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La Seduction et la Distribution du Cinema Francaise(in English subtitles)

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire March 16, 1998 at 2:0AM

La Seduction et la Distribution du Cinema Francaise(in English subtitles)A Report on New York City's "Rendez-Vous With French Cinema"
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La Seduction et la Distribution du Cinema Francaise

(in English subtitles)



A Report on New York City's "Rendez-Vous With French Cinema"

by Anthony Kaufman




Whether its the evocation of femme fatales with pouting lips or
godfathers of cinematic innovation like Jean-Luc Godard and Francois
Truffaut, French films make up the largest contingent among
foreign-language cinemas seen in the U.S. marketplace. On Friday in
New York City, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, those responsible for
the distinguished New York Film Festival, began their much touted
"Rendez-Vous With French Cinema" series, a two-week program of 13 new
French films from directors young and old. The festival remains one of
the most well-attended film programs of the year, along with their
annual look at Spanish films in December and their celebrated selection
of rarely seen African films in April.


Why do French films do so well? Program Director of the Film Society,
Richard Pena says, "Many people like the way French cinema is, in a way,
about cinema. They are filmmakers who are very conscious of working
with film. I think people enjoy that kind of intellectual play. There's
a certain sophistication." This year's series at Lincoln Center
includes some very well-made films from directors who are clearly
skilled craftspeople as well as intellectual thinkers. Two highlights
are Anne Fontaine's third film, "Dry Cleaning," about a hard-working
couple who become seduced into a life of sexual experimentation [there is
an interview with Fontaine in today's issue] and "Seventh Heaven" from
acclaimed director Benoit Jacquot ("A Single Girl") a beautifully moving
portrait of the miscommunications of marriage. Both these films share
a smartness of direction as well as a deeply felt subtlety so rarely found
in American cinema. They also have in common the fortunate trait of U.S.
distribution. "Dry Cleaning" was picked up earlier this year by Strand
Releasing
while Jacquot's film will be released by Zeitgeist this
August. Although they won't be showing in a multiplex anytime soon,
audiences will be glad to know that sophisticated films are still out
there, albeit, not nearly enough.


Bruce Pavlow at Leisure Films, who successfully distributed the french
film "Diary of Seducer" last year and will be distributing "Un Air de
Famille
", the new film from Cedrich Klapisch (whose "When the Cat's
Away" was the highest grossing French pic last year with a modest 2-2.5
million gross), additionally ascribes the success of French cinema to the
large amount of money France spends on its industry. "The government is
very involved in promoting French Film in the United States," says
Pavlow. "It's very good about sharing expenses with distributors and
very hands-on about it. They really do make a concerned effort to get
their films over here."


Pavlow also cites French cinema's success as a result of the familiar
relationship France and America have had over the years. "This culture
has been so innoculated with French culture, whether it's literature,
film, food, the whole idea of romance. They're cliches, but when people
think about art history -- the impressionists -- there's so much weight
placed on the French. Pavlow concludes, "Their cinema, therefore is
the most well-attended of all the foreign countries because Americans
are so familiar with their culture through so many different ways."


However, as popular as French culture is in the United States, Pavlow
explains some of the difficulties in distributing foreign-language
films, problems that are common to most independent films. He notes
good reviews are the most important allies, claiming, "When a specialty
film gets a bad review, it's dead on arrival. When you have a small
film with no stars, the review is pretty much everything. You just cannot
compete or combat a negative review." But even those films that get
good reviews still combat the inevitable prejudice that comes with
subtitled films. One of the films in the series, "A Brother" by first-
time feature director, Sylvie Verheyde, which portrays a latent incestuous
relationship between a girl and her older brother, has played at numerous
festivals from Toronto to Sundance, and despite positive critical response,
remains without distribution. "People like Miramax have really expanded
the field for a certain kind of independent film or English language film,"
says Lincoln Center's Pena, "but generally speaking, that hasn't so much
happened for things with subtitles."


Even though French films are more widely seen and distributed than
Spanish, German and Eastern European language works, still the best they
can do is struggle to find distributors and when they do, remain
marginalized to an arthouse market. Pena insists that the market is
much larger for French and foreign-language films than most key industry
people realize. Pena recently hosted a special screening of the
Belgian film, "Ma Vie en Rose" in New Jersey. "Six hundred people were
there that night, saw the film, loved it, had great questions, and this
is central New Jersey somewhere," Pena explains. "Here are these people
who are smart, and really enjoyed the film and want to tell their
friends about it, -- there's a market out here! My suspicion is the
market is actually much bigger than people think."


While the challenge is getting more and more distributors to believe it,
the Lincoln Center's program is definitely a step in the right
direction. Although things have gotten better in the last couple of years
(note Classics' "When the Cat's Away"), the distribution picture for
French cinema is pathetic compared with the excitement and anticipation
with which the films were received in the 1960's. With genius directors
coming out of France today like Olivier Assayas, Claire Denis,
Arnaud Desplechin, Benoit Jacquot, and Leos Carax, (as well as Godard still
churning out some masterful images too) New York's "Rendez-Vous with French
Cinema" is a much needed, much vital program.


At "Rendez-Vous" a few years ago, I discovered the work of Carax, whose
three films still haven't received U.S. distribution. The films changed my
life
and the way I view how movies are made. In a specialty market that is
becomingmore and more competitive, with more and more American indies
fighting for a piece of an already little pie, Carax's anticipated next film,
even though it belongs to the most recognized foreign cinema, may get
its only viewing in the U.S. at New York's Lincoln Center this month.