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An industry that despises its customers, and I don’t mean Hollywood

I shall miss the Times. My subscription only has a few weeks left to run. I cancelled it because it is no longer permitted to comment under a pseudonym. Will I still see interesting little stories like this when I make my hejira to the Telegraph? “French cinema is full of flops, says former culture minister Roselyne Bachelot”

In an extraordinary attack, Roselyne Bachelot, who was replaced last May after two years in President Macron’s cabinet, has settled her score with an arts establishment with which she had clashed. The highly subsidised film industry is her chief target in her memoirs, 682 Days — The Hypocrites’ Ball.

To ensure France’s “cultural exception”, the film industry is “stuffed with money” allowing it turn out more films than anywhere else in Europe, but its members complain endlessly about their conditions, she writes.

“The famous ‘cultural exception’ allows very many French films ‘not to find their public’, as they say politely, or more explicitly, to be flops,” she writes. “This system also guarantees lead actors to earn fabulous fees, three or four times higher than actors in the American independent cinema.”

The system, which includes direct subsidies, tax breaks and advances on box office earnings, pours hundreds of millions of euros a year into production, “creating an assisted economy that hardly cares about the tastes of spectators and is even contemptuous of popular, profitable films,” she added.

Good stuff, but do not assume that she has seen the light about the enervating effect of state subsidy. An article I found in an outlet new to me, The Fashion Vibes, said:

However, she [Mme* Bachelot] denied that her comments about the film’s financing implied that she felt France was pouring too much government money into the film.

“Oh no! It makes perfect sense to continue it. If France is the only European country with a film industry which in turn feeds an industry on the platforms, it is because of the policy we have had since 1946 , since the creation of the National Cinema Center (CNC),” she said. We must keep it.”

*I had better be careful to use the correct title – Madame Bachelot herself was instrumental in the banning of the term “Mademoiselle” from French government documents. I have no objection to that, so long as the “ban” is limited to being an instruction to civil servants.

7 comments to An industry that despises its customers, and I don’t mean Hollywood

  • Patrick Crozier

    Their regulation was bad but mine will be really good.

    I understand that the subsidy process specifically excludes anything that might be commercial – like an action scene – so French films have to be boring.

  • Roué le Jour

    When I had access to them, I enjoyed French films very much. I don’t mind subsidies as long as it’s some other sucker paying them. I found French films a welcome change from Hollywood, which seems to be currently making three hour video game cut scenes and calling it a movie.

    One thing I find interesting is that the UK could not do the same thing. French films extol Frenchness, there is no one in the British arts establishment who could bring themselves to extol Britishness.

  • Steven R

    I fail to see why the French government’s job to foot the bill or why the French taxpayers continue to allow it. Surely there are wealthy Frenchmen that will act as patrons of the arts. Let them pay for the cinematic geniuses if it’s so important.

    Of course, I say that as the National Endowment of the Arts budget for FY2023 is 207 million.

  • Martin

    If forced to (generally I’d rather watch older films regardless of which country they come from) pick between a new French film or new Hollywood film, I’d most likely punt on the former. French cinema perhaps deserves all the negative stereotypes it has, but Hollywood is so awful nowadays it’s beyond parody. Besides, it’s not as if Hollywood films don’t get government funding either.

  • Steven R

    I’ve watched exactly five new movies since 2015: Minions, Star Wars Ep7, The Many Saints of Newark, Despicable Me 3, and Minions 2. (A: clearly I love those little yellow guys, B: Disney killed any interest I had in SW, and C: The Sopranos prequel was criminally underrated). I watched movies and TV to be entertained, not to be preached at or to have to ponder for days before I finally “get it” by having some pretentious navel-gazer condescendingly explain it to me.

    I’m a simple man. I like being able to turn my brain off for two hours. Give me car chases, gun fights, gratuitous and exploitative nudity, and some good pre-and post-kill quips and I’m completely happy.

  • Alex

    I used to love going to the movies. It was a nice experience, pleasantly free market too with several screens showing different things, reasonable competition keeping pricing acceptable and lots of options of food and drink. The junk eaten at cinemas was confined to a journey to a cinema, so some several times a year at most for me at least. At home I suppose you could eat popcorn for days which is not a good idea for anyone but once a month at the cinema (with some associated walking to and from the bus/train/car) is probably fairly harmless when compared say to the effects of drinking three pints of beer several times a week, something else a lot of British blokes used to do on a regular basis.

    The movies were entertaining. Not always very good, but nearly always entertaining. Now they’re dreck. I haven’t been to the cinema in years, the last film I watched was pre-COVID, a Clint Eastwood one (not the most recent, the one before). The Marvel stuff leaves me cold. I’m generally a fan of genre films, sci-fi etc, but also of quiet little dramas. The variety on offer today is appalling, Hollywoke produces nothing but endless Marvel and DC rubbish that “subverts” the audience expectations and with awful messaging, deconstructing the comic book heroes. I was never particularly a fan of comic book stuff anyway (X-Men was my sole and relatively weak interest in that space) but it seems to me kids do not go to a movie to watch their hero ground into the dirt and shat all over. Combined with this now omnipresent idea that you have to have a character that looks like you, is the same gender as you, is the same race as you, has the same disability as you to feel “represented” surely they’re almost done destroying any actual relatability or desire for kids to actually watch this stuff? And there’s already nothing left for adults. Hollywood is hopefully on the verge of death.

    Compared to that, how bad can the French cinema scene be? If they can make a film where any character comes out looking reasonably good, where there’s some interest beyond the utterly juvenile, then French taxpayers probably have much more pressing concerns to think about before ever cutting a centime of that funding. I’m off to have a look to see if there’s a French film I’d like to watch tonight.

  • Paul Marks

    There are many stories about France and famous French people of the past that would attract French audiences to the cinema – but the French cultural establishment would not want to make them, this is the tragedy. A tragedy that is also very far advanced in the United States and the United Kindom.

    However, the cultural establishment in France is not nearly as bad as it used to be – it used to be said that books by Karl Marx, “Lenin”, and Mao were not to be found in the alphabetical sections of French book shops but were filed in order of in a special section – as “must reads” starting with Marx, then going on to “Lenin”, and then to Mao. That would NOT be true today – France seems to have got over this fixation.

    Presently there is a bland sameness about the French media, at least to judge by French English language news and current affairs (yes I know – a poor entry into French culture) and those French films that turn up in the English speaking world – the output is less offensive (it has a little more style) than the American and British “mainstream” stuff, but it is ideologically much the same.

    This is horrible irony – the French government subsidies are supposed to enable an independent culture to flourish, but the message from French cinema is the same “liberal left” line one gets from British and American cinema (ditto for television and literature) – it is not independent, it is more like an echo. Although, yes, perhaps with a bit more style.

    To end on a positive note – Polish films do seem to cast a different note at least the historical films – which are often heroic.

    I have no idea if they are subsidised or not – but they are worth seeing.