Brit-chic lures French film makers across the Channel

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The Independent Online
WHAT ARE the indispensable ingredients for a French film? A Parisian or Provencal setting, the romantic tones of the French language, and Gerard Depardieu?

Not any more, it seems. A wave of eminent French directors is crossing the Channel to make films with a British flavour, on UK soil and in the English language.

Patrice Chereau, whose previous credits include the successful La Reine Margot, is adapting the Hanif Kureishi novel, Intimacy, the story of one man on the night he leaves his wife. Chereau describes it as "sombre but overflowing with love". He will bring a French cameraman and editor to England, but all other roles will go to British men or women.

Michel Blanc is one step ahead. In mid-November he began shooting, The Wrong Blonde, in Britain. Blanc's multinational crew includes a French producer, Claude Berri, and a British scriptwriter, Billy Mackinnon. One lead is played by Daniel Auteuil, an accomplished French actor already familiar with English roles.

It might seem British cinema is earning itself such a reputation abroad that foreign directors want to buy into it. "British cinema is becoming strong once more and that is attractive," Chereau said. "It is finding its form again. Films like The Full Monty and Michael Winterbottom's Jude are good examples of this."

Chereau spoke of his initiative in different terms. "It is more a question of France and England joining forces and resources.

"With the Eurostar, England is no longer as isolated, it is easier to travel there to make films, to co-operate with one another. I see Intimacy as neither French nor English, I prefer the term European."

He aims for a "more resilient film", which can stand up to the test of the international - for which read American - market. Is this for purely commercial reasons, or are French directors growing frustrated by their limited recognition, as a consequence of the "Frenchness" of their work?

For Chereau, it is much simpler. "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. Transposing an English novel into a French context would not work."

There is, perhaps, another explanation behind the current "English" trend among French directors. Increasingly, it seems, the French do not want to watch French films.

Cinema-going in France is booming, but French movies are taking a smaller share of the domestic market. Le Parisien estimates that during the last week of November, French films had only a 9 per cent share of the market, compared to 81 per cent held by American films and 10 per cent by films from other parts of the world.

In 1997, the biggest film in France was The Fifth Element, an American film apart from the French-born director, Luc Besson. His emigration to Hollywood was influenced by the prospect of much bigger budgets and international success.

Chereau wants the European film industries to join forces. But that begs a question: in the absence of a common European culture, can there be such a thing as a "European" film?