French Culture Minister Vows to Reform Movie Ratings System

PARIS — Audrey Azoulay, who recently took over as France’s culture minister from Fleur Pellerin, has vowed to reform the local ratings system and strengthen its board, whose decisions have repeatedly been criticized by conservative values group Promouvoir.

Azoulay was reacting to a report commissioned by Pellerin and put together by Jean-François Mary, the president of the French film-classification board, which highlighted the necessity to clarify ratings rules for movies containing violence and sex in order to prevent further attacks from Promouvoir.

Regulated by the National Film Board, CNC, the commission comprises of members from the film industry, guilds, parents, psychologists and civic society, including various orgs dedicated to protecting families and children.

In the last year, Promouvoir, the org headed by far-right-affiliated leader Andre Bonnet that claims to fight for the preservation of Judeo-Christian values and heterosexual families, has gained grounds, prompting heated debates over censorship and the country’s growing conservative bent.

Promouvoir indeed successfully disputed ratings of movies such as Gaspar Noe’s 3D sex odyssey “Love” and most recently Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or-winning “Blue Is the Warmest Color” with Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos.

After its world premiere in Cannes, “Love” was given a -16 rating by the French board, but Promouvoir intervened and got it changed to -18 due to the fact that it includes non-simulated sex scenes. However, the -18 rating, which is traditionally reserved to adult films, is a major — if not fatal — blow to a film’s commercial life: It means the movie can’t be shown in regular theaters and cannot be shown on TV.

Promouvoir also managed to have the operating visa of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” revoked by a Paris court over two years after its original release due to “realistic sex scenes.” The movie had previously been given a -12 rating by the classification board.

Based on Mary’s report, Azoulay said she was in favor of scraping the recent French amendement stating that any non-simulated sex in films automatically leads to a -18 rating. The minister said the -18 rating will be attributed to movies containing scenes of sex or great violence “without any esthetic justification” which could “disturb the sensibility of minors or lead to trivializing violence.”

Another change that Azoulay wishes to make is to shorten the duration of legal procedures, for instance in case of appeals. Procedure delays have indeed caused certain movies to have different ratings at various stages of their commercial exploitation.

Azoulay’s support for the classification board has been applauded by the local film community, in particular the ARP (authors, directors and producers’ guild), which noted Azoulay’s willingness to pursue the work initiated by Pellerin. “As the minister Audrey Azoulay reminded us, the (classification) commission alone is capable of taking into account the singularity of films it analyses while taking into consideration of the protection of youth and principles of freedom of creation,” declared the org.

Besides “Love” and “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” Promouvoir has been targeting a flurry of recent releases, notably Eva Husson’s “Bang Gang.” The movie, coming-of-age tale centering around teenagers testing the limits of their sexuality, got an – 12 rating after its world premiere at Toronto. Although Promouvoir did not obtain permission to watch the movie before its release last month, it has filed a claim to have its operating permit revoked.

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