This is the month of welcomes, so bienvenue (once again) to Cultural Crisscross! Every other week, I will be delving into the differences between film industries in other countries and providing you, my readers, with my humble tips for navigating the different cultures in your quest for success. As this is the first of this ongoing series, I felt it would be appropriate to start on the country and culture with which I am most familiar.
Warning: The following musings will most certainly be biased and self-indulgent at times. I will try for future Cultural Crisscross posts, in an effort to avoid being overly provocative or offensive, to keep my thoughts slightly more restrained.
The stereotypes are (mostly) true
We, the French, are known as many things: marvelous lovers (not fighters), connoisseurs of fine wines and food, avoiders of showers and razors, but most importantly… lovers of the arts, especially the art of filmmaking. It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at any art history book to notice a significant amount of fancy accents over E’s and silent S’s, the tell-tale signs of French-ness. Engrained early on in France’s history, passed down often through the patronage of the extravagant noble class, is a love and appreciation of the fine arts.
The strength of this appreciation hasn’t diminished over time, but the channels through which the French express this appreciation have shifted alongside the development of more modern techniques of creation. This is evident in today’s French film industry.
The Art of Cinema
One of the primary differences between the French and American film industries is the French emphasis on cinema as an art form. That is not to say that American films cannot be viewed as art by both filmmakers and audiences; there are innumerable American-made films that fall into the category of artistic cinema. But it cannot be denied that the recent focus of the American film industry on cookie-cutter, blockbuster films that follow a specific formula inevitably geared for financial success falls directly into the American consumerist model and often leaves behind the goal of achieving a creation of a piece of art.
Above: The Lumiere brothers, inventors of the original moving pictures machine
Historically, the birth of cinema has been attributed to the French, thanks to the Lumiere brothers that invented the machine that made moving pictures possible. Since early in its conception, film has been an escape from the day-to-day troubles of the common man, both French and others. Film, unlike other industries, thrives in times of strife and heartache; periods like the Great Depression and events like World War II come to mind. France’s cinema has been known for its ability to reflect and deflect the outer social, political climate into creative, artistic pieces. Art, by definition, is meant to express emotions and beauty, and French cinema, time and time again, achieves this. [Stay tuned for a list of suggested films posted later this week…]
The proof is in the pudding… at the Festival
The pinnacle of France’s influence in cinema is, of course, is the Cannes Film Festival. For those of you new to the world of film, founded in the 1930s, the Cannes Film Festival is an international festival that features a film competition, educational sections that explore various aspects of cinema, and one of the busiest movie markets in the world, the “Marché du Film.” I have attended the Cannes Film Festival 14 times throughout my career in the film business and have seen firsthand the power of my people’s love for film and their standards of excellence.
Here are a few shots of me in Cannes back in the 1980s. How quickly the time flies!
Pushing past the snobbery
To bring it back around, stereotypes of the French are certainly not lacking and are not always false; even I roll on the floor laughing every time I watch Robin Williams’ famous impression of a smoking, pompous Frenchman. Of course, these laughs often turn into fits of coughing due to my own cigarette addiction, and my friends can tell you, I am never one to back away from vanter my own accomplishments, so Williams and other comedians have basically hit the nail on the head. It is important, then, in dealing with Frenchies like myself to understand where this snobbery comes from and look past it to get to our primary goal: making a statement through excellence.
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