FESTIVALS: France's Mainstream vs. Indies - Either way, Women Offer Hope
by Andrea Meyer and Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE/3.13.2000) -- Except for the rare and raw talent of Erick Zonca ("The Dreamlife of Angels", "The Little Thief") the last year has been a frustrating one for Francophiles. At Cannes 1999, for example, films such as "Pola X" and "L'Humanité" drew audible wrath and laughs from North American critics, and the country's industry seemed to be applauded more for financing David Lynch's "The Straight Story" and Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog," than their own movies.
A few films in U.S. release had their fans, of course: Patrice Chereau's "Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train" (drama-lovers); Francis Veber's "The Dinner Game" (satirists), Olivier Assayas' "Late August, Early September" (intellectuals), Leos Carax's "Lovers on the Bridge" (poets); Catherine Breillat's "Romance" (perverts) and Gaspar Noé's "I Stand Alone" (sickos).
But there were no breakout successes among French exports to the US - at least nothing comparable to a certain Italian named Benigni or Spaniard named Almodovar. Still, France's industry remains one of the most important in the world. According to Daniel Toscan du Plantier, President of Unifrance, French films account for 50% of the foreign films distributed in the United States. So it is always with a careful eye that filmgoers and industry-ites look to les films Français.
With the Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual Rendezvous with French Cinema series (March 10-19), one gets a glimpse of what's happening. And the representative list reflects an industry not unlike our own: with familiar mainstream genre blockbusters on one hand and deep, penetrating, art-house flicks on the other.
While character types and basic dramatic structure are recognizable in France's mainstream, it is clear that their versions of a Meg Ryan romance or a screwball comedy do not fall prey to cliché. Even those with the biggest budgets and box office grosses tell a story about the unpredictable lives of real people. They might not have your typical three-act structure, but they are emotionally and intellectually gratifying without succumbing to the conventions of Hollywood -- audience emotions are not manipulated but earned.
One of the more popular films in France (ranking 9 at the box office back in January above such films as "Summer of Sam" and "Being John Malkovich"), "La Bûche" is the directorial debut of Danièle Thompson, the prolific screenwriter of "Cousin Cousine," "Queen Margot" and "Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train." Nominated for four Césars (the French equivalent of the Oscar), the film is "Hanging Up"