Cinema in France
The French and cinema...
||"L'exception culturelle" : what does
it mean for movies?
Cinema is alive and well
in France ! Production, number of viewers, proportion of
French films, exports, young talented directors, etc... : all
indicators have maintained rather satisfactory levels. Although
nobody contests the importance and the quality of the American
film industry, French films continue to hold their own (since
the invention of cinema in 1895 !).
speaking, and with no value judgement whatsoever : contrary to
the USA where a movie is seen as an entertainment and its success
is measured in $, in France a movie is considered a message
sent by a director for our reflection ; its success is measured
by the number of viewers. As French director Bertrand Tavernier
said to Stanford students (Le Figaro, Nov.21, 2005) "...films
are massive construction weapons...". More about the major differences between US and French cinema.
The number of
Art Houses in France is much higher than anywhere else
in the world and not only Cannes, but several
other very interesting festivals illustrate the
interest of the French for cinema (Deauville and its Festival
of American Cinema, Nantes and its Festival of African, Asian
and Latin-American Cinema, etc...).
The French equivalent
of the Oscar Awards is called "les Cesars"
and the ceremony takes place in February as well.
With 5,366 movie
theaters, France has the highest number of screens/million
inhabitants : 89 (vs. 60 in Germany, 56 in UK and 24 in Japan).
The main weaknesses of the French film industry are, according to a comprehensive report : too many films (some of them too mediocre), too much money for the actors (even when they are popular only in France), too little money for the scenario (a national weakness, one third of the US % of the cost of the film i.e.3% vs 10%), too much power to TV channels (main money providers) (Source : Rapport Bonnell 2013).
To be developed
DID YOU KNOW THAT.... ? An American actor, Adolphe Menjou (1890-1963) played the role of a Frenchman in almost one hundred US movies and helped feed the sterotypes about the French : light but unreliable, shifty but charming, intelligent but not serious, etc...
Basically, refering to "exception culturelle" means that everything "cultural"
must be protected from the "hegemony" of the markets,
the State being the regulator and, when necessary, the sponsor
of a cultural policy. Culture and markets do not mix well :"cultural products" are not "products"
and cannot be subject to the regulation
which applies to "products" (free enterprise, no State
subsidy, no quotas etc...) and the criteria
which apply to "products" (the more you sell, the better
it is, etc...). The whole French film industry is grounded on this concept : read more about "exception culturelle".
Practically, it means :
quotas on non-French movies
on French national TV channels and mandatory financing of films
by TV channels (as a provision in their license)
sur recettes" or "fonds de soutien":
a financial State advance on all French films (the French movie
industry is third in the world after USA and India and France
is the only Western country where foreign films represent less
than 50% of the market : in Germany, Italy and UK, they represent
more than 80%)
less taxes :
TVA (value added tax) is 5% on cinema (like on food) when it
is 20% on almost everything
the legal status
of "les intermittents du spectacle", a derogatory
(and heavily subsidied) unemployment-system for artists, musicians,
French system for financing films is unique in Europe. Major TV channels (TF1, M6, France
2 and France 3) must allocate 3,2% of their turnover to cinema
as co-producer (including at least 2,5% to French films). For
each of them, this represents 20 to 30 films and 30 to 50 million
Euros. See detailed
Cinema : (French) historical milestones ....
The first public projection
of a film in the world took place in Paris in the Grand Café,
boulevard des Capucines on December 28, 1895, by inventors
Lumière brothers (who gave it the name "cinématographe"
which became "cinema"). The film was "l'entrée
du train en gare de la Ciotat".
(1861-1938) may be considered the first director and the man
who invented scenarios and special effects.
Gérard Depardieu, as Cyrano
de Bergerac (credit)
Read about the play.
The New Wave ("Nouvelle Vague") was a movement of rejection by young film-makers against the old academic way of making films and acting. The two emblematic movies are "Breathless" (A bout de souffle) by Jean-Luc Godard and "The 400 Blows" (Les 400 coups) by François Truffault, both in 1959. They shot their movies outdoors and hired unknown actors. Other movie-makers of the Nouvelle Vague include Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda.
- The "new France" resulting
is not only represented by suburban riots. Thanks to ethnic diversity
(and in addition to many actors), there is an incredibly rich
new generation of young movie-makers, actors, singers
For instance :
- Many actors including Omar Sy (Intouchables), Isabelle Adjani (La Reine Margot), Jamel Debbouze (Indigènes) and many others
- Movie-makers like Abdellatif Kechiche :"La
graine et le mulet" (2007, 3 Awards in Venice), "L'esquive"
(2005, 4 Césars -the French Oscars-) or "La vie d'Adele" (2013, Golden Palm at the Cannes Festival), or Nassim Amaouche : "Adieu Gary" (2009)
- More to come....
They must broadcast a minimum
of 50% of French films. Canal+, a very popular pay-channel, must
devote 20% of its turnover to buy the rights of films (12% European
minimum, including 9% French minimum). On each cinema ticket,
a 11%-tax is allocated to the " Fonds de Soutien ",
which is open to foreign films provided they are co-produced
with a French producer.
The result of this policy : with more than 160 films/year, the
French film industry is third in the world after the USA (500)
and India (800) and the success does not go only to "so typically
French" movies (i.e. intimate, cheap and boring...)
: see the list of
- the most
successful French films outside France : #1 is "Le fabuleux
destin d'Amélie Poulain" (2001)
- the most successful French films in France (>20 million viewers) : "Bienvenue
chez les Ch'tis (2008), "Les Intouchables" (2011), "La grande vadrouille"
- Do you know why French TV channels never show a movie on Saturday evenings ? Click here.
The French film industry is clearly the strongest in
Europe (France produces 22% of European films and has the
largest market-share of nationally-produced films in Europe)
is a great city for cinema-lovers : many movie-theaters
(over 300 movies every week), films in English and old movies.
The former American Center designed by Frank Gehry (55 rue de
Bercy 75011) is now the Musée du Cinema and the French Cinemathèque. It is a fantastic place
: read about it in Paris
Diary. A lesser-known place to see many movies in a row, or to view
a particular part of a movie in a comfortable seat with an individual
screen is the Forum
where you can spend the whole day for around $3 ; there are several
thousand movies about Paris or taking place in Paris that you
can select with a key-word and watch on an individual screen
(currently under renovation : re-opening January 2007). Rue Champollion, in the Latin Quarter,
is THE street for classic films... Another great movie
theater is Cinema Denfert 26 Place Denfert Rochereau 75014.,
with high quality program. Many movie theaters (chains like UGC
but also independent theaters) offer passes representing up to
Some movies to help you
To understand certain aspects
of France and French society, nothing like a good movie; preferably
a French movie (to avoid American movies reproducing stereotypes,
decade after decade). Among them, il you want to understand better
royal court, just before the Revolution : Ridicule
(1994), directed by Patrice Leconte, starring Jean Rochefort,
- French men : movies starring
Yves Montand , directed by Claude Sautet like Vincent, François,
Paul et les autres (1974) (men with their friends) or César
et Rosalie (1978) (love in middle-age)
- The French health
system : Sicko (2007), by Michael Moore
- Life in occupied France
WW II : Lacombe Lucien (1974), directed by Louis Malle
|The French sense
of panache : Cyrano de Bergerac (1985), directed
by Jean Paul Rappeneau, starring Gérard Depardieu. You'll
learn a lot about the French if you watch this (excellent) movie,
or read the play (Edmond Rostand, 1897).
|| see above
French Revolution : La Révolution Française
(Part One : Les Années Lumières, Part Two
: Les Années Terribles) (1989), directed by Alexandre
Mnouchkine, staring Jane Seymour etc...
- Life in French small towns
: any film by Claude Chabrol...
and racial tensions in
the outskirts of French cities : La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz
- Life in a French colony in
Africa in the 1930s: Coup de torchon (1975), directed
by Bertrand Tavernier, starring Philippe Noiret, Stéphane
Audran (read about colonies)
- European students in an Erasmus program
(in Barcelona) : L'auberge espagnole by Cedric Klapish
War I : Paths of Glory
(1957), directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas etc...
War II : Le Chagrin
et la Pitié (The Sorrow and the Pity) (1969), directed
by Marcel Ophüls, interviews and documents
the community of the "pieds
noirs" : La vérité si je mens
(1997), directed by Thomas Gilou
colonial wars : in Vietnam ("La 317eme Section", 1965, by Pierre Schoendorfer) or in Algeria : ("La bataille d'Alger", 1966, an Italian-Algerian film by Gillo Pontecorvo, with Yacef
Saâdi playing his own role)
- The French nostalgy about the old days, americanization and the disappearing world, in Jacques Tati's films (The Big Day, Mr.Hulot's Holiday, My Uncle, Playtime, Traffic, etc)
- About French humour : some movies come again and again on French TV, always with the same success, even for those who have seen them ten times : among them Les Tontons Flingueurs (Georges Lautner, 1963), La grande Vadrouille (Gérard Oury, 1964), Le Père Noel est une ordure (Jean-Marie Poiré, 1982) or Les Intouchables (Eric Toledano, 2011) ; if you enjoy them 1/ your French is very good, 2/ you really understand this country! More about French humour
State-owned TVs compete with commercial
Public channels have less
or no reality shows, broadcast cultural programs at decent hours
and are the only ones with a "médiateur" (ombudsman)
and a weekly program to analyze their errors frankly and openly.
France and Germany share an excellent cultural TV channel (Arte).
|In France, state-owned
TV channels (France-2,
France-3, TV 5,...) are clearly better and more respectful of
the viewer than commercial TV channels, only interested in market
share and advertising.
| The Maison
de la Radio, headquarters of French state-owned TV and radio
channels, along the river Seine, in Paris
The weakest must be protected ! ("between the Weak and the Strong,
it is Freedom which is oppressive and the Law which is protective",
as Lacordaire said)
UNESCO reached an agreement on cultural diversity (October 20,
2005) but the USA, alone with Israel against 151 countries, kept
insisting on treating all cultural activities by the same rules
as economic goods. For example, in the negotiation of a trade
agreement between the USA and Morocco (Dec. 2004), the USA insisted
on opening its market to Moroccan agricultural products if and
only if Morocco stopped protecting its cultural sector, which
practically speaking, means no more subsidies to Moroccan movies. Let me ask three questions :
- Do you think that Moroccan movies
can resist Hollywood movies ?
- Is it good for the Moroccan
people to be cut from their roots and projected into a foreign
culture, with no alternative ?
- Is it wise for the USA to be
considered the cause of the disappearance of a local culture
in the name of free trade ?
This is not "a French protectionist
combat", as the US press likes to write: many countries
(including the European Union, speaking with one voice, but also
Korea, Brazil, India and China) are particularly active in this
negotiation and France is not the only nation to champion the
protection of indigenous cultures. But, as usual, the French
make more noise and behave in a more irritating way....
Facts and figures about French
often say "All French films are alike...." :
Agnes Jaoui is a very talented film-maker and actress. With her
companion Jean-Pierre Bacri, she has made several excellent "very
French" movies ("Let It Rain", "Look at Me",...)
which were well-received in the USA. In 2008, she made a very
good movie ("Parlez moi de la pluie") on more sensitive
issues (a woman in political life, a young man of Arab origin
victim of racism, ...). Her US distributor declined to take it
: "They said it's not adapted to the US market -- whatever
that means", she says (IHT, Oct.10, 2008). So if you ever
read the classical comment "The French always make the same
kind of films", replace it by : "US distributors always
BUY the same kind of films". See my (tongue in cheek) insularity score !
The funniest movie (for
the French) is "La Grande Vadrouille" (1964),
directed by Gérard Oury, starring Louis de Funès
and Bourvil, drawing the second largest audiences ever (in France)
: nearly 20 million
The most successful
French movie in the US is "The Artist", winner of 5 Academy Awards Oscars in 2012 (film, actor for Jean Dujardin, scenario, music and costumes)."
Intouchables", the French blockbuster (2011), is the largest success, ever, for a non-American film with 32 million viewers outside France (+20 m. in France) and 220 million Euros total income. In the US, Luc Besson is one of the most successful French film-makers.
Hollywood has made many great movies about certain
moments of French history (see a list of some of the best
American movies on French history)
to a recent survey, the movies the French consider the best
of all times are : Citizen Kane (O.Welles), The Night of the
Hunter (Ch.Laughton), La Règle du Jeu (J.Renoir), Sunrise (F.Murnau) and L'Atalante (J.Vigo). Read more about this survey
and a list of the "best"
More than 700 films are shot
every year in Paris : see a selection of my favorite films taking place in Paris
Many French movies have a weak scenario and, compared to American movies, it is probably one of the major differences. Accord to an official report (Bonnell Report 2013), the scenario represents only 3.4% of the cost of a film in France, compared to 12% in the US.
More to come....
- Dec. 17, 2001
: (former) French tycoon, Jean-Marie Messier, then CEO of Vivendi Universal Entertainment
declared from New York "the exception culturelle
is a Franco-French archaism... " to the horror of the entire
French cultural establishment and political class (the President
of France qualified this analysis as "a mental aberration").
- July 2003 :
in the final negotiation about the project of European Constitution,
the French government negotiated until the very last minute (and
finally won) on "exception culturelle" when other countries
negotiated on other issues (economy, immigration, foreign policy,
etc...). Another example in history : when the "Entente
Cordiale" was established between UK and France in 1904,
the key issue was that France would give up any claim on Egypt.
France accepted with only one exception : the head of Archeology
in the Egyptian administration should be French.
- During the GATT
negociation, Jack Valenti, the representative of the US Motion
Picture industry for decades, had the following exchange with
a French delegate :
- JV.: You
make wonderful cheeses. Keep it up and let us, alone, make films
- FD.: You already make 95%
of the movies. What more do you want ?
- JV. : 100%, of course.
- Today, it is
more politically correct to speak of "diversité
culturelle" (cultural diversity) but the meaning is
the same (read about anti-Americanism).
- On the European
market (25 countries, in 2003), the % of European films was only
25,7% (American films : 72,1%)
- More to come.
DID YOU KNOW THAT ...? French composers and American movies seem to be a good mix, since the 1930s, with Gabriel Yared, Georges Delerue, Michel Legrand, Maurice Jarre and, more recently, Alexandre Desplat (Oscar 2015).
American remakes are not French at all... (to figure out some cultural differences...)
Many French films are sold to American producers and turned into
American films, with a big or huge difference from the French film.
Did you see the movie " Three men and a
Baby " ? It is the American version of a French film "Trois
hommes et un couffin" but several significant things have
- more action (and more violence) in the American version : a
car race in the streets of New York (in the American version)
when the French film is light
- more cynicism in the French version (people are not expected
to be good) : the mother of the hero does not want to take care
of the child because she is enjoying her retirement, in the
French film, the police is ridiculed and the dealers escape,
with a little help from the heroes ; in the American film, the
dealers are arrested and the police is cool and efficient....
- and several other significant details...
By the same
token, in 2005, " La marche de l'empereur " ("
March of the Penguin "), a film by Luc Jacquet on the life
of the giant Antarctic penguin was a huge success in the USA
and was # 2 at the box-office. Actually, the sound was changed
for the American audience : instead of a very " written
" text full of allusions and images which made the French
film a parable on the human condition, the commentary was a rather
factual commentary, very " National Geographic "-type.
It was good but it made a different movie : the American audience
probably learned a lot about penguins but certainly nothing about
The French movie "Le diner de cons" (Francis Veber, 1998) is a very funny comedy, with a light and brilliant dialogue ; it takes place in a Paris apartment. It was a huge success in France. It was remade by Jay Roach in 2010 ("Dinner for Schmuck"s, with Steve Carrell) into a heavy comedy with action taking place in different places, which changes the whole spirit of the film.
and many others....
DID YOU KNOW THAT.... ? The best-paid French
actors in 2003 were Gérard Depardieu*, Jean Reno*,
Daniel Auteuil*, José Garcia*, Thierry Lhermite, Gad Elmaleh,
Vincent Perez, Philippe Noiret, Nathalie Baye and Benoit Poelvoorde
(according to Figaro Entreprises May 17, 2004, a "*"
indicating that they were already in the Top-10 in 2002). Hit-parade
of 2002 includes Jamel Debbouze (a "beur"), Christian Clavier,
Gérard Lanvin, Samuel Le Bihan, Catherine Deneuve and
Finding a French movie
A Frequently Asked Question is
"Where can I find a DVD of an old vintage French movie?".
Among many sites (of course, French sites ...), here are a few
A nice place to find cinema posters,
books and reviews is : Cinedoc, 45 passage Jouffroy 75009 Paris
If you think of studying cinema/TV
in a French graduate school, contact the FEMIS. Admission
is very competitive.
|DID YOU KNOW THAT....? Protectionism goes
both ways and cultural imperialism does exist ! The US film industry
says that the policy of quotas on French TV (a minimal % of French
movies) is a threat to free enterprise but do you know that in
the USA most (if not all) foreign films cannot be dubbed for
regulatory reasons ? Therefore, they cannot be seen by a large
audience and remain confined to a small elite circuit. Regarding
cultural products as elements of foreign policy, one can also
mention the Blum-Byrnes Accord in 1946 between a ruined France
and triumphant USA : American aid was conditional to the introduction
of American products in France and a whole part of the accord
referred specifically to films and to US demand to play American
movies in French theaters.
|| DID YOU KNOW THAT.... ? With more than
20 million viewers in only 6 weeks, the film " Bienvenue
chez les Ch'tis " (Dany Boone, 2008) did better than
" La grande vadrouille " in 40 years (it was previously
the most successful French film ever). It is the story of a postman
who is transfered from the Riviera to the North of France (it
is like being transfered from Hawaii to Pittsburg) . Extremely
reluctant at the begining, because of the very poor image of
the region, he soon discovers what French Northerners actually
are : warmhearted, hospitable, friendly. The movie was considered
a rehabilitation by millions of people (Ch'ti means "Northerner"
in the local dialect) and is the greatest success ever (but the
movie itself is just OK). As is, it is probably un-translatable...
|To related pages
: French culture, French literature,
French songs, intercultural
differences, try my French Quiz, etc...
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Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French.
Order her books :
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
events, testimonials, etc..)
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