This year's César award nominations are proof that France's "7th Art" is healthy both at home and abroad. France has always placed its “seventh art” form on a pedestal and, for the most part, kept it in a glass case, like a sculpture in a museum to be visited by the rest of the world, but never touched. Now, however, French cinema is more relevant than ever as The Artist paints a new picture of the country’s thriving film biz.
Ticket sales have never been higher in France – a record 215.59 tickets were sold, the most in 45 years – and, even more surprising, these titles are actually attracting audiences abroad as well. Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s Untouchable is at the top of the German box office and has sold more than 2 million tickets. Last year, French films made $519 million at the international box office, a 19 percent jump in revenue from the year before. None of these figures are surprising to anyone who has seen this year’s crop of films since, to put it simply, they’re good.
Finally, French filmmakers are using their artistic freedom and story-telling savvy to make films that appeal not only to themselves and their inner circles, but also to audiences across the globe. Finally, “auteur” and “commercial” are no longer mutually exclusive terms in the French language. In 2009, Olivier Dahan’s La Vie en Rose planted the seeds for French cinema to flourish abroad. Now, just a few years later, instead of simply exporting Gaul’s prettiest faces (think: Marion Cotillard) or hottest talents (think: your favorite French Alexandre – Desplat or Aja), Hollywood’s finest are starting to look to French shores with a closer eye. Harvey Weinstein has enjoyed a recent shopping spree for French titles that has proved to be haute couture already as The Artist continues its silent but deadly conquest of Hollywood’s awards season and Untouchable prepares for a US release and remake.
What’s interesting about The Artist is that, until stars Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo and director Michel Hazanavicius spoke on stage at recent awards ceremonies, most audiences may not have even realized the films were French. In fact, Colombiana, Unknown, Carnage and The Three Musketeers are also French-made titles disguised as U.S. blockbusters.
Not only have French films traveled well, but the country is becoming an increasingly popular destination for foreign production. Look at this year’s Oscar nominees. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Roman Polanski’s Carnage and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris were all filmed in France.
More and more French producers are looking to make English-language titles and are finding it easier to find U.S. partners who are now starting to see French-made fare as bankable.
This correspondent’s typical short list of the year's best films is predominately filled with US titles with the occasional worthy French title thrown in. This year, however, is quite the contrary. Poliss, Untouchable, The Artist and Valerie Donzelli’s Declaration of War are some of the best films from any continent in 2011.
Unlike past years, many non-residents of France are familiar with this year’s crop of films because most of them premiered at this year’s Festival de Cannes and have been generating positive buzz ever since.