ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

French Cinema Update 9/08
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c. 2007 Last Mistress

by Severine Benzimra

The French cinema is still one of the most dynamic in the world. Many young directors are on the scene, while the “ancients” remain: Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais, Bertrand Tavernier, Eric Rohmer, Patrice Leconte, Claude Lelouch, André Téchiné, Jacques Doillon, Jacques Rivette, Philippe Garrel. They are all still working.

Female directors have also appeared on the field, cultivating their "viva la" difference from the males, but "Frenchness" is always foremost in this current/continuing dynamism. Various public authorities contribute to this situation, notably funding; the audience, also, seems attached to the existence of a local creation. Diversity is the key word, and auteurs are attached to certain genres, such as the slick action entertainment from the ‘team’ of Luc Besson (which includes, for example, Louis Leterrier), or the stage-oriented comedy-makers Christian Clavier...) or from TV (Alain Chabat...). There’s also a more intimate, or at least personal, stream.

The concurrence of TV has been a challenge, sapping and distracting audiences. From 1947 to 1970, the audience fell from 424 to 184 million*. In 2003, the movie theaters registered 174 millions of entrances. France counts about 5,300 screens (376 in Paris), which makes it the best-equipped European country. People still often consider a movie theater as a special place, reverential, ala an opera hall. DVDs are considered almost like a souvenir from the actual experience of seeing the film in a theater, not the same.

Movie-makers are financially helped by several institutions and rules. There are three main ways of financing: 1) through the special account of the Centre national de la cinématographie (CNC); 2) the pre-buying of the television channels, and the production societies (which accounts for 1/3 to a ¼ of a typical budget). The channel Canal +, for example, must, according to its code, dedicate 20% of its annual budget to buying the distribution rights of French movies.

The special account controlled by the CNC is financed mainly by taxes on entrances in the theaters and on TV diffusions. The production societies contribute to around the third of the budget of a French movie. 10% of this contribution comes from foreign investments.

Thanks to this system, about 200 movies are produced yearly in France – 240 in 2005. 156 societies produced a movie in 2005 ; among them 125 produced only one movie. The medium budget of a French movie settles between 4 and 5 billions of euros.

Un Long dimanche de fiançailles (A very long engagement), by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was not considered as a French movie, while the "colors" trilogy (Blue, Red, White) of the polish director Kieslowski was.

The French-German TV channel Arte has given opportunities to many young directors, through its collections: it contributed to the financing of many movies that were presented on the channel before their diffusion in movie theaters. Amongst these are: « Les Années lycée » (the college years, with for example Le Péril jeune, by Cédric Klapisch), « Petites Caméras » (small cameras : La Chambre des magiciennes, by Claude Miller…), « Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge » (all the boys and girls of their age : Les Roseaux sauvages, by André Téchiné, Trop de bonheur, by Cédric Kahn…) « Gauche-droite » (Left-Right : Le Petit Voleur, by Eric Zonca…), or « Au travail » (At work : Ressources humaines, by Laurent Cantet, Beau travail, by Claire Denis...).

The French cinema ‘industry’ also produces many short-movies. The short-movies are rarely presented in theaters, more in festivals and on TV channels.
The festivals are numerous: France organizes more cinema festivals than all the other countries of the UE. There would be about one festival every week… Paris cinéma, British cinema (Abbeville), animal movies (Albert), animated movies (Annecy), African movies (Apt), fantastic movies (Avoriaz, then Gerardmer), latin american movies (Biarritz), short movies (Brest), international cinema (Cannes), murder movies (Cognac, then Beaune), women’s movies (Créteil), american cinema (Deauville), mediterranean cinema (Montpellier), israelian cinema, kurdish cinema (Paris), asian cinemas (Vesoul), Queer cinema…
Foreign and ancient movies are also presented in the cinémathèques (Henri Langlois, Forum des Images in Paris…).

The studies and creation in the cinema field are strongly encouraged. Arts Faculties, in the universities, often propose formations, and some cinema schools appear amongst the very prestigious French “Hautes Ecoles” (more or less private institutes delivering a specialized formation to an elite of candidates), like the Ecole Louis Lumière in Lyon or the FEMIS (formerly IDHEC) in Paris. The new generations of French directors often come from the FEMIS. Emmanuel Mouret, Laurent Cantet, François Ozon, Dominik Moll, Olivier Ducastel, Arnaud Desplechin, Pascale Ferran, Noémie Lvovsky, Eric Rochant...). Some others studied in the USA, like Louis Leterrier or Cédric Klapish (New-York university). A few of the under-50 old directors didn’t study cinema, but were critics, often for the Cahiers du Cinéma (Olivier Assayas, Christophe Honoré...), or learned about film direction through their parents, or through assistant jobs.

In the new generation of directors, the most famous are certainly Olivier Assayas (author of the precious L’Eau froide (1994), Irma Vep (1996), Clean...); Arnaud Desplechin (who only directed one movie in English, Esther Kahn, 2000, and is the wonderful Fin août début septembre, 1998), Comment je me suis disputé...(ma vie sexuelle), 1994; Rois et Reine, 2004 ; Un Conte de Noël, 2008) ; Xavier Beauvois (with the upseting N’oublie pas que tu vas mourir, 1995; Selon Mathieu, 2000 ; Le Petit lieutenant, 2005); Cédric Klapisch (Un air de famille, 1997), Cédric Kahn (L’Ennui, 1998; Roberto Succo, 2001); Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine, 1995; Assassin(s), 1997); Dominik Moll (Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien, 2000; Lemming, 2005); François Ozon (Sitcom, 1997; Les Amants criminels, 1998; Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brûlantes, 1999; Sous le sable, 2000; Huit femmes, 2001; Swimming Pool, 2003; 5x2, 2004; Angel, 2006); Manuel Poirier, Erick Zonca (La vie rêvée des anges); Christophe Honoré (Les Chansons d’amour, 2007), Laurent Cantet (Ressources humaines, 1999 ; L’Emploi du temps, 2001 ; Vers le Sud, 2005 ; Entre les murs, 2008) ; Philippe Ramos (Capitaine Achab, 2008), Serge Bozon (La France, 2008), Nicolas Philibert (Retour en Normandie, 2008), Emmanuel Mouret (Venus et Fleur, 2004 ; Changement d’adresse, 2006) ; Bruno Podalydès (Dieu seul me voit, 1998; Le mystère de la chambre jaune, 2003 ; Le parfum de la dame en noir, 2005) ; Bertrand Bonello (Le Pornographe, 2001 ; Tiresia, 2003 ; Cindy : The Doll Is Mine, 2005), Léos Carax (Mauvais Sang, 1986 ; Les Amants du Pont Neuf, 1991 ; Merde, 2008). And, a little older, Benoît Jacquot, Tony Gatliff, Robert Guédiguian.

Amongst the female directors, after the historical figures of Agnès Varda and Nelly Kaplan, one must quote Agnès Jaoui (le Goût des autres, 2000); Laetitia Masson (En avoir (ou pas), 1995) ; A vendre, 1998 ; La Repentie); Pascale Ferran (L’Age des possibles, 1996 ; Lady Chaterley) ; Sandrine Veysset (Y aura-t-il de la neige à Noël ?, 1997) ; Marion Vernoux (Love, etc., 1997 ; Rien à faire, 1999) ; Nicole Garcia (Un week-end sur deux, 1990 ; L’Adversaire ; Le Fils préféré, 1995) ; Claire Denis (Nénette et Boni, 1997 ; Trouble every day, 2001 ; Beau travail) ; Laurence Ferreira Barbosa (La Vie moderne, 2000) ; Noémie Lvovsky (La vie ne me fait pas peur, 1999) ; Agnès Merlet (Le Fils du requin, 1994) ; Tonie Marshall (Enfants de salaud, 1996 ; Vénus Beauté (Institut)) ; Catherine Breillat (Parfait amour !, 1996 ; Romance, 1999 ; A ma sœur !, 2001 ; Une vieille maîtresse) ; Jeanne Labrune (Si je t’aime... prends garde à toi, 1998 ; Ça ira mieux demain, 2000) ; Catherine Corsini (La Nouvelle Eve, 1999 ; La Répétition, 2001) ; Solveig Anspach (Haut les cœurs !, 1999 ; Made in USA) ; Anne Fontaine (Nettoyage à sec, 1997) ; Brigitte Roüan (Post coitum, animal triste, 1997) ; Laurence Ferreira Barbosa (J’ai horreur de l’amour, 1998) ; Patricia Mazuy (Travolta et moi, 1994) ; Danièle Thompson (La Bûche, 1999) ; Mia Hansen-Løve (Tout est pardonné, 2008)…
Filmes de Femmes

Nowadays Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechin, Benoît Jacquot, Tony Gatliff, Catherine Breillat, Agnès Jaoui or Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi attract the audience on their names. People follow their careers and consider that even their minor works are interesting. Assayas appears as an experience-maker with an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema (with an homage the Nouvelle Vague on a music written by John Cale, (Paris s’éveille), a homage to Louis Feuillade, (Irma Vep), or a passionate documentary on Hou Hsiao-Hsien, HHH), a traveler, an explorer of our society and of the human soul, a women-lover (from the apparently academic Les Destinées sentimentales, movie “en costumes”, to the very modern Clean or Boarding Gate).

Arnaud Desplechin focuses on the familial life and relationships of characters inspired from himself or people close to him – artists, intellectuals mostly. The actress Marianne Denicourt is a perfect choice-- the scenario of “Rois et Reine” was inspired from her life (she lost the case). He treats his characters with humanity and a tender sense of humour that doesn’t erase the darkness of the stories. All of his movies have received a positive, warm appreciation from the critics. His interest toward theater and acting appears in movies like Esther Kahn, which tells the story of a young Jewish actress in London in the beginning of the 20th C, or his dyptique about rehearsals of the play “La compagnie des hommes”.
Benoît Jacquot seems particularly interested by women (La Désenchantée, 1990; La fille seule, 1995; Le septième ciel, 1997; A tout de suite, 2004; L’intouchable, 2006), psychoanalysis (through documentaries or movies for TV about Jacques Lacan or the Princess Marie, friend or Sigmund Freud), theater (Marivaux, Koltès, a rehearsal in the striking Elvire Jouvet 40), opera (Tosca).
Tony Gatliff, movie after movie, offers hymns to flamenco and gipsy music, to passion, travel, meetings. His characters, men and women, discover themselves through a sacrificing their way of life to a quest. Love, research of their roots... The result is not always successful, but always bewitching.

Catherine Breillat deals with a certain (moral) brutality with the relations between men and women, and the overwhelming role of sexuality. Agnès Jaoui depicts social archetypes with irony, if not sarcasm. Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, sister (without surgery) of Mrs Nicolas Sarkozy, directs movies inspired by her own life: psychanalysis, conflicts with her sister, problems of a still young actress having no husband nor child...

Most of them received awards in various European competitions, including the prestigious festivals of Venice, Berlin and Locarno. They visibly don’t fear any inspiration crisis, and should offer us many more movies... that are already awaited.

French cinema isn’t reduced to the classics and the French-new-yorkian Gondry!


* The French measure box office in number of tickets sold, as opposed to $$ intake, like their greedy Yankee brethren.

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c. 2008 - Severine Benzinmra

Severine Benzimra lives in Montpellier, France

C. 2013 - Acidemic Journal of Film and Media - BFG LCS: 489042340244