Despite Regulation, France Embraces US Movies

The French, bolstered by their pride in the universality of French culture, are the most sensitive among European nations to the spread of American influences in language, music, and film.

And with their faith in regulation, they have passed laws and decrees to limit the foreign invasion, reserving a part of the market for French filmmakers and singers so as to save them from being overwhelmed.

But these laws by no means keep American hits out of the country. Of the 20 top-grossing films in France in 1996 (the last year for which figures are available), 12 were US productions, including the top three - "Independence Day," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "Seven."

And while critics and officials may lament the irresistible tide of Hollywood blockbusters, the public laps them up in France as enthusiastically as anywhere else: "Titanic" has drawn almost three times as many Parisian moviegoers this year as its nearest rival, "Le Diner de Cons."

And in recent years, American movies have attracted about 60 percent of ticket sales in France, against a little less than 40 percent for French films.

The French cinema authorities - rather than trying to keep foreign films out - have preferred to try to help local directors and production companies with some state subsidies. A government-run "support fund" takes 11 percent of the value of every cinema ticket sold in France and invests it in French productions.

In the television field, the government has taken a firmer stance. By decree, TV stations - both public and privately owned, networks, and cable channels - must ensure that original French-language programming makes up 40 percent of their schedule and that other European material accounts for another 20 percent.

A similar law rules radio playlists: Most French stations must abide by an official quota - 40 percent of all songs played must be French songs, half sung by new talent.

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