Film: Please excuse my English

Sacre bleu! Jean-Jacques Beineix's new film is in English. Linguistic treachery, surely.
"I'M AFRAID the decadent frogs are starting to speak English," said Jean-Jacques Beineix, the French director best known for his film Betty Blue. The mock apology refers to his latest project, Deal of the Millennium, a Paris-set romantic vampire comedy, adapted from Mark Behm's novel The Ice Maiden, which is to be filmed in English.

Beineix, 52, is one of a number of eminent French directors who seem to be abandoning their native language. Last month Patrice Chereau (La Reine Margot) started filming his adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's novel Intimacy. In November, Michel Blanc began shooting The Wrong Blond. Both films are on location in Britain and are scripted in English.

So why the sudden surge in French-produced, English-language films? Chereau, for one, insists that there is no hidden commercial motive. "The fact that my film will be made in England is not an indication of anything other than the fact that I like Kureishi's novel, which is based in London," he said recently, explaining: "Transposing an English novel into a French context would not work."

Beineix is more frank. "It is for commercial reasons, let's be clear. English is becoming the universal language, and the pressures of the networks and the international distributors mean that if you make a movie costing more than $20m [pounds 12.4m], the obligation of the market is to make it in English.

"But at the same time it is a pleasure," he added. "I was 14 years old the first time I went to England, and I have never stopped speaking English since. I enjoy going to London as much as possible now." He is looking forward to his retrospective, which starts today at the Cinema Lumiere in London. From 25 to 28 February, all of Beineix's films, shorts and documentaries, spanning a 20-year period, will be shown.

These are all in French. By making his next movie in English, Beineix feels that he can strengthen his attempt to "challenge the incredible and continuous wave of American products that are unloaded by the American industry without resistance". Chereau also admitted to wanting to make a "more resilient film" to see if, by changing languages, his work could stand up to the test of the international market.

Through English, Beineix feels he will be able to "provide creativity and culture to a young audience": "I want to fight for humanism, for differences between cultures, and defend them from the industrial approach of cinema." For him, it's a battle between the cultural diversity of Europe and the Hollywood production line.

Is there not an inherent contradiction in Beineix's argument? Is he not forsaking one of the most striking cultural differences - the French language? "It would be a contradiction, if I was abandoning my style, my freedom of speech and my identity," he said. By retaining these, in English, he feels Deal of the Millennium will be a "compromise to reach more people".

To attract a wider audience he is recruiting a multinational cast. The Frenchman Jean Reno is one of the confirmed actors, and Beineix is also hoping that he can entice the English actor Jason Flemyng.

Does this new trend among French directors spell danger? If these films are commercially lucrative, other directors may follow suit, and the French film as we know it may die out. Beineix disagrees: "Because it is a mother tongue, you will always have people willing to make films in French - as long as the language is living these are false problems."

The directors argue for a "European" vision of cinema. Chereau sees Intimacy as neither French nor English: "It is more a question of France and England joining forces and resources - I prefer the term `European'." Beineix agrees. "Europeans are making a big mistake just thinking in terms of French, German, English.

"My film should be a melting-pot of all things European."

Can such a melting-pot constitute a European cinematic identity? We'll just have to wait and see.

Jean-Jacques Beineix's retrospective will take place at the Cinema Lumiere in London from 25 to 28 February

Tel: 0171-838 2144/2146