French cinema sees gloom amid box-office triumph

Fri Apr 25, 2008 10:19am EDT
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By James Mackenzie

PARIS (Reuters) - Like one of the moody, enigmatic heroes in which it specializes, French cinema is going through a period of crisis and introspection just as it prepares to celebrate one of its greatest triumphs.

The runaway success of "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis," an amiable comedy about a damp and unglamorous northern province, is expected to be crowned in the coming days when it takes the title of the most popular film ever shown in France.

The film, made for just 11 million euros ($17.15 million), has already claimed the box office record for a French film and is poised to overtake the Hollywood superproduction "Titanic's" record of more than 20 million viewers in France.

With Marion Cotillard claiming France's first best actress Oscar in almost 50 years for her performance as chanteuse Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose" and a string of popular local romances and comedies in movie theatres, the industry should be buoyant.

But away from the commercial giants like Pathe, producer of "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis" and owner of France's biggest chain of multiplex cinemas, the mood is somber.

Some independent film makers say the growing dominance of a handful of distributors and weakening state support threatens the future of the smaller "films d'auteur" that have been the hallmark of French cinema since the days of Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.

"Cinema is going through a deeply troubled period of worry and self questioning," said an article in this month's Cahiers du Cinema, the highbrow bible of arthouse films and birthplace of the "New Wave" of French cinema in the 1960s.

It said the industry's problems had reached a level not seen in at least 25 years and noted: "The whole system of public support for cinema is in crisis."   Continued...

<p>Marion Cotillard, dressed in Jean-Paul Gaultier, accepts the Oscar for best actress for "La Vie en Rose" during the 80th annual Academy Awards, the Oscars, in Hollywood February 24, 2008. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn</p>