French Fries & Films
The French Film Festival in Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai from December 4-11 promises to showcase more than just films It brings French audio-visual expertise and collaborative overtures right into the Great Indian Market. With more than half-a-dozen renowned French actors and directors inaugurating the screening of eight highly acclaimed contemporary films; glitz and glamour will be aplenty for the Indian audience while those behind the scenes get down to serious business at the buyer-seller meet preceded by a seminar onaudio visuals in the next century. Monsieur Claude Blanchemaison, the Ambassador of France in India speaks to Naroyani Ganesh about films, food and wine.
Why do you think French films will find a market in India?
India and France are equally receptive to sensitive films. A large market has a varied audience. While artistic films are widely appreciated in France, American action films and blockbusters packed with special effects are immensely popular. Also, you’d be surprised to know that even a taxi driver in France knows Satyajit Ray’s films. Ray’s impact on French cinema and audience is immense. His work is widely respected, which was instrumental in taking the festival to Calcutta, apart from Delhi and Mumbai. Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee have been honoured at Nantes recently. Amol Palekar’s work is widely appreciated. Similarly, French films can touch a chord here.
Despite the language constraint?
Language won’t pose a problem. That’s just one aspect of the audio-visual medium. Subtitles help and we hope to dffer dubbed versions in regional languages, after testing the market first with English. Just like Indian films are viewed in France. In the US, several good European films have been remade with an American cast and they do well but people ask, why can’t we see the original? The Alliance Francaise is opening a video library soon and French films already have a select audience in India. We want to make the cinema available to everybody. If dubbed versions of American films are having it so good, why not try the same for French films?
Why have you excluded South India from the Film Festival?
Unfortunately, we have planned for just two weeks in India this time and it is difficult to pack in too many stops. Next time we will take it to the South Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, where you have good cinema halls and a receptive audience. We recently had a retrospective of Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s films in France.
Will French film makers who are visiting, explore the possibility of making films here in India?
Regis Wargnier, the director of the film East West which is one of the films being screened and who made the Oscar-winning film IndoChine with Catherine Deneuve, will be here, and who knows? He might be inspired to consider this possibility. Indo Chine was made in Vietnam incidentally, when I was poited there and it was a huge success. Nathalie Baye, award-winning actress and who stars in Frederic Fonteyne’s A Pornographic Affair, is also part of the delegation as are others like Marion Cottillard, Catherine Corsini, Pascal Greggory and Natasha Regnier, and the director Laurent Bouh nik who made Madeleine. This will be a good opportunity for dialogue through the audio-vinual medium. Bollywood film makers have been flocking to film at Switzerland, Holland and other European locales.
What does France have to offer?
Aah, so much we have the Alps too, the Pyrenees, and the beautiful French countryside. And Paris. We welcome the idea. We have great admiration for sensitive Indian film makers; but we also enjoy the other kind of cinema. I think Bollywood dance numbers are going to be performed at Lyons, France, early next year.
But on an average, it isso difficult to even get a French visa to visit your country?
It is no longer the case, Madame. This was true only till recently. We have new regulations that make it easier to travel to France especially for scientists and students. Earlier, we were just cautious about tourists and not just from India. Now we are more relaxed and the new regulations are already effective. But, we have faced some difficulty in granting visas in the past also because of a problem peculiar to India you see, many send their chauffeurs or other staff members to collect their visa for them and it is a bit disconcerting to grant a visa to a person you cannot see. Is France worried about Neo-Nazi elements?
Not at all. It is a thing of the past, almost. I wouldn’t call it NeoNazism, exactly, but we did have a very small presence. But they have fallen out with each other because of internal conflicts. Look, during the recent World Cup Football matches in which France was victorious you could see that many of the French players were coloured people. The most popular and successful was Zinedine Zidane, now a national hero. Before the Bastille Day, the Champs Elysees was brimming with adulating fans, cheering for Zidane. Racism might have caused concern some years ago, but now, it is as good as finished. We have so many happy foreign students.
You are bringing French defence know-how, science and technology, and cinema to India. You are sharing your expertise on water with us How about sharing the secrets of French wine-making? And cheese, and gourmet cuisine?
There is a difference between cinema and wine. We are no longer a command economy. Wine should remain a private business. We can help in a way, but it is better left to private initiative. But if we don’t help films financially, we could be swallowed up by the Americans m this area. What we’re saying at the WTO, is that cultural goods are not usual goods. Without government assistance, goods like films and books tend to flounder.
Most national and regional cinema in Europe including in Britain and the Nordic region, have practically disappeared. TVFrance International, an association of French television companies assists and supports more than 150 French TV companies find their feet in the international market. And Unifrance, a nonprofit association promotes French cinema globally. The two will work together to explore business and cultural opportunities with the audiovisual industry in India to create an atmosphere of proactive information and communication.
Indo-French wine is being made in Bangalore by a gentleman who has a French wine-maker working with him. I visited the vineyard; it is some 30 kilometres from Bangalore. This Grover company red wine is very good, but right now is being sold only in Bangalore and surrounding areas and maybe Chennai. I think multicuisine is a good way of bringing people closer to each other. Maybe we can help establish a school for French cuisine. We’ve done this in Tokyo and it’s been a huge success. So also in China. So why not India?