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FILM

French cinemas face 400-film backlog as they prepare to reopen

France's love affair with cinema threatens to be an overwhelming experience next week, when theatres finally reopen -- the scheduling nightmare of a massive backlog of 400 films.

French cinemas face 400-film backlog as they prepare to reopen
No less than 45 films are slated for release when cinemas reopen on May 19 after six months of pandemic-induced closure -- two to three times the usual number. Photo: BERTRAND GUAY/ AFP

On the outskirts of Paris, cinema owner Stephane Goudet is poring over the long list of options, trying to figure out how to gives as many films as possible their shot at succeed.

“It’s like a giant Tetris!” he told AFP.

Some had just been released and were scoring well when the second lockdown in October stopped them in their tracks.

READ ALSO: Cafés, shops, cinemas: How France will ease Covid restrictions from next week

Among them were French film “DNA”, by award-winning director Maiwenn. And also doing well when the curtains fell was Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round”, starring Mads Mikkelsen, which picked up this year’s foreign film Oscar.

No less than 45 films are slated for release when cinemas reopen on May 19 after six months of pandemic-induced closure — two to three times the usual number.

The authorities have encouraged cinemas to play multiple films in each screening room, so Goudet crams in 18 movies across his six screens for the opening week.

Cafes, restaurants, cinemas and museums will reopen partially on May 19, 2021 after seven months amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: LOIC VENANCE/AFP

Local and international

Audiences at France’s 2,000-plus cinemas enjoy both international hits and the products of its own prolific film industry.

There are the Oscar winners to catch up with, including best picture winner “Nomadland” and local success “The Father” from French writer-director Florian Zeller, for which Anthony Hopkins won his second best actor award. It also picked up best adapted screenplay.

Long-delayed Hollywood blockbusters will also soon start taking up space, including superhero slugfests “Black Widow” and “The Suicide Squad”, from the Marvel and DC stables respectively.

And the Cannes Film Festival, pushed back this year to July from its usual slot in May, also will also unleash a barrage of new releases.

The big cinema chains have abandoned attempts to coordinate a calendar.

But France’s independent theatres and distributors are still determined to find some agreement to keep smaller films from being lost in the deluge.

“What we want to avoid is a situation where 40 to 60 films a week are looking for screens, especially if distributors rush to release films before Cannes takes place,” Etienne Ollagnier, of distributor Jour2Fete and the Syndicate of Independent Distributors (SDI), told Screen Daily last month.

READ ALSO: French cinema club for English speakers has new online screenings

‘Terrific diversity’

Despite the logistical headaches, which also include added health protocols and a 35-percent capacity limit in the first weeks, there’s a festive spirit in the air.

And while many cinemas in the US have gone bust in the past year, that is less of a threat in France, said Elisha Karmitz, co-head of France’s renowned production house and cinema chain MK2.

“We have a different model that isn’t so dependent on blockbusters,” Karmitz told AFP. “It’s that diversity that preserves the French film industry in its entirety.”

And of course, the backlog is also a film buff’s dream.

“We’re going to be able to offer something for every type of cinema-goer, with a terrific diversity,” said Aurelie Delage, who runs the Megarama cinema in Angoulême in southwest France.

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CULTURE

Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.

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