Ex-French Culture Minister Lays Into Cinema World In Pandemic Memoir – Deadline
Veteran French politician Roselyne Bachelot has taken an extraordinary potshot at the French film industry and the state funding system that keeps it afloat in a candid memoir recounting her difficult term as France’s culture minister during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Entitled 682 Jours – Le Bal Des Hypocrites (682 Days – The Hypocrites’ Ball) the book is stirring controversy in France following its publication there on Thursday for Bachelot’s outspoken criticism of the behaviour of everyone from technocrats to small-town councillors to “stars on big salaries” during the health crisis.
In a section on the film industry, Bachelot questioned the efficacy of France’s state funding mechanisms for cinema, suggesting the driving principle of French cultural exception resulted in films that were of no interest to the general public.
“The famous ‘Cultural Exception’ in fact allows very many French films ‘not to find their public’, to put it politely, or more explicitly, to be flops,” she wrote. “This system also guarantees lead actors to secure extraordinary fees, three or four times superior to actors in American independent cinema.”
“Public subsidies, advance on receipts, tax breaks, intermittence (the support scheme for freelance entertainment workers) have created an assisted economy that hardly cares about the tastes of spectators and is even contemptuous of popular, profitable films,” she continued.
She recalled how giving Dany Boon a César Award for the box office success of his films had been greeted with derision in some quarters.
“Giving a César to Dany Boon and his more than 20 million entries… what a ridiculous idea!” she parodied.
Bachelot added: “You may tell me that some of these flops are perhaps essential works that we will discover later with a sense of guilt for having missed their genius. It’s always staggering to see how people of the ‘left’ are contemptuous of ‘the people’ who, for them, have crap tastes.”
Her comments come at a complex time for French cinema and are unlikely to be welcomed by many local film professionals.
Both commercial and arthouse French titles struggled to draw audiences into cinemas in 2022. For the first time in 30 years, not a single French production figured in the top ten highest-grossing films for the year in France.
Quizzed on her comments on RTL radio network in a promotional interview for the book, Bachelot said she hoped her reflections would be useful for the entire cultural sector.
“When you live through something as extraordinary as I did as culture minister in a period when nearly all the cultural sector is shut down… it’s important to take stock. The world of culture and the Ministry of Culture are at a crossroads. There are things taking place, heavy changes that mean that the way in which we have carried out cultural policies is kind of coming to the end of its term.”
She denied, however, that her comments on film finance meant that she felt France put too much state money into film.
“Ah non! It makes perfect sense to continue to do so. If France is the only European country to have a cinema industry, which in turn feeds into an industry on the platforms, it’s because of the policies we’ve had in place since 1946, since the creation of the National Cinema Centre (CNC),” she said. “We need to maintain it.”
Bachelot was appointed culture minister in early July 2020, just days after French cinemas reopened, following a three-month closure due to the first wave of Covid-19.
The summer optimism was short-lived after Europe was hit by fresh waves of the virus in the autumn, resulting in the French government ordering cinemas to close again on October 30 to reopen on May 19, 2021.
Other public cultural spaces were also shut for much of the same period.
The move prompted fury across the culture sector, especially after shops and commercial centres were allowed to stay open in the lead-up to Christmas, with the country’s Ministry of Culture bearing the brunt of the anger.
Frustration within the cinema world spilt onto the stage of the 2021 ceremony for France’s César awards on March 2021, via gags and speeches aimed at the government, culminating in actress Corinne Masiero famously stripping naked, to reveal the slogan “No Culture, no future” daubed across her breasts and body.
Bachelot dissects the evening in her memoir in an account suggesting she was not impressed by the gestures.
“The César Ceremony presents itself as ‘French cinema’s big party’,” she writes.
“For culture ministers, it’s an ordeal. In the absence of recognition, let’s not ask the impossible, you could at the very least expect a brief and courteous greeting for the state representative during the ceremony,” she wrote.
The film world, she suggested, had to show itself to be publicly contemptuous of its state benefactor to mark the fact that art and culture cannot be bought.
“This always leads to the same scenario,” Bachelot wrote.
“Men and women dressed up to the nines, to the tune of several thousand euros, with hair, shoes, jewellery and make-up by the best professionals in Paris, proclaim their well-meaning and accusatory political engagements.
“They sprinkle their interventions with words concocted by an exhausted ‘gagman’, taking aim at the minister, slouched in their seat like a boxer knocked out in the corner of the ring, then run off to Fouquet,” she continued, alluding to the high-end restaurant on the Champs Elysées which traditionally hosts the post-ceremony gala dinner.
Bachelot held the post of Culture Minister until May 2022 when she was replaced by Rima Abdul Malak as part of a cabinet reshuffle following Emmanuel Macron’s re-election as French president for a second term.
She also attended the 2022 Cesar ceremony which was a more low-key affair, unfolding without any major incidents.
Her comments also come at a sensitive time for the Césars Academy which is trying to reboot after it famously went into meltdown in 2020 amid accusations of a lack of transparency, gender equality, and diversity as well as turning a blind eye to nominees under investigation for sexual assault crimes.
The organization was overhauled with the creation of a gender-balanced co-presidency, board and chapter heads and has just announced new rules which will exclude cinema figures under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct from attending its award ceremony.
In the background, its award ceremony, like French cinema, is struggling to attract viewers. Last year’s edition drew just 1.3 viewers for Canal Plus, a third of the audience for its record-breaking 2012 edition when 3.9 spectators tuned in.
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