PARIS — French film guilds have rallied to support Gaspar Noe’s “Love,” the Cannes-preeming pic that is on the radar of Gaul’s minister of culture and communication Fleur Pellerin. The minister has asked the classification commission to reconsider its rating of “under-16 with warning,” aiming to secure for the film an under-18 rating (equivalent to NC-17). The measure would seriously damage the movie’s commercial prospects, limiting its theatrical release and television life.
The French movie community fears Pellerin is caving in to pressures from Promouvoir, an organization led by Andre Bonnet, a former leader of Bruno Megret’s far-right party, the National Republican Movement, which recently engineered the cancellation of “Saw 3D’s” exhibition visa in France, following a five-year legal battle. Promouvoir also managed to get “Saw 3D’s” rating upped to under-18 (from the previous under-16) by the French Council of State.
As the far-right National Front party gains more ground in France, the local film industry fears a repressive and regressive impact on freedom of expression, and as a result an obstacle to the financing/exhibition of thought-provoking and daring movies that have allowed France to become a haven for critically acclaimed auteurs from around the world.
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Founded in 1996 by Bonnet, Promouvoir claims to fight for the preservation of Judeo-Christian values and heterosexual families. Bonnet, who mostly keeps a low profile, has nevertheless been a vocal opponent to same-sex marriage and denounces homosexuality in films as pornographic and prone to deteriorate moral standards.
“We are living through a period of crucial, apocalyptical gravity: Homosexual marriage is the first stone of something much bigger that (authorities) are hiding to you,” Bonnet said during “Manif Pour Tous,” a protest against same-sex marriage in Marseille in March 2013. Bonnet had made his most virulent xenophobic and homophobic remarks under the pseudonym Patrice André. In one of the various Youtube videos posted under Patrice André, Bonnet says “same-sex marriage is part of secret government plot to abolish gender.”
Promouvoir obtained its first victory against the classification commission in 2000 with Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s “Rape Me,” whose rating was changed to under-18. It obtained under-18 ratings for Larry Clark and Edward Lachman’s “Ken Park” and Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac Volume 2.” But it also lost several battles, including those for “Blue Is the Warmest Color” and “Antichrist.”
In the case of “Love,” film guilds such as the authors, directors and producers’ ARP, which is co-presided over by Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), claim Pellerin’s intervention threatens the commission’s credibility, defeating its purpose as well as weakening its independence. Lastly, film industryites argue the minister is only looking to prevent another disagreement with Promouvoir and the Council of State; a maneuver deemed as dangerous as a slippery slope toward preemptive censorship.
Regulated by the National Film Board, CNC, the commission comprises members of the film industry, guilds, parents, psychologists and civic society, including various orgs dedicated to protecting families and children.
“Our commission gave ‘Love’ an under-16 with warning, which is a fair rating reflecting modern society, considering that the age of consent in France is 15 years old,” said Luc Beraud, a member of the classification board who represents the ARP guild.
Another member of the commission, Pascal Kané, said the board’s job is not only to protect youths but also to educate them through films, teaching them freedom of expression and inspiring creativity.
“We are utterly surprised about (Pellerin’s) approach, which has up until now been reserved to an association of extreme conservatism,” said Wild Bunch, the Paris-based company that sells the film in international markets and is set to release it July 15 in France.
Vincent Maraval, Wild Bunch’s co-founder, has been infuriated by the furor surrounding “Love’s” rating. “The fact that a National Front supporter is able to take hostage the classification commission in France underlines a democratic flaw that a minister can’t allow,” he said.
The Council of State recently passed a bill to have all films featuring extreme violence and real sex to be systematically rated under-18. But although Noe’s film, “Love,” portrays real sex, ratings board members have underlined the romantic nature of the film, which centers on a lustful and passionate love story between a young American director and an art student in Paris. The 3D film features various explicit sex scenes but isn’t shot like a porno film.
“The rising influence of Promouvoir is scary,” said Regine Vial, producer and head of distribution at Les Films du Losange, the company handling von Trier’s films in France.
“When films are rated (under-18), it is a huge handicap for their career in TV, because they can only be programmed in slots dedicated to adult movies. So TV buyers keep asking us for “Nymphomaniac: Volume 1″ only since it was rated under-16, which allows them to schedule it after 10 p.m.,” she said. But Vial adds, “‘Nymphomaniac’ is a very dark, pessimistic work, which translates Lars von Trier’s anxiety through depressive characters. It is obviously not a pornographic film.”
Bonnet is highly aware of the fatal blow that an under-18 rating represents. In a recent interview with TVLibertes, a connected-TV blog affiliated with the far right, Bonnet said, “These films are often very boring, they are usually auteur films like the ones that were made 30 years ago (…) and the rating has a direct impact of the commercial life of these movies. Secondary markets (TV, VOD and DVD) are essential for these movies because if there were only relying on theatrical exhibition it would be a disaster.”
The fate of “Love” will be sealed in the coming days, following the classification board’s second screening of the film scheduled for Tuesday.
A rep for Promouvoir could not be reached for comment.