Spielberg offers a French toast

PARIS — Steven Spielberg, patching up strained relations with Paris, told French President Francois Mitterrand Tuesday that France deserves a healthy film industry and Americans should watch more foreign films.

But Spielberg, in Paris on the eve of the opening of his Oscar-nominated film “Schindler’s List,” said French films lack the powerful appeal they had in the 1950s and 1960s.

And he said one obstacle to the success of French films in the United States was that American filmgoers did not want to read subtitles, while dubbing ruined the performance.

Spielberg is the target of many militant defenders of French culture who consider films like his hit “Jurassic Park” to symbolize U.S. dominance of Europe’s cinema market.

The film director acknowledged last week that the French government, supported by Mitterrand, skillfully used a publicity blitz surrounding “Jurassic Park” last autumn to drum up support for French moviemakers and win concessions in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Paris, over U.S. opposition, succeeded in having cultural goods like movies excluded from free-trade commitments under the new world trade treaty.

“Schindler’s List,” about a German war profiteer who saved 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust, offers a more serious glimpse of Spielberg and a chance for the director to mend ties with Paris.

Mitterrand aides said he told Spielberg global blockbusters like “Schindler’s List” should not drive out productions that appeal mainly to one country. Spielberg agreed.

“I still believe that it is very important for French cinema, French culture to have their own films that are very representative of the way you think and feel today,” he told reporters after his 40-minute meeting with Mitterrand.

“I think it is important that more theaters in America receive French, Spanish, Italian and German films,” he said.

Spielberg said he and Mitterrand discussed how French movies were “explosive” in America in the 1950s and 1960s during the new wave led by directors Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

“Everybody wanted French movies in the ’50s or ’60s,” he said. “Why they don’t go as much in the ’80s or ’90s is still a question we must look into.”

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