FILM / Overpaid, oversexed, everywhere: Action] Jean-Pierre Rappeneau, the director of Cyrano de Bergerac, says Europe must fight back against the American film industry

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Jean-Pierre Rappeneau, along with most of the French film industry, is lobbying passionately against the Gatt talks - the aim of which is to remove world trade barriers - and for legal measures to protect European national cinemas. Tempers are frayed: director Claude Berri (the director of Jean de Florette) said he did not 'intend to be buggered by the American film industry . . .' Here Rappeneau talks to Sheila Johnston.

'It's in the French character to get excited about this. I've been reading terrible things about us in the American newspapers. The Wall Street Journal said we were useless, trying to defend a dying cinema. Things like that make us mad.'

The French newspaper Liberation reports that US films account for only 58.7 per cent of the French market; in Britain, it is 93 per cent. Aren't the French making a fuss about nothing?

'Ten or twelve years ago those proportions were exactly reversed: French films accounted for about 60 per cent of our market. Now it's the other way round. And the reason for the strength of our cinema is only due to the laws in France. If they disappear we'll be in the same position as Britain. We're the last pocket of resistance, but Gatt is not just a French issue, it's also a European issue. We're the last of the Mohicans. Voila] Fellini has died, and I feel it's almost symbolic: the Italian cinema, which was one of the most important, which has given us so many marvellous films, was swept aside within months. The government let all the laws lapse, and it's finished. We all loved the British cinema, and now new film- makers are forced to emigrate. Germany - let's not talk about that. If independent cinema in Europe disappears in the name of free enterprise, it will probably be greeted with complete indifference from the French public.

'People don't really realise what's going on. Even my own friends say to me, 'You're exaggerating, there'll always be (French) films.' I tell them, 'Mais non, there won't be any.'

'At least French politicians have become aware of the problem, the main one being President Mitterrand. He recently gave a speech in Gdansk in which he said we shouldn't allow one country to control the images of the whole world. Throughout the centuries, each nation has had the power to represent itself, in its own images. If that power is given over to another country, it signals the death of the culture and, eventually, of the nation itself.'

A film from the enemy, Jurassic Park, opened in France two weeks ago against a home-grown hit, Claude Berri's Germinal.

'It has knocked Germinal from the top of the charts, but Germinal is still doing very well; strangely, in small towns, it's doing better than Jurassic Park. And on television, the viewing figures are always better for French films than for American ones.

'My next film is an adaptation of a book I adore called Le Hussard sur le toit - I think it's been translated into English under the title The Horseman on the Roof. Keanu Reeves was very eager to play the main role, he came to see me and we got along well. But I'm still going to try, for the next few years at least, to shoot films in French. It's part of defending our language. With Keanu Reeves it would become a melting-pot film. He's probably disappointed but that's the way it is.'

(Photograph omitted)