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« Guest Posting -- Rick Darby | Main | Postmodernism for Dummies »

August 26, 2003

La Mort du Cinema Francais?

Friedrich --

The other day, I was talking to a young Frenchman (17ish -- an older French boy?). Very bright -- going into engineering, just got his Bac -- and well-traveled for a kid his age. I asked him about the movies he and his friends choose to see. He told me that, with only a few big-hit exceptions ("Amelie" was the one he cited), they almost never go see French movies, which they find boring. "Nothing happens in them," he said with a good Gallic shrug. Instead, he and his buds go to the same American movies everyone else sees.

Rather wittily, I thought, he said he prefers movies with lots of explosions, and where glamorous stars do a lot of running.



posted by Michael at August 26, 2003


Mother of Mercy...Is this the end of Ricaux?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 26, 2003 11:46 AM

Alas, French cinema has only survived as long as it has because of governmental funding and strict import quotas. As anyone familiar with the British film industry in the early sound era can tell you, this is a surefire recipe for artistic disaster.

There's no incentive for French filmmakers to make the innovative, crowd-pleasing entertainment that American films have traditionally excelled at. Instead, the French tend to offer stodgy costume dramas and small-scale character studies, the products of an industry desperately trying to prove its respectability to the authorities. Small wonder, then, that Francois Ozon, possibly the most talented French filmmaker outside of the now-geriatric "New Wave" generation, has decided over the past few years to work mostly in English-language cinema.

The closest French filmmaking has come to a rip-roaring audience-pleaser in recent years was Brotherhood of the Wolf. The film is preposterous, and it starts out much too slowly. But once the plot gets rolling it's a lot of fun, which is more than I could say for most French films today.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on August 26, 2003 12:23 PM

I'll have to keep this in mind, the next time someone tries to tell me the French are more cultured even among my younger demographics. Just like your young French friend, I watch almost only American movies, except for "Amelie."

Posted by: Max Leibman on August 26, 2003 12:46 PM

Tim, what Ozon movie is in English? Everything I have seen is in French.

Your description of Hollywood vs. French cinema leaves the money out of the equation. Like every country except America, France does not have the domestic market to support modern big-budget filmmaking. Filmakers making small character-driven movies around the world not to please their governments, but to be able to make movies on a financially feasible scale.

I find Michael's story unsurprising. Every country in the world has seventeen-year-old engineering students with simple tastes. Is this supposed to prove something about the French?

Posted by: Susan K. on August 26, 2003 12:56 PM

BTW, a great French film from a couple of years ago is Une Liaison Pornographique. Give it a try.

Posted by: Susan K. on August 26, 2003 1:00 PM

Oh, take it easy on French Cinema!

So they can't do the "innovative, crowd-pleasing entertainment that American films have traditionally excelled at.", huh? Well, US films are definately more "crowd pleasing", but "innovative" you have to be kidding! For every "Matrix" there are at least 100 Gigli's.

I don't know if the French success rate is any higher than the US one. It probably isn't. What is different is that what the academie francaise counts as a "success" and it is *very* different to the point of being almost unknown in US cinema. As has been posted on this blog, movies aren't made for the grad school educated or even the literate. They're made for teenagers.

French movies are made for a vastly different audience, one that likes to be challenged and is more impressed with an slow emotional implosion than a car explosion. So, what we have is French society subsidizing films that someone like me is more likely to enjoy. I can handle that. Go Canal Plus!

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on August 26, 2003 2:06 PM

When Eric Rohmer surprises the hell out of everyone and shoots "The Lady and the Duke" in CG, when Godard's films remain sadly irrelevant, and when the French filmmakers to watch are provocateurs like Ozon and Gaspar Noe, or visualists like Jeneut, is this necessarily a bad thing? Newsflash: Nouvelle vague died decades ago. But if you're getting your berets in a bunch, check out traditionalists like Erick Zonca (who sadly hasn't turned out anything in the past three years: a fait accopmli for realism?).

Posted by: Ed on August 26, 2003 3:11 PM

To Susan K.: Ozon's most recent film, Swimming Pool, is in English. Considering that Under the Sand was also partly in English, it looks like Ozon is slowly gravitating toward the Anglosphere.

I don't think we can say that France is too small for a profitable, privatized film industry: After all, there are some sixty million people in France. Indeed, the evidence shows that the French can make movies people enjoy: Crowd-pleasing French films like Brotherhood of the Wolf and Amelie have showed domestic profits, then gone on to become international hits. We'll probably never say that for more typical French offerings like Leconte's Man on the Train -- but we don't have to, since French taxpayers will be footing the bills, and French quotas will ensure that the film will play domestically whether anyone wants to see it or not.

To Robert: Yes, many American movies are made for teenagers. That's because teenagers actually go to the movies. When a government isn't giving you your money, you have to create entertainment that appeals to your audience -- and if that audience consists of teenagers, so be it. (Add to this several absurd regulations which make it effectively impossible to advertise R-rated films to parents, and the tyranny of the PG-13 is well and truly fixed.)

In most areas of the country "grown-ups" don't actually go out to the cinema, waiting until films come out on video or DVD and watching them at home. This is why more sophisticated films like One Hour Photo eventually show tidy $100-million-plus grosses, despite initially underwhelming box office returns.

Whatever its faults, the much-maligned Gigli is a film made for adult audiences, while Matrix: Reloaded, visually striking as it is, is clearly manufactured for teenagers (even if they have to sneak in the theater to see it). So it's more accurate to say that for every Gigli in wide release this summer, there have been at least ten Matrix-like sequels.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on August 26, 2003 8:02 PM

Everyone registers that the 2Blowhards have no opinion here, right? If some bright young 21st century French kid's moviegoing habits strike us as interesting, well, hey, we're interested. We just observe and pass what we see along. We also go to the occasional Hollywood movie, and the occasional French movie too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 27, 2003 12:07 AM

I guess my only question is whether you'd find that remark as witty or as interesting if it came out of the mouth of a bright, young American kid, living in New York?

Posted by: J.W. on August 27, 2003 7:21 AM

Out of the mouth of a bright, young American kid, living in New York, it would be an entirely different remark.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on August 27, 2003 11:26 AM

A witty characterization of today's typical Hollywood product no matter whose mouth it comes from, no? Can you do better in 15 words or less? I can't.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 27, 2003 12:41 PM

French cinema is diying. Yes.

But all cinema is dead !

Where is the work of the Lumiere's brothers?

Hum.. there is only place for capitalist' entertainment..

Cinema IS dead...

Posted by: Njko on December 28, 2003 8:00 PM

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