The French cry: 'Vive le cinéma, vive la différence!'

With its movie industry thriving, France fights off Hollywood's influence

Paris

Whatever happens to The Artist and its 10 nominations at tonight's Oscar ceremony, it has been an extraordinary 12 months for French cinema.

The jury for the "French Oscars", or Césars, in Paris on Friday were spoiled for choice. Should the most glittering prizes go to a French-made, silent, black and white film about Hollywood which has conquered the world and even, er, Hollywood?

Or should they go a heart-warming comedy about physical handicap, Intouchables, which has been shattering box-office records in France?

The French film academy split the spoils, giving six Césars to The Artist, including Best Film and Best Director to Michel Hazanavicius. But the César for Best Actor went not to the star of The Artist, Jean Dujardin, but to Omar Sy, 34, the comedian-turned-actor who plays a minor criminal turned nurse and carer in Intouchables. No black actor had won the prize before.

Even leaving aside The Artist and Intouchables, it has been a remarkable cinematic year in France. Ticket sales in 2011 – €216m (£183m) – were the highest since 1967. Just over two-thirds of all French people went to the movies at least once. More than two-fifths of all seats sold last year were for French-made movies. There was a string of other critical and modest commercial successes, including Polisse, a movie about a police squad investigating child crime which won two Césars. There were also several expensive bides (flops), including big-budget films by supposedly bankable "stars" such as Luc Besson and Mathieu Kassovitz.

Last year was a powerful advertisement for the often-decried, public-and-private French approach to financing film-making – a unique model. Since much of the "public" investment comes from a 12 per cent tax on cinema tickets, success should, in theory, breed success.

The French industry, the third largest in the world, received €1.5bn from the state last year. It should be even more flush with public cash to fund films in 2012/13.

Some important figures in French cinema are, however, unimpressed by what the industry does with its money. Kassovitz, stung by the failure last year of his complex, anti-colonialist movie, L'Ordre et la Morale, posted a tweet last month stating, roughly speaking: "Screw French cinema. Go and fuck yourselves with your shit films."

There is a growing tendency, Kassovitz and other critics say, for French films to ape the worst of American styles and tastes. The Artist, a French movie made without words and about Hollywood, might seem to be the perfect target for their barbs. In fact, Kassovitz and other critics of the French industry, have saluted the wit and "Frenchness" of The Artist – even though the last quality has been disguised by its distributors in the US.

Their complaints are mostly directed at the uninspiring middle ground of French comedies, thrillers and rom-coms. The safety net of public subsidy, critics say, too often makes the film-making lazy and predictable.

Public funding also allows so-called experimental or director's movies (films d'auteur) to see the light of day in France – but not always the light of the cinema screen. Almost half of the 260 French films made each year are scarcely given public showings. A move to "digital" projection will make it even easier in future for a few films to dominate the market.

Other senior figures in the French industry reject the criticism as manifestly unfair or exaggerated. They point out that Hazanavicius cut his teeth on Hollywood-style, crowd-pleasing comedies. They also point out that the defining characteristic of French cinema in recent years has been its lack of defining characteristics, with a mix of successful films that don't conform to formats.

Who would have predicted the runaway popularity in 2008 of a comedy about the fact that people in northern France talk oddly (Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis)? Or the triumph last year of Intouchables, a buddy comedy about a rich man in a wheelchair and a wiseacre from a troubled, multi-racial suburb? Or the global success of a silent movie made in 2011?

At least, unlike Britain, France still has a complete cinema industry, which makes French thrillers, French comedies, French adventure stories, French rom-coms, French silent movies – and French flops.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen