The Daily Tofu

A place for art, culture, history, and creation


Film History: A History of French Cinema - A Glimpse of the French Film Business Today

FilmTrey TakahashiComment

Cannes film festival. Photo: Allison Launay

Disclaimer: This part would be more a testimony than an analysis of French cinema.

I have been working in the Film Business for some years now. I have always been a movie lover. I could feel it deep inside me even when I entered my Business School. At that time, I was predestined to work in the Luxury Business. You know, “Paris, capital of Fashion”… I did have my first professional experience in this field. And I have some stories to tell you about. Have you seen The Devil Wears Prada (2006)? Pretty much the same.

I worked for a small Paris-based production company. It was my first time working with producers. I only worked as a distributor and sales agent until that time.

 My ex-boss used to tell me:

“Ally, you‘ll soon discover it, but there are two kinds of directors, like there are two kind of producers.”

He was right, but I didn’t realize it until I immersed myself in Film Festivals, box offices, discovering what is at stake, how the cash machine works.

There is the director who makes a film to make money, to entertain viewers, and the director who makes movie for pride, for prize, to move us, to disturb us. Usually, directors who favor their work, face difficulties with their producers. (Coucou la Weinstein Company!).

Cast of Entre le murs (2008) at the Cannes film festival in 2008. Photo: Georges Biard

So I asked my ex-boss in which category he thinks he belongs to. “The second one” he said. Yet I remember walking around in the subway station, seeing these huge movie posters from his company, promising the viewers a giant American-style French blockbuster. He told me that he failed eventually, to produce an such a movie. I was working for this company when they released a Palme d’or winner‘s newest movie Entre le murs (2008). It got several prizes in 2014. But less than 50 ,000 people went to the cinema to see it. You don’t need to be a movie professional to know that this is a failure for a company, even though this film was multi-awarded and very well-directed. Truth is, prize doesn’t bring in money. However, cash had never been this director particular goal--He is an artist, he knows it, but he is so humble at the same time. And trust me, this attitude is very rare nowadays.

It was terribly exciting to work close to directors, to meet actors and not-so famous celebrities. You know, this particular kind of person who starred in a low-budget movie but feels like an Academy Awards winner.

I remember the first time I attended Cannes Film Festival. I was a film buyer at that moment. It means I was allowed to walk on the red carpet alongside glamourous American actors. It also means that I was able to attend many private parties. I was a newcomer in the Film Business (I believe I am still one) so I was following my boss everywhere, introducing myself to our partners in deals. My ex-boss told me that working in this field was a matter of subterfuge.

“Go to the parties, you have to be seen in public. People must know your name if you want to survive”. He said.

An invitation to a private party at the Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Allison Launay

Indeed. I had to greet some studios representatives with a big smile, wishing them the best for the future. I was literally hitting on them. The reason? I wasn’t not only a film buyer, I was a junior TV sales executive. My boss and I needed these persons to have a deeper look at our TV series and movies. Everybody knows everybody in the French entertainment business. Be a jerk once when making a deal, and you will be a jerk your entire life. Reputation is all you have. It’s your most precious thing.

And I unexpectedly liked it. Going to the parties, having a drink with the French first lady (who-is-not-really-our-first-lady-but-kind-of), with some French actors I really hate (But I liked the fact I was pretending to fangirl), trying to get along with Sales Executives and TV buyers from big companies. If reputation is everything, I hope I made good impression.

I also discovered that, first I was naïve, second, when you want to step in the film industry, when you have interviews to enter a distribution company, a pretty face is a huge advantage. HOW COULD I NOT KNOW THIS?

Was it my case? I truly don’t know. I am not the prettiest girl you ever seen, but on good days I am charming as hell. I remember this particular day when my ex-bosses tried to find somebody to come after me. I selected resumes which I found the most interesting and with the required skills. A month after, they chose, I must confess, a very beautiful but dumb woman with no professional experience. I heard later on that my ex-bosses were known in the film industry for their standards. Reputation guys, reputation.

We are in August 2015, I am still wondering if they chose me for my skills, for my beautiful greyish eyes, or as a plan B.

Pretty sure it wasn’t for my breast.

The food and views were great though. Photo: Allison Launay

-Allison Launay

Film History: A History of French Cinema (Part 2) - A Story of Passion, Seduction, and Survival

Film, Opinion, HistoryTrey TakahashiComment

Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle (1960)

If you have deeper look at what films France produces each year, you will discover that we release rather clumsy comedies and dull dramas. I will never say that all French films are all bad, but they simply do not compare to those we produced in the past. Simply take a moment and go on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and look at the highest rated French films. There might be a few from the 21st century, but looking at when a majority of the films were released, you will know what I mean.

Luc Besson at Wondercon. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

 Nowadays, French films are somewhat interesting, but not exactly entertaining. Who goes to the cinema without expecting any form of entertainment? I am the first one to choose the latest movie of the Terminator franchise rather than a movie pointed out human misery and that makes me feel absolutely miserable. Films you can find in any Paris cinema can be divided in three categories: American blockbusters, critically acclaimed award winners, and the “others:” Luc Besson’s movies (And, he could represent a category alone to me), indie films, low-budget comedies, dramas, &c.

Of course there are few exceptions. This is how the cash machine works:

The French like making films about what they know best: France, their most iconic singers, designers or actors. Unlike Marvel that seems to target a very specific kind of viewers, French producers try to target a larger public. The larger, the better, eh? They know that we, French people from 10 to 80 y/o, can afford to buy a ticket to see a biopic about Yves Saint Laurent rather than paying for Guardians of The Galaxy (2014). But how about the power of French films abroad? Are Americans as excited as we are when a movie about Cloclo comes up (“Who’s Cloclo?”). Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in The Artist (2011)

I am the first one to admit that The Artist (2011) from Michel Hazanavicius was risky but a breath of fresh air at the same time. La Môme (2007) from French film-maker Olivier Dahan became unexpectedly very famous across the world, which did not happen since Amelie (2001). The reason? Telling the story of a worldwide-known deceased and iconic singer. Everybody knows Edith Piaf. And if you do not? Perhaps the songs “La Vie En Rose” and “l’Hymne A l’Amour” come to mind. I believe that Piaf still represents a fundamental aspect of popular culture. Numerous songs are used in films and other media such as Nolan’s hit Inception (2010) and the military epic Saving Private Ryan (1998). Sometimes when I meet foreigners, I ask them three words that best describe France or French culture. Piaf is always mentioned. Perhaps not her full name, but at least one of her songs.

Audrey Tautou in the famed film Amélie (2007)

Let look at some other examples of how France seduces American culture. But first let me ask why is Amelie (2001) one of our biggest success abroad? Simply because there has always been this fantasy about France, about Paris, capital of love. Jean Pierre Jeunet who directed this film succeeded in making people fantasize about our country. On behalf of French people, I apologize. Living in Paris isn't like Amelie (2001).

Marion Cotillard. Photo credit: Studio Harcourt Paris

French cinema survives through the careers of its best actors. There is this passion for French actresses and actors that makes me sometimes, proud of contemporary French filmmakers and their works. I remember that particular evening I was watching the Academy Awards when Marion Cotillard was a nominee for her role in La Môme (2007). I stayed up almost all night due to jetlag just watch the show (and dozed off the next day in class).

The day after, I carried the attitude: “Yup guys, bow down… bow down, we won!”

I then became a fan of the actress. It’s terrible to like an actress only because she got the top prize. I idolized her for years. Any news saying that she was casted in an American movie made me even happier.

Until I became a movie expert and had a deeper look at her acting (and that particular scene in The Dark Knight (2008). You know which one--I know you know.)

Working in the film business made me grow up in my approach to French film. Now I follow the careers of actresses who truly astonish me with their acting, hoping and praying that they get recognized for their talent someday. The French actress Eva Green is one example, and I would recommend everyone immediately binge-watch series Penny Dreadful.  She is the daughter of the acclaimed New Wave actress Marlène Jobert. I recall reading an article where she stated that she does not understand why Eva Green plays roles in indie movies, movies that “nobody watches.” I did watch Cracks (2009), the first Jordan Scott’s feature. I did watch White Bird in a Blizzard (2014) from Gregg Araki too. And trust me, it was awesome.

Recently, another French actress made her debut in an American movie. Well, not exactly her debut, since she has a small role in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011). But she gained a lot of attention thanks to the success of Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013). Lea Seydoux has not only a famous name and grandfather, she is also talented—very talented. I believe that her performance in the next James Bond movie Spectre (2015) will surprise us. In a good way.

Truth is, French cinema is no longer exciting. I had numerous appointments with screenwriters. I read many scripts over the past years. And what I felt wasn’t disappointment, but sadness.  Sadly, everything is so controlled that it is very hard to make a film nowadays in France. We no longer have the freedom to create and experiment--

Something has died, an element that is, I believe, the most important thing when it comes to movies: creativity.

To follow along with this series, click here

To check out Part 1 in this series, click here

-Allison Launay