02 mai 2011

French Critics Legacy 3

Jason Solomon: "My cinematic education happened in Paris. I spent a year there, ostensibly teaching English, but really sneaking off in the afternoon in tiny little cinemas on the Left Bank or in the dingy depths of Les Halles to catch a repertory classic every afternoon. It helped me build up a picture of cinema history, from B-movie westerns to French  New Wave, to Jean Renoir and Film Noir. I couldn't have done that in any other city in the world. So France in undoubtedly the most cinephilic culture. But does that mean they make the best films?
They certainly have the best film festival in the world : Cannes obsesses the whole nation for 2 weeks every May. By contrast the London Film Festival barely interest anyone outside Soho, and on its opening night."
Thanks for paying homage to the educational value of Paris' film culture, sincerely, without being pressured at gunpoint.
The popularity of Cannes in France might be a little over-exaggerated... The tennis tournament Roland-Garros  is always overlapping, and that is the event that captures the audience majority in France. This said, I would be surprised if a film festival in another country does gather a broader attention, on TV, in the Press, in the street buzz, in the couple weeks leading up to Cannes, during the event, and with its awards. Precisely because cinema is historically part of French culture, unlike anywhere else in the world. Anybody knowing about film history knows this is not a chauvinist statement.
I don't see this as bragging rights or a competition. Sadly, a lot of "cinephiles" in the world are bitter about this, and display jealous reactions (either by suppressing French culture or by dissing it), when they are not in total denial (believing cinema culture in their country is not subdued by the industry).
I would like every country in the world to reach the level of familiarity with cinema developed within French culture. Wouldn't it be a better world for cinéphiles if France wasn't the only haven that combines popular support, governmental support, industrial support, artistic support, intellectual support? I don't see why this cannot happen, with a little effort.

Bertrand Tavernier: "I think British politicians have never been preoccupied with cinema. They never fought [for] culture, never saw that culture was important, except people like Winston Churchill, who was more educated than most of the politicians now. He was a brilliant writer and he understood the tremendous importance of cinema to sell your own culture, to sell your own values, to sell your products. [..] You need another Winston Churchill. You need another politician who seem to have read a few books."    
Well, the BFI [EDIT:UK Film council] budget has been cut down by the current government, and when Sight and Sound did a "special issue" on British cinema that very month (summer 2010), Nick James, editor in chief of the BFI magazine, no less, had no clue it was going to happen... That's how you realize it's a long way to sustainability. S&S promised changes (starting by cutting down the fat: credit rolls in reviews! lol) so maybe, the content will be more discerning in the future...

Jason Solomon: "Those French do have a knack for damning with faint praise, don't they? But do they feel their cinema really is superior to ours? I heard many answers to this rather blunt question, and invariably most responses involve two names: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh."
He forgets Stephen Frears, who is named by his interviewees too. These are the 3 famous names amongst most French movie goers with limited British culture. 
I would add Paul Greengrass, Steve MacQueen, Michael Winterbottom, Peter Watkins, Terence Davies... who are consistently high praised by the French press when a movie is released here. And they are familiar to cinéphiles. Don't be so hard on yourself. Tavernier only liked the 50ies, but there were great British films in recent years. Although, with a little over a 100 films produced a year, it's not Hollywood (nearly 600) or France (230)... Industry-wise, there is a concrete gap.

But if we talk about quality, I'm not one who will defend contemporary French cinema. Comparing to the UK is unfair (there are more "big names" in French cinema, so by sheer numbers alone...). But in absolute, within world class standards, I don't think it's at the top, where it once was. It is solid and consistent in above-mediocre quality, like Hollywood, like the UK, like most major cinema nations in the world, but we haven't seen exceptionally outstanding films recently. Smaller countries, especially in Asia or South America are making better movies than us, and for some years now. The petty bickering of the love-hate "Entente cordiale", ignited by Truffaut's remark, doesn't mean much in the big picture of world cinema.

When you ask French guests who came to promote an all-French festival in London, you don't really expect them to tell the local press they think British cinema sucks and that French cinema is superior, do you? Just like when Hollywood celebrities visit Paris, they say on TV they love France to arouse the audience... even though they don't care.
And frankly, I think the interviewees handled this "question provocatrice" quite well, by refusing to make blanket statements, generalisations, about "British cinema" as a unity, and acknowledging that we only see the British cream of the crop released in France. They are not pandering to the British audience either, with fake enthusiastic hyperboles or over-flattering praise. 

Jason Solomon: "So Ozon points to a British snobbery around theatre and film. But after agreeing with him, it's hard not to gaze across the Channel and envy their national pride and political support for the art of cinema. But political and financial help only add up to so much. In the end, French cinema, like any thriving cinema culture, lives and dies on new ideas. [..] My gut instinct is that British cinema in its current state of flux could learn a lot about loving film from our French rivals and neighbours."
True. And that's all we should talk about. Ideas. Not about national pride contests.  
Well, I know what the "new idea" implies... We shouldn't take that as a rush towards novelty. I don't care if auteurs repeat themselves. Art is not about finding new stuff for novelty sake, just to do something that others haven't done before... Cinema is a narrative art and true inventions in dramatic structures or content doesn't happen every year. So reviewers should not expect auteurs to trash their past œuvre at every new film they make, to change their style, their obsessions, their themes... just to surprise critics or festivals. This is not a game show. Aesthetic evolutions are slower and less ostentatious than what attention-deficit commentators would like it to be. 

  • Jason Solomon (Film WeeklyThe Guardian, 25 March 2011) 31'19" [MP3


1 commentaire:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Nick James: "Of course, it's not this magazine's job to act either as cheerleader or as therapist to the British film industry - unlike the mainstream film magazines, we're not a function of the PR machine."
(Sight and Sound, editorial, Oct 2010)