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French Moviegoers Out in Force in Spite of Slim Film Offer (EXCLUSIVE)

Juliette Binoche The Good Wife Movie
Courtesy of Memento Films International

Europe’s biggest nation of moviegoers, France, saw its theaters reopen with a bang on June 22 and managed to sell between 850,000 and 900,000 admissions through Sunday.

It’s roughly 50% less than an average week in June, but considering the dearth of fresh releases, the heat wave, which plagued most of the country last week, and fears of a second wave of COVID-19, it’s an “outstanding result that is beyond our most optimistic forecast,” said Eric Marti at Comscore France. Theaters had been shutdown for more than two months.

The admission tally is particularly strong since not all theaters were open during the first part of the week. Indeed, only about 60% of theaters had reopened on Monday and Tuesday, and by Wednesday there were 85% of them, said Marti. Today, most of France’s 2,040 cinemas and 5,700 screens are active.

“As many as 660,000 admissions were sold between Wednesday and Sunday, when almost all the venues had reopened, so it shows that French people have an eagerness to return to theaters,” said Marti.

Unlike in other countries, France also imposed very few restrictions on admissions. “A cap of 50% of auditorium capacities had been initially set before being abandoned on the eve of reopening, and the mask is only mandatory outside of the auditorium,” said Marc-Olivier Sebbag at the FNCF (national federation of exhibitors). Although there is no cap, there needs to be an empty seat on each side in between each patron. Groups – not necessarily people living in the same household — can sit together, however.

France’s box-office results are therefore comparatively bigger than in neighboring countries where cinemas have recently reopened. Germany’s cinema attendance is between 70% and 90% down, and Spain is between 90% and 95% down on an average week in June, for instance. In the Netherlands, meanwhile, admissions are almost on par with France’s, but the country has the advantage of having four fresh local movies. In France, however, theaters reopened with only one new French release, KMBO’s “Filles de Joie,” which ranks 10th.

A couple of re-released pics, Memento Distribution’s “How to Be a Good Wife” with Juliette Binoche, and SND’s World War II-set biopic “De Gaulle” are now leading the box-office chart, and exhibitors are eagerly awaiting Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” to lure the masses. The successive postponing of the film from July 17 to July 31 and now Aug. 12 is leaving local exhibitors with a large gap to fill in July. Along with “How to Be a Good Wife” and “De Gaulle,” the first week’s B.O. was also topped by Disney’s “Onward,” Condor’s “Mr. Jones” and UPI’s “Invisible Man.”

A steady flow of mainstream local pics like “Divorce Club,” a buzzy comedy by Michaël Youn due to come out on July 14, could keep theaters afloat, but most French distributors have postponed their releases until the end of the year or even early 2021. France’s National Film Board recently unveiled an incentive for distributors and producers who release their films before Aug. 31, but so far it has proven mostly unfruitful. The few anticipated non-U.S. releases planned for August include Apollo Films’ “Bigfoot Family,” a European 3D animated feature by Ben Stassen.