This winter, warm up to a volley of French films.

Not long ago, Select CityWalk multiplex in South Delhi wore a distinctly busy look, quite unusual for the opening of an animation film. In a country that regards animation to be a substitute for a children’s film, it was a different experience to watch a black and white film with little to cheer, lots to ponder. The film was Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s “Persepolis”, alternately evocative and provocative. A rare French film to find a commercial release in India, “Persepolis” found favour with discerning cinemagoers in the country.

On another scale came “Asterix”. Riding on hype and hope in equal measure, this animation film too made a little dent at the box office. “We have new, emerging talent in animation. We are the third largest animation producer in the world,” says Regine Hatchondo, Director General, Unifrance. Though both the films were noticed for their content, “Persepolis” and “Asterix” were just a couple of swallows not quite sufficient for a summer. And Indians continued to use Hollywood as a synonym for foreign cinema. All this might change thanks to Bonjour India: Festival of India that is bringing a clutch of films to India.

Says Hatchondo, “We want to project a different impression of French cinema to Indians. We are not just about classics or only about animation. We are into action, comedies and more. We also want to bring New Wave cinema to the notice of cinemagoers in India.” Chips in Michele Darmon, Charge de Mission, Festival of French Films in India, “India is among the handful of countries in the world to have resisted the march of Hollywood with its own cinema. We are looking at niche market for our films here. Last year 10 French films were released in India. And three French films were screened at the International Film Festival of India in Goa. This year, thanks to the Mumbai and New Wave cinema festivals, we aim to make a bigger dent. And are looking at France as a possible State in focus over the next couple of years at IFFI. At present many Indian films are shot in France and many French films in India. What we are looking forward to are co-productions. Besides the studios in Mumbai, we have identified Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan as possible shooting sites.”

Incidentally, every year 84 million tickets are sold for French films worldwide. And some 421 million Euros worth business took place in French films. Importantly, out of this amount, only a tiny decimal came from India.

In our country, 93 per cent of the film market share goes to films in various Indian languages. Hollywood gets a mere 6 per cent. The rest one per cent is divided between films from France, U.K. Korea, Japan and China, etc.

“We understand the limitations. At times the publicity budget or the marketing percentage of the total film cost are negligible. And we have to spruce up our merchandise to bring about greater awareness of our films,” says Darmon, adding, “This time we have sent Jacques Audiard’s ‘A Prophet’ as the official entry for the Oscars. A dark film, it is set in prison and stars Tahar Rahim. It is a subject that will find takers among a large fraternity of cinemagoers in India too. It has a universal appeal.” In “A Prophet”, Audiard puts viewers through a gruelling and realistic edge-of-the-seat experience by focussing on a young Arab boy trying to survive in a bad world. Incidentally, Rahim may just make it for the Rendezvous with French Cinema festival in Mumbai.

Two festivals, eight cities

Talking of promoting French cinema in India, well, there is going to be plenty of it in the coming weeks. Beginning November 28, French cinema will be celebrated in eight cities. Organised by the Embassy of France in collaboration with Unifrance and Culturesfrance, Mumbai will host the second edition of Rendezvous with French Cinema in India from December 2 to 6. Sophie Marceau’s “Female Agents” is the opening film for the Unifrance Festival in Mumbai. Eight films will be premiered during the festival and released by local distributors in 2010. Then there is more to come with the Bonjour India: Festival of France moving to places like New Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Kolkata. Celebrating 50 years of New Wave cinema, there will be eight films from the 1950s and ‘60s. The New Wave cinema celebrations start off in New Delhi on December 4. Actor Rahim of “A Prophet”, Cedric Kahn, director of “The Regrets” and Deborah Francois, actress of “Female Agents” are tipped to fly in especially for the Mumbai festival.

Of course, the viewers of New Wave cinema may not be as lucky with the French stars. But by February, one thing is sure: Indians would know more about French cinema than just “Asterix”, “Merry Christmas” or “Persepolis”. That is, however, no guarantee that either the viewers or the Indian stars can begin to ape the French. As Shah Rukh Khan says in director Vivek Tiwari’s documentary on French cinema in India, “I still have to learn to kiss the French way.” Way to go, man!

New Wave

The Embassy of France and Culturesfrance bring Bonjour India: Festival of France. The festival “Fifty Years of New Wave” moves across India.

New Delhi: December 4-7

Mumbai: Dec 7-10

Thiruvananthapuram: Dec 11-18

Chennai: Dec 17- 24

Bangalore: Jan 1-7

Pune: Jan 7-14

Hyderabad: Jan 14-21

Kolkata: Jan 22-28

Rendezvous with French Cinema

“Female Agents” by Jean-Paul Salomé

“A Prophet” by Jacques Audiard

“Mutants” by David Morley

“High Lane” by Abel Ferry

“Paris” by Cédric Klapish

“Leaving” by Catherine Corsini

“The Regrets” by Cédric Kahn

“The First Day of the Rest of your Life” by Rémi Bezançon


Vivek NarayananJune 28, 2012