Originally posted

French arthouse cinema. These three words can make viewers either frantically giddy at the thought of the emboldened aesthetics or quite intimidated by the seemingly “pretentious” and niche, writes Yeeseon Chae.

Still, French arthouse cinema is a protected cultural and national institution of France as much as blockbusters are to Hollywood in the US.

Recently described by Richard Brody of the New Yorker as “old-fashioned” and “conservative,” he misses the mark by pinpointing the definition of French arthouse cinema to one bad egg, new movie Non Fiction (Doubles Vie).

The film director is highly regarded in France – much more than in the US. Arthouse cinema is also publicly protected in France mostly by the CNC, or the National Center for Cinema.

Contrasting with the American model of almost entirely privately funded cinema, the CNC regularly supports and intervenes in the cinema industry to provide administrative as well as heavy financial support for film in France.

Significant aid is awarded by the CNC for film production, distribution, and the operation of screening. In fact, each French movie-goer contributes to the CNC and possible future features through a ticket sale tax.

The TSA tax (taxe sur le prix des entrées aux séances organisées par les exploitants d’établissements de spectacles cinématographiques), takes about 10.72 percent of each ticket sale price to help directly fund the CNC and CNC approved projects.

Other national associations also include the AFCAE (French Association of Cinema and Critique), that work to increase the education and public awareness of French auteur cinema. All of this goes to give the director the most power in their creative endeavors, in comparison to the American model where most of the say goes to the film studio or producer.

French auteur and arthouse cinema are modeled after the French New Wave, a period of filmmaking in the 1950s and 60s heralded by legends like Agnes Varda and Francois Truffaut.

The era is defined by its realist experimentation against the standards of narrative filmmaking at the time, and usually characterised by its visual aesthetic and close studies of the human psyche.

In many ways, Brody is not wrong in what he says about Olivier Assayas’ Non-Fiction. The film is all style, no substance, and relies heavily on inside jokes of the literary scene that exclude the audience.

The characters represented in his film are far from reality, but Non-Fiction itself is hardly the definitive French arthouse film, as much as it would like to be regarded as such. There is a spectrum to French arthouse cinema that goes above this film’s narrow scope.

To provide you with a better idea of what French arthouse cinema is really like, here are the top 10 recent films certified by the AFCAE as “Art et Essai” brought to you by Lost In Frenchlation.

1. 120 BPM (120 battements par minute) – 2017

Set in the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1990s France, this winner of the Cannes Grand Prix follows a group of Parisian ACT UP activists as they fight and celebrate in a world that actively works against them.

2. Bloody Milk (Petit Paysan) – 2017

One part farm thriller and two parts social drama bring you Bloody Milk. Filmed on the director’s family farm, Bloody Milk is the story of a young farmer who becomes obsessed with saving his cows from a deadly infection.

3. Barbara – 2017

Nominated for several Cesar awards as well as the Un Certain Regard award for Cannes, this meta film is about an actor and a director’s feverish fixation as they attempt to create a biopic about the famous French singer.

4. The Workshop (L’Atelier) – 2017

This study of modern French life is about a young writers’ workshop, led by famous writer Olivia, as they attempt to create a story about their small town in the South of France. Ensuing drama follows as one such member strays away from the group by falling deep into a right-wing group, creating tension and confrontation that must be addressed.

5. Montparnasse Bienvenüe / Jeune Femme – 2017

A hilarious profile of a young woman who seems to be fumbling at it all, Laetitia Dosch stars in this comedy as a woman after a break-up as she learns to live for herself.Memoir of War

6.  Memoir of War (La Douleur) – 2017

Based on the semi-autobiographical work by Marguerite Duras, Memoir of War follows Marguerite as she struggles to keep her faith in humanity after her husband is taken away during the Nazi occupation of France.

7. Custody (Jusqu’à la Garde) – 2017

Like a thriller remake of Kramer vs. Kramer, Custody investigates the divorce of the Besson couple as the mother struggles to get sole custody of the child against a father she accuses of being abusive.

8. Our Struggles (Nos Batailles) – 2018

After his wife leaves him, Olivier must juggle the injustices of his job as he begins to create a new home and family for his children.

9. Real Love (C’est ca l’Amour) – 2018

A lovingly unflinching portrait of a family, Real Love follows the Messina family in the aftermath of their mother’s sudden departure. The family must come to terms with the truth as they grapple with trauma and feelings hidden beneath them as they learn to find a way to be whole again.

10. Guy – 2018

Awarded Best Film by the French equivalent of the Oscars, the Cesar, this comedy takes a pseudo-documentary style as it shares the story of a journalist who learns that his biological father is Guy Jamet, a once-famous now forgotten pop singer.