French cinema chases the blues

Binoche comedy opens Paris film event

by Richard Mowe

Juliette Binoche at the opening of the 22nd Rendezvous with French Cinema: 'Laugh as much as you can'
Juliette Binoche at the opening of the 22nd Rendezvous with French Cinema: 'Laugh as much as you can' Photo: Richard Mowe
While most of France seems a tad glum amid the ongoing social unrest around pensions and other pressing matters the French film industry is determined to provide a bright spark to chase the blues away

In tandem with the opening of the 22nd edition of Unifrance’s Rendezvous with French Cinema last night and the market premiere of Martin Provost’s nostalgic comedy How To Be A Good Wife (La Bonne Spouse) before an audience of more than 400 potential buyers, figures just announced indicate that in 2019 French films sold 40.5 million tickets abroad and generated 244.4 million euros in box office receipts. Attendances for French films internationally last year demonstrate stability, while French cinema has strengthened its status as a favourite at major international film festivals, say the organisers.

Daniela Elstner, the new managing director of Unifrance and previously head of Doc & Film International, declares herself keen to support the country’s independent production scene that has given rise recently to such global and awards successes as Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables, Mati Diop’s Atlantics and Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady on Fire. The influence of such global streaming giants as Netflix and Amazon is also a preoccupation as the Government seeks to rewrite legislation for the new demands of the audio-visual sector.

Elstner said that “I hope that because of the strike you will have more time to be in the cinema than going out and about. Watch them and buy. I may have a new job but I see so many friendly and familiar faces in front of me that it reminds me of my old job”.

Serge Toubiana, Unifrance president, noted that “Paris is a little complicated and difficult at the moment but I hope you agree that Paris will always be Paris and that you will not have too much disruption.”

Director Martin Provost
Director Martin Provost Photo: Richard Mowe

The industry remains buoyant and expansionist with one survey suggesting that there are some 173 new films in post-production and 445 titles in the pipeline, among them 138 features by first-time directors.

The opening film, written by Provost together with Séverine Werba, is set in the 1960s in Alsace. The local housekeeping school aims to make ideal housewives of its young students. Paulette Van der Beck (Juliette Binoche), together with her sister-in-law Gilberte (Yolande Moreau) and her sister Marie-Thérèse (Noémie Lvovsky), teaches with a crusading zeal. But revolution is in the air on the eve of May 1968 and the old order is set to come tumbling down. The women sense there is an air of freedom from the old strictures and they’re ready to embrace it, especially in a rousing closing musical number that has echoes of Jacques Demy about it.

Binoche, who put in a personal appearance alongside Provost and Noémie Lvovsky, told the audience: “We had so much joy on the film, but it was hard work. Try and laugh as much as you can.”

The evening concluded with a cocktail reception in the sumptuous surrounds of the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, a former residence of Adèle von Rothschild, the widow of Salomon James de Rothschild of the Rothschild banking family.

The Unifrance Rendezvous continues until 20 January.

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