The growing row around Cannes Palme d’Or winner Justine Triet’s politicized victory speech as she received the coveted award for courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall spilt into the French Parliament on Tuesday.
Triet used her Cannes victory speech on Saturday to decry the unpopular pensions reforms of President Emmanuel Macron’s government as well as what she described as its neo-liberal approach to culture, suggesting it would make it harder for a new generation of filmmakers to emerge and grow as directors.
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Her comments provoked a sharp rebuke from Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak, who Tweeted she was “flabbergasted” by Triet’s speech, describing it as “unjust”.
“This film would not have seen the light of day without our French cinema finance model, which enables a unique diversity not seen anywhere else in the world,” she wrote.
Adbul Malak was in Cannes this year to talk up the launch of France’s $350 million ‘Grand Fabrique de L’Image’ cinema capacity-building initiative involving the construction of studios and training initiatives across the country.
There has been a flood of reactions on social media platforms and mainstream media, ranging from support for Triet to anger, with critics calling her “a spoilt child” and questioning the amount of public funding going into the cinema sector.
Three days on, the debate around Triet’s speech shows no sign of abating and even spilt into the French parliament on Tuesday.
Triet is the 10th French director and third woman to win the Palme d’Or over the Cannes Film Festival’s 76 editions. When Julia Ducournau won the prize for Titane in 2021, Macron congratulated her publicly over Twitter.
Toutes mes félicitations à Julia Ducournau pour sa Palme d'or au Festival de Cannes ! Une palme qui récompense l'audace et la singularité du cinéma français.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) July 17, 2021
This time around, no congratulatory Tweet has been forthcoming. France’s left-wing Nupes alliance noisily raised the issue in parliament on Tuesday. Watch the firey intervention in favor of Triet by Nupes politician Sarah Legrain below.
🔴🗣« J'ai été estomaquée devant ces meutes de militants macronistes et d'éditorialistes fustigeant l'ingratitude de Justine Triet !
Entre amuseurs de foire et valets du pouvoir ! »@S_Legrain fustige la Macronie, assise alors que toute la NUPES applaudit la Palme d'Or 2023 ! pic.twitter.com/rjdic86yde
— Groupe parlementaire La France Insoumise – NUPES (@FiAssemblee) May 30, 2023
Abdul Malak, who was in the chamber, responded by saying the real threat to French cinema was rather Marine Le Pen’s Far-Right National Rally party, which has suggested cinema funding should be tied to films celebrating French culture and history and also recently announced it was boycotting 24-hour news channel BFMTV
She also pointed to the actions of liberal-conservative politician and potential future presidential candidate, Laurent Wauquiez, who recently halved the regional funding of the Clermont Ferrand International Short Film Festival amid claims the move was politically motivated.
The current government would never meddle with cultural funding or deny support to political detractors, she said.
The French directors’ guild (La Société des Réalisatrices et Réalisateurs de Films – La SRF), which has its roots in the social protests in 1968, also issued a statement on Tuesday saying Triet had been within her rights to criticize the government’s policies.
“La SRF shows its unreserved support for Justine Triet and her engaged speech rooted in solidarity on receiving the Palme d’Or in the face of the violent attacks of which she is the object,” it said.
“Her battles are ours and her worries are ours,” it continued. “The pension reform, the authoritarian excesses of our democracy and the neo-liberal temptations that threaten the sector, these fears have been expressed many times and we thank Justine Triet for having brought them to the stage of the festival of Cannes.”
“We recall that everyone has the inalienable right to criticize the power in place, even if it is a filmmaker who has received public funding,”
Alongside the responses to Triet’s speech, there has been a second wave of reaction from film professionals as they rush to explain that funds meted out by France’s National Cinema Centre (CNC) are raised through a levy on cinema tickets as well as obligatory contributions from all platforms distributing content in France, and not directly from the public purse.
This long-standing, sell-perpetuating system was first introduced in 1948 as France’s decimated post-World War Two cinema industry tried to find its feet in the face of a flood of imports from the U.S.
Over the decades it has been expanded to include contributions from state and private broadcasters, pay-TV channels and most recently streamers. The funding is accompanied by an intricate ecosystem of regional funds, private investment funds and tax relief.
At a time of heightened political tension in France against a backdrop of anger against the pension reforms as well as rising support for right-wing parties, the debate over the place of cinema in French society and the money it receives is likely to be increasingly on the agenda in the coming months, if not years.
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