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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on