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Take Five: Hollywood South Makes Room For French Film

A scene from 'Les Diaboliques', Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1955 Mystery/Thriller screening at the Healing Center on June 24

It’s summertime, the kids are out of school, and Hollywood is, once again, following the money.

“Right now you can literally go see Fast and Furious 6 at practically any theater in the city, said John Desplas, artistic director for the New Orleans Film Society, “and it’s starting in 20 minutes on one of the 20 screens.”

The film society may have just the antidote to the summer’s Vin Diesel-fueled fare, offering once again its annual French Film Festival August 2 — 8.

This year’s slate of films, which will all screen at uptown’s Prytania Theater, include Gilles Bourdos’ Renoir, about the French impressionist painter and his son, Jean Renoir, who also became a famous filmmaker.

Also featured will be films by two of the major French directors working today, Desplas said. Olivier Assayas’s AprèsMais — After May — is a semi-autobiographical movie chronicling the lives of a group of young artists amidst the tumultuous events of 1968.

Francois Ozon’s In The House deals with a young boy who moves in with the family of one of his friends and begins to write a story based on that family which, as Desplas said, “causes complications within the family since he also makes some of it up.”

But if you simply can’t wait until August to escape the mind-numbing explosions of summer blockbusters, the recently revived Cine-Club — a monthly French film series produced by the Alliance Française — could be just what you need.

“I think you’re going to get really involved with a personal story,” said Carol Bidault, producer and coordinator for the Cine-Club. Bidault, along with Lynn Fischbach, brought the film series back to life after a period of dormancy. “You’re not going to have that much of the special effects dominate what you’re seeing. You’re going to really be seeing and feeling.”

The Cine-Club meets on the first Friday of the month at the Alliance headquarters uptown in the Garden District, and the last Monday of the month at the Healing Center on St. Claude Avenue in the Marigny.

Some Cine-Club goers, however, may be more interested in what happens when the lights come back on, when they discuss the movie — in French.

“We’ve been very, very pleased with the participation and the audience, because we’re able to bring in a lot of French speakers,” said Bidault.

The reasons for the differing sensibilities between French and American films are largely financial, Desplas said.

“American movies are now more and more aimed at a global audience, which means that there’s a tendency to use the lowest common denominator," he said. "China and Russia are two of the biggest markets for American films now, and sixty percent of the ultimate box office gross comes from overseas.”

Desplas added that major studios in America are publicly owned companies and therefore interested mainly in keeping their shareholders happy.

“Whereas the French film industry is still a national cinema, so the films are more character driven,” he said. And while they may deal with issues that may be particularly or peculiarly French, “there’s also a universal element to them.”

Desplas said that the French cinema thrives because the French government is heavily supportive of the industry, and he’s noticed a similar success story thanks to the Louisiana Film Tax Incentive Program.

“Prior to the tax credits, the reason the film was in New Orleans was because New Orleans was essentially going to be a character in the film, like that Charles Bronson movie Hard Times, or The Big Easy,” he said.  “Now it’s simply a great place to shoot no matter what the character of the film.”

“I grew up in Los Angeles,” said Bidault, “and really the film industry is here now, and you see Hollywood film after Hollywood film after Hollywood film being done here, and that’s extraordinary. 

“It’s certainly a state that has really, really opened up its arms to the film industry,” she added. “And that’s music, that’s just really, really wonderful.”

Tickets for the Cine-Club can be purchased online or at the Alliance Française at 1519 Jackson Avenue. Here is thecomplete scheduleof this year’s New Orleans Film Society’s French Film Fest.