EURO BEAT: France Goes Warm And Fuzzy

Editor-at-Large; Los Angeles (@
EURO BEAT: France Goes Warm And Fuzzy
While many associate the French with a high-art, avant-garde film sensibility, their box office as of late suggests something completely different. Forget jump cuts, long takes, political diatribes and genre subversion - When the French go to the movies now, they really just want to laugh, cry a little and go home feeling warm inside.

Consider the enormous success of Eric Toledano's Untouchable (12,060,705 entries), a dramedy about an unlikely friendship between a lonely, quadriplegic aristocrat and an African man from the projects. This one trounced Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 even during it's third week of release, and is currently the eighteenth most successful film of all time in France. It comes on the heels of a number of other successful French movies that mix warmth and humor with tragedy.

First there was France's official Academy Award submission Declaration of War (790, 619 entries), which defangs several dozen French New Wave clichés and throws them in a blender to tell a surprisingly effective true story about director/co-writer Valérie Donzelli and her Husband/Co-star/writer Jérémie Elkaïm finding out that their child has cancer. Shortly after came Maïwenn's Cannes Jury Prize winner, Polisse (2,273,554 entries), which is arguably the best of the bunch. Starring French hip-hop icon Joey Starr, the film chronicles the day-to-day life of the juvenile unit of the French police department as they investigate child abuse and molestation cases. While it occasionally strays into tragic melodrama, it's surprisingly uplifting overall, considering the subject matter. And then of course, you may have heard of a little movie called The Artist (1,491,263 entries).

Elsewhere in Europe, Twilight has been more or less dominating for the past few weeks, though Puss in Boots opened to relatively strong numbers and even managed to topple the teen-vampire romance in France and Spain. In the UK, Arthur Christmas finished on top for the second week in a row, beating newcomers Hugo and Happy Feet 2. Meanwhile, the much-anticipated Dutch epic Nova Zembla opened strongly at number one in the Netherlands, pulling in the equivalent of $1,289,231. That's over twice the gross of the number two film, Twilight.

But lest you think that everyone in Europe has given into teen vampires, CGI cats and life-affirming dramas, take a look the iconic French journal Cahiers du Cinéma's (who compared Untouchable to "a disgusting marshmallow") top ten films of the year. Here's possibly the only list where you'll find Super 8 sharing space with the latest Philippe Garrel film.

1. We Have a Pope (Nanni Moretti)
2. TIE - The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel Oliveira)
Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
4. TIE - Outside Satan (Bruno Dumont)
Essential Killing (Jerzy Skolimowski)
6. TIE - Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
A Burning Hot Summer (Philippe Garrel)
8. TIE - Super 8 (JJ Abrams)
House of Tolerance (Bertrand Bonello)
Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)

(Order thanks to Awards Daily)

And finally, a quick snapshot of the France repertory film happenings and special events, which is where the real action is.

Cinémathèque Française just kicked off a homage to the famous Japanese Studio Nikatsu. The series places films by renowned Japanese filmmakers like Shohei Imamura and Kenji Mizoguchi alongside a cornucopia of genre and Pinku films. Based on the usual clientele of the Cinémathèque, I'm betting this will be the most sophisticated audience ever to attend a screening of White Rose Campus: Then, Everybody Gets Raped. Also, as further proof of the enduring French love affair with American cinema, the Cinémathèque is putting on career retrospectives for Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman and Clint Eastwood.

This month, Forum Des Images began its 100-film series, "London Calling," which explores the way a wide array of filmmakers have depicted the enormous cloudy city over the years. We're talking Mike Leigh, John Landis and nearly everyone in-between.

The Filmotheque is in the middle of a solid Marcello Mastroianni retrospective that casts the net far beyond his famous collaborations with Federico Fellini, though still stops short of unleashing Roman Polanski's aptly titled erotic comedy-bomb What?

The third annual Les Arcs European film festival started this weekend in the French alps with a lineup featuring over sixty films including Nick Broomfield and Joan Chirchill's Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, Ian Fitzgibbon's Death of a Superhero and John Michael McDonagh's The Guard.

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