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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
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.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent