTRY: A Story of Subsidies, Survival and Sudden Commercial Success ; Critics Say State Support Leads to a Weak and Self-Indulgent Film Industry. So Why Are the French Making Films Everyone Wants to Watch?
Lichfield, John, The Independent (London, England)
IT IS raining. A man and woman are sitting at a kitchen table in an attic in Paris (or some French provincial town). They are discussing life, death, sex, food, football and Wittgenstein, in a whisper, half- swallowing their words.
Cut to a street scene of a drab-looking girl on a scooter. She considers running over a cat on purpose but she decides, finally, not to. Cut back to the kitchen. It is still raining ... and these are not the first scenes of a movie. They occupy most of the first reel.
Here, with some exaggeration, is the French cinema that we have come to know, and that even the French have come to hate. But, no, cut to reality. French film is booming. More than four in every 10 cinema tickets sold in France last year were for French-made movies (a level not seen for 20 years). There were 204 films made last year, an all-time record.
Amelie, a very French film made with wit, high spirits and a happy ending has taken EUR30m (pounds 19m) worldwide. Eight Women, a musical detective film with every French actress you've ever heard of in it (including a singing Catherine Deneuve), has been sold for general release across Europe.
The second Asterix movie - much funnier than the first - is breaking box-office records in France. And a cyber-thriller called Demonlover is forecast to be one of several French successes at the Cannes film festival, which started this week.
For the first time in 20, or even 30, years, the French seem to be making films that people want to watch, in France and abroad.
This flowering appears to give the lie to those who continue to argue that the French obsession with protecting a home-grown industry was doomed to failure. While the British industry struggled over the last two decades, or became a backlot of Hollywood, the French government organised a cumbersome system of taxes and subsidies to keep its own cinema alive.
Something like half of all the money invested in movie production in France - EUR350m (pounds 219m) a year - comes from publicly enforced subsidies of one kind or another. Of this, about EUR100m (pounds 62m) comes from a tax on cinema tickets. The rest is supplied by public and private television companies, which are obliged to part-fund and screen new films under their licence agreement.
This funding has protected French cinema from the Hollywood steamroller. France is the only country in Europe with a fully functioning movie industry. Britain, partly with television and lottery subsidies, is trying to rebuild an independent industry, but still cannot contemplate making wholly domestic thrillers or musicals in the way that France can.
By insulating French movie-makers from Hollywood, it used to be argued, the French government also insulated them from the market - in other words, from cinema-goers. Subsidies removed the need for profit-making or even for an audience at all. Self-indulgence thrived. Every French movie-maker, it was said, wanted to be an "auteur", like the New Wave directors of the 1960s, writing, directing and editing their own movies, frequently based on their miserable lives as students or would-be film-makers.
But this was always an exaggeration. Such movies abounded, but they were not universal. Throughout the 1990s, there were French thrillers and comedies, some of which were quite good, although few captured the imagination of movie-goers outside France. Apart from the old stars, like Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, a generation of actors is virtually unknown outside France. Certainly no one is a seat-filler, in the way that, say, Alain Delon used to be.
All of this is beginning to change, but not to change completely. "There are still plenty of French films that only the French could love," says the Australian cinema critic and author John Baxter, who is based in Paris. "But there are also, once again, some …
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Publication information: Article title: Analysis: FRANCE's FILM INDUSTRY: A Story of Subsidies, Survival and Sudden Commercial Success ; Critics Say State Support Leads to a Weak and Self-Indulgent Film Industry. So Why Are the French Making Films Everyone Wants to Watch?. Contributors: Lichfield, John - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 17, 2002. Page number: 19. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.