French Blockbusters

Cultural Politics of a Transnational Cinema

Charlie Michael

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Rethinks the transnational dimensions of the contemporary French film industry

The digitised spectacles conjured by a word like ‘blockbuster’ may create a certain cognitive dissonance with received ideas about French cinema – long celebrated as a model for philosophical, economic and aesthetic resistance to globalised popular culture. While the Gallic ‘cultural exception’ remains a forceful current to this day, this book shows how the onslaught of Hollywood mega-franchises and new media platforms since the 1980s has also provoked an overtly commercialised response from French producers eager to redefine the stakes and scope of their own traditions.

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List of Figures

Foreword by Frédéric Gimello-Mesplomb

Introduction: French Blockbusters?

Chapter 1: The Lang Plan and its Aftermath

Chapter 2: Popular French Cinema and ‘Cultural Diversity’

Chapter 3: The Debatable Destiny of Amélie Poulain

Chapter 4: Valerian and the Planet of a Thousand Critics

Chapter 5: Countercurrents in French Action Cinema

Chapter 6: Serial (Bad?) French Comedies

Conclusion: A Disputed Heritage

This is an exciting, well-researched, and urgent retelling of the tropes and trajectories of contemporary French transnational, blockbuster cinema. Michael’s rich case studies, confident grasp of political and cultural theory, and engaging, fluid writing style make for a compelling account of France’s dalliance with big-budget cinema. His engagement with current sources and methodologies is excellent (each end-of-chapter bibliography is impressively extensive), while the use of box-office statistics, specific production histories, and the reception of the chosen films add much-needed contextual data. French Blockbusters is ultimately all about a series of tense, strategic compromises that the industry has made since the 1980s, and how the emergence of new types of genre films (comedies, action, martial arts, parkour) has encouraged it to “go global.”
Ben McCann, H-France Review

French Blockbusters provides a well-informed, intelligent and engaging discussion of the cultural politics of an increasingly significant trend in French film production. The analysis deftly blends theory, factual detail and commentary in a discussion that represents a welcome development in Anglophone research on Francophone cinema. Michael’s work is innovative, accomplished and important.

Dr Hugh Dauncey, Newcastle University

Expose(s) the fissures of a nation deeply concerned with its status globally yet one that tends to favour culturally approved notions of French cinema as auteur cinema in favour of popular fare that is more aligned with popular tastes.

Elizabeth Miller, French Screen Studies

Expose(s) the fissures of a nation deeply concerned with its status globally yet one that tends to favour culturally approved notions of French cinema as auteur cinema in favour of popular fare that is more aligned with popular tastes.

Elizabeth Miller, French ScreenStudies

For a number of years now, Charlie Michael has been exploring the cultural paradoxes of French blockbusters, questioning their place within the French film industry, their international reception and the policies underlying their production. [...] French Blockbusters convincingly reaffirms the vitality of the commercial strand French cinema and its presence worldwide.

Isabelle Vanderschelden, Manchester Metropolitan University, Modern & Contemporary France 28.3

[An] original book in English that offers fresh readings of the local/global and popular/art cinema tensions found in the French industry, often adopting a comparative approach (combining for example French perspectives and those of Anglo-American audiences and film scholars).

Isabelle Vanderschelden, Manchester Metropolitan University, Modern & Contemporary France, 2020

Michael’s book is certainly relevant for anyone interested in the recent history of the French film industry and how economic policy and cultural politics have shaped recent filmmaking practices in France. [...] it gives the relevant cultural and political histories while also foregrounding how to read blockbuster hits as texts themselves, which, as Michael demonstrates, do have artistic approaches worthy of such analysis.

Mackenzie Leadston, The Ohio State University, Contemporary French Civilization 45.3-4

This book is perfect for 200- and 300-level global media classes that seek to interrogate and enlarge the category of "popular" cinema. It adroitly weaves together cinema history, media industry studies, and cultural policy. This book is a novel and groundbreaking way to illustrate the effects and implications of the cultural exemption in international trade policy. The work is valuable because attention to French popular cinema is sadly all too rare, despite its impact, viewership, and effects on labor, policy, and global Francophone media flows. I highly recommend that people teaching undergraduate global media courses use Michael’s book to help our students revise their understandings of European media systems, content forms, policy debates, and industrial strategy.

Professor Benjamin Aslinger, Bentley University

Balancing an array of historical influences, Michael gives us a new language for navigating the internal conflicts that have marked a period of dynamic change, and when the intermittent success stories of ‘big’ films became fodder for debate about what forms of recognition (both economic and symbolic) are most appropriate for a national industry with transnational ambitions. Written briskly like a behind-the-scenes saga, this original book will challenge the preconceptions of anyone who thinks that notions of ‘French cinema’ and ‘blockbusters’ should remain diametrically opposed.

Professor Frédéric Gimello-Mesplomb, University of Avignon
Charlie Michael is Assistant Professor of Film at Georgia Gwinnett College outside Atlanta. He is the author of French Blockbusters: Cultural Politics of a Transnational Cinema (EUP, 2019) and the co-editor of the Directory of World Cinema France (2013).

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