French Cinemas Are Closing (Again)

By Patrick von Sychowski | August 5, 2020 8:24 am PDT

It has sadly not been uncommon for re-opened cinema to be forced to shutter their doors again in many part of the world. China was first with the brief re-opening in the spring quickly ending and cinemas in Dalian also recently forced to close a second time. Cinemas in several southern US states have had to close as did cinemas in Spain’s Catalonia, following a new surge in Covid-19 outbreaks. But a spat of recent closures of cinemas in France has nothing to do with the Coronavirus pandemic, but everything to do with the lack of Hollywood films and the concomitant absence of cinema audiences. Some of France’s most famous cinemas have had no choice to close, even if many have stated that it is only temporary.

When French cinemas reopened a month ago it was with fanfare, as the nearly all cinemas that would normally be open during the summer flickered back to life together – unlike neighbouring Germany, where they opened gradually on a state-by-state basis. There were over 40 titles lined up for the re-opening, including ones that had been playing when cinemas shut (“De Gaulle”), new arthouse releases (“Curie”), family animation (“Onwards”) and more. Yet despite being the world’s fourth largest market by boxoffice this past week, as well as the largest in Europe, with €2.99 million (USD $3.44 million) according to data from Comscore, this has not been enough to make it profitable for many cinemas to stay open.

Most notable was the closure of Paris’ Grand Rex on 3 August. Europe’s largest cinema with 2,800 seat and continuously in operation since opening in 1932, even during the Second World War. A message on the cinema’s Facebook page stated that

After one month of reopening our beautiful cinema, we thank you for being there to celebrate the 7th art. We were able to screen a worthy programme of retrospectives, cult films and marathons and many of the sessions were full. You respected the social distancing and we congratulate you for that.

However, the absence of new films and particularly Hollywood blockbusters made it un-economical to keep the great cinema running. “I lose less money remaining closed than to ask my teams to come back with nothing to do, it’s depressing,” Grand Rex owner Alexandre Hellman is quoted as saying. Grand Rex is far from the only cinema pulling down the shutters again, with both multiplexes and independent cinemas closing

Chers spectateurs,A compter du 28 juillet 2020 au soir, le cinéma le Palace fermera ses portes temporairement.Cette…

Posted by Cinéma Le Palace – Epernay on Monday, July 27, 2020

Le Palace, the only cinema in the city of Sparnac in Epernay, was forced to close its doors from July 28. “We will be closed from the evening of July 28, until things get better,” the director of the Palace,  Daniel Castaner, is quoted as saying. “We have a lot of fixed costs, such as air conditioning, electricity, cleaning the rooms.” Despite this he remains optimistic.  “If we see that the lights turn green, we have the responsiveness to reopen in two days.”  Not everyone, however, shares his optimism.

Despite “colossal losses”, the Escarnotières CGR multiplex in Châlons-en-Champagne continues to show films, but a temporary closure, as in Épernay, has not been excluded to ensure its survival. In Perpignan the operators of the Le Castillet cinema decided to close it for four weeks until Tuesday 25 August. “We closed once in 1917, another time in May ’68…. we have been opening every day for 4 generations!” says Jacques Font, operator of the Le Castillet cinema in Perpignan, “It makes my heart bleed!” The cinema from 1911 is one of the oldest in France. “We are losing money, downtown cinemas rarely fill up, but here we are at 15% of last year’s attendance, that is to say between 2 and 10 spectators per auditorium,” explains Jacques Font.

According to Erwan Escoubet, director of institutional and regulatory relations for the National Federation of French Cinema (FNCF), interviewed on Franceinfo, “there are other cinemas in France which have taken similar decisions. There are not enough American films, not enough to support other films, and quite simply not enough French films. The CNC had set up a reinforced support system for French film distributors who could release their films this summer. But it is obviously insufficient.” Cinemas that have re-shuttered include the Balzac, Nouvel Odéon Les Sept Parnassiens and Studio 28 in Paris, the César in Marseille and the Darcy in Dijon. Even the French island territory of Reunion is suffering a 70% collapse in audience figures.

“We are at -80% attendance every week since the reopening. However, we have benefited from partial unemployment and the credit deferral, but as there is no current new support measure, we can no longer hold out. This is not at all my idea of exploitation in normal times, but it is a case of force majeure,” Patrick Brouiller, manager of the Palace in Epernay (Marne), told Cinema Francaise. Some hold out hope for the end of the year. “If there is no second wave of the Covid, the last quarter will offer a very rich selection, also thanks to popular French films, such as “Les Tuche 4”. But for now, I prefer to keep cash and reopen when the market is more buoyant ”, said the director of L’Hémisphère Théâtre, a theater in Seine-et-Marne, in Le Monde.

Like most other Western cinemas, the French operators are holding out hope for Warner Bros’ “Tenet”, particularly now that “Mulan” will be going straight to Disney+. However, there are also French films that are helping. These include comedies such as “Divorce Club”, “Ete 85”, “Tout Simplement Noir” and “Terrible Jungle” as well as a re-release on its 25th anniversary of landmark film “La Haine”. “There is an offer that is not bloated at the moment, let’s take advantage of it to have visibility and offer a somewhat funny comedy to people, which will let them escape,”, David Caviglioli, co-director of “Terrible Jungle”, told AFP. The film, which was released on 29 July, is a parody of an adventure film with an high profile cast, including Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Dedienne and Jonathan Cohen. “At the start of the school year, our film would have been drowned in a mass of blockbusters,” comments its co-director Hugo Benamozig. According to Comscore the film came third this past weekend, playing at 441 locations and generating over 60,000 admissions.

These disappointing figures have prompted Thierry Frémaux, head of the Cannes Film Festival, to comment, “I still think that we must carefully study what is happening and what will happen in the fall. Because yes, there may be changes in cultural behavior, but more generally social.” As Europe’s largest cinema market and with the strongest domestic film industry in terms of market share (after Turkey), it is particularly worrying to see French cinemas unable to cope with audience figures that, while low, are still significantly better than in all other European markets.

While “Tenet” may offer respite for French cinemas that re-reopen in late August, the question is what will then happen for the rest of the year. With most tentpole titles shifted by the Hollywood studios to 2021 or later, there are only a handful of large titles (“Disney/Marvel’s “Black Widow” and WB’s “WW84”) and a smattering a medium sized titles. Will these be enough to keep cinemas going? And will other European cinemas follow France’s lead in being forced to close their cinemas due to lack of films and audiences?

Patrick von Sychowski
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