In 2018, acclaimed filmmaker Paul Schrader highlighted the changing landscape of the film industry, where the decline of serious audiences and the rise of streaming platforms posed significant challenges for art films and character-driven dramas.
Recently, a report from France’s Cour des Comptes raised concerns about the state of European arthouse cinema, particularly French cinema. The report revealed that a third of French films released in 2019 attracted fewer than 20,000 viewers in theaters, and only 2% of French films were profitable during their theatrical run.
This situation could jeopardize the French “cultural exception” system, which provides public subsidies to the country’s film industry. While some argue that the era of influential French cinema is long past, the historical impact of French art films cannot be measured solely by box office figures.
French cinema has left an indelible mark on film history. From the silent era’s epic “Napoléon” by Abel Gance to the groundbreaking techniques of the French New Wave directors in the 1950s and 1960s, it has transformed the visual language of filmmaking, influencing filmmakers across the globe.
While skeptics may question the relevance of French cinema today, notable films in the last decade have tackled taboo subjects rarely explored in Hollywood. These films explore lesbian desire, the resilience of AIDS activism, mechanophilia, and explicit homoerotic sexuality.
However, if France’s cultural support for cinema erodes, the United States serves as a cautionary example. Outside major markets, multiplexes predominantly offer corporate franchise movies, potentially stifling creativity and the excitement of discovering something new. Martin Scorsese aptly described these films as “perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption.”
Over the past few years, character-driven, highbrow films have struggled to recoup their budgets at the box office. Streaming’s convenience during lockdowns has led many viewers to reserve their cinema visits for “event” movies, leaving arthouse films and mid-budget dramas overlooked.
While streaming services have grown in popularity, they often rely on algorithms, hindering artistic expression. Filmmakers may find their creative decisions constrained by data-driven decisions, limiting their ability to produce unique and thought-provoking content.
In a world dominated by capitalism and assembly-line streaming content, European arthouse cinema continues to offer a promise: movies driven by curiosity and artistry, rather than data-driven decisions. This promise ensures that audiences receive the artistic and cinematic experiences they truly deserve.