From: Jack Sargeant (email suppressed)
Date: Mon Jan 29 2007 - 01:39:46 PST
this was in the Guardian today newspaper (UK) today...
It's oui to rom-coms and non to art house as cinéphiles die out
Fabled celluloid genre of Truffaut and Renoir could be facing the
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Monday January 29, 2007
France has fallen dramatically out of love with the auteur and the
whole idea of art house film which it invented.
The nation that created the New Wave and elevated film-makers such as
Godard and Truffaut to god-like status, can no longer bear to sit
through anything that smacks of seriousness or pretension. So great
has the public's aversion to art house cinema become that one
distributor has warned that the very French species of the cinéphile
- the discerning movie-buff who ignores marketing hype and seeks out
intellectual masterpieces - is becoming extinct.
France's 2006 box-office takings show that after years of decline as
the public waited in vain for a new Jean Renoir or Louis Malle to
appear, art house audiences are now in freefall. Le Monde has warned
of a "catastrophe", independent producers and distributors are
haemorrhaging funds and even highbrow cinema magazines are struggling.
The public has seemingly lost trust in the nation's critics who are
seen as cossetted in a celluloid ivory tower, too pally with film-
makers and too quick to recommend the same old bleak, over-
intellectualised musings while snubbing popular hits such as Amélie.
Even French cinema's biggest names are facing meltdown.
Bruno Dumont, the award-winning golden boy of French independent film
whose recent offerings could be described as a mix of extreme
violence, extreme sex and extreme boredom, is the latest victim of
Flandres, his 2006 winner of the Cannes film festival's Grand Prix,
about young French soldiers who leave their bleak rural lives to
fight in an unnamed war, sold barely 80,000 tickets. The French
public appeared to agree with The Hollywood Reporter, which deemed it
"pretentious to the core" in its portrayal of "a clutch of dim-witted
rustics". Benoît Jacquot's The Untouchable, about a woman tracing her
father, won best actress prize at Venice. But it attracted a pitiful
French audience of 35,000 and was named by Variety as a "strong
candidate for empty French art film of the year". Indeed, most of the
shortlist for the Louis Delluc prize, France's art house Oscars, were
snubbed at the box office, including the winner, Lady Chatterley.
The only two art house films in France to attract more than 500,000
people last year were propped up by big stars: The Singer, in which
Gérard Depardieu appeared as an ageing ballroom crooner opposite the
nation's sweetheart Cecile de France, and the Page Turner, whose star
Catherine Frot attracted the crowds.
The decline in art house audiences is all the more galling as
France's low-brow commercial films are enjoying success. Last year
was a golden year for the French mainstream when 190 million people
went to the cinema. But the films they saw were not broody epics but
rom-coms and a new crop of slapstick.
France - like India, Japan and South Korea - is one of the few
countries where homegrown films stave off Hollywood domination,
helped by strict quotas to stop "American cultural imperialism". But
the popular French cinema to rival Hollywood is dumbing down.
Ironically, Les Bronzés 3, a beach romp which topped the box office
last year with 10 million seats, was directed by Patrick Leconte,
once one of French art house's great hopes. Another 5.5 million
French saw Camping, a celebration of the French working-class
devotion to putting up tents. Other hits were animation, such as
Arthur and the Invisibles.
"Cinéphilie no longer exists in France," the film distributor Thomas
Ordonneau said. Gilles Jacob, the head of Cannes film festival, has
warned that French audiences were no longer "curious" about what they
Even foreign audiences are becoming less forgiving of French films,
which can no longer coast on the memory of its 50s, 60s and 70s
heyday. France has only once won the top prize at Cannes, Berlin or
Venice in the past decade. Provisional figures show that last year,
55.8 million people worldwide saw French films, down a fifth from 2005.
Increasingly the most popular art house directors are foreigners
working in France, such as the Austrian Michael Haneke whose film
Hidden was a big hit.
The veteran French film critic, Michel Ciment, editor of Positif, one
of France's oldest cinema magazines, told the Guardian that TV was
partly to blame for turning turning out a constant stream of marketed
but "uninteresting" comedies for bland family consumption.
"Part of the problem is a lack of credibility of film critics in
France," he said. "In the 50s and 60s they would have frontpage
pieces and a huge influence. If they said an obscure film was a
masterpiece, 200,000 people would go to see it at one cinema and it
would stay on for a year. But critics in France have now lost their
power to influence, the public feel they too cosily promote friends,
are snobbish and only present esoteric films. The audience feels
"The French can boast about countering the US, but I'm not very proud
of the quality of films they are trying to counter Hollywood with.
American films like Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers or
Scorsese's The Departed are much better than the French films
audiences here are going to see."
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