PARIS — By most appearances, French cinema continues to thrive, with more than 200 French films released in a typical year, taking at least 50% of the theatrical market.
But some in the industry say that despite outward success, the art part of the equation has gone missing, due to filmmakers’ reliance on funding from state and TV subsidies.
It’s been 20 years since a French film won Cannes’ Palme d’Or, 18 since one took home Berlin’s Golden Bear, and 19 years since the last Golden Lion, according to Pierre Henri Deleau, who created Cannes’ Directors Fortnight and ran it for 30 years.
“Where are the French films that are too long, too expensive, black-and-white, politically incorrect, with no stars?” ask helmers Michel Ferry and Lionel Delplanque, who put together the recent event “Forbidden: the Festival of Films We Can No Longer Make.” Organized by L’arp, the independent producer/director’s union, the Paris fest screened seven films, each groundbreaking in its time, followed by panel discussions.
Most French producers take advantage of financing available through the state tax on theatrical receipts, and French television is required to invest part of its profits in French films.
Deleau blames French producers for not taking risks. “They’re too comfortable,” he says.
Manuel Alduy of Canal Plus sums it up, “The cinema depends on television because the cinema has required television to finance cinema. It is a forced marriage.” Although TV channels have different tastes, in order to make a film of a certain budget in France, a producer needs backing from two TV channels. The result is an even greater homogeneity.
The explicit film “Baise-moi” — partly financed by Canal Plus — brought back Gaul’s over-18 rating four years ago. But according to Sylvie Hubac, president of France’s Ratings Commission, almost all the films her commission has seriously debated over the past few years have been made outside France. The possibility of an over-12 or over-16 rating can keep a French film from finding financing, especially through traditional channels .
Helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet spent 10 years trying to make his first feature, and now he advises young filmmakers to follow the American approach: Take advantage of digital technologies and make their films outside the system. “You just need a good idea,” he says. “That doesn’t cost anything.”