France 2015 in Review: A Year Framed by Terror

Jean Jullien

The 'Charlie Hebdo' and Paris attacks overshadow industry happenings, including a major shake-up at CanalPlus and the Cannes Film Festival's unpopular heels-only shoe policy.

The French industry, and the world, will remember 2015 for the terrorist attacks that book-ended the year and irrevocably transformed France.

The deaths and shock affected and overshadowed many entertainment industry events.

But the Cannes Film Festival went off without a hitch, as its shoe policy drew headlines, and Kristen Stewart made history at the Cesars, France's answer to the Oscars.

Here is THR's look at the France stories making headlines in the media and entertainment industries in 2015.

Terror Attacks Dominate Headlines

On Jan. 7, just as people were returning from the traditionally long Christmas holidays through Jan. 6, two brothers stormed the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris and opened fire on the staff during an editorial meeting. The publication had long been a target for Islamic terrorists for its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

The gunmen killed 12 — including famous cartoonists Jean Cabut, affectionately known as Cabu, Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, Philippe Honore, Georges Wolinski, and columnists Elsa Cayat and Bernard Maris — before escaping the city and engaging in a two-day search and standoff with police in the countryside. While the brothers were holed up in a factory in the north of France, an accomplice stormed a kosher supermarket in a Paris suburb, taking hostages and killing four, while remaining in contact with the brothers. Police simultaneously stormed both locations killing all three gunmen.

The repercussions of the events were felt around the world. Millions marched for freedom of speech in France with repeated demonstrations for a week. French President Francois Hollande was joined in a commemorative ceremony by a crowd of world leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel and, in a rare show of solidarity, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  

The attacks also spawned the now-famous "Je Suis" meme with the slogan "Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie)," with celebrities including Julianne Moore, Diane Kruger, Seth Meyers and Marion Cotillard joining the chorus of supporters.

Charlie refused to back down, and with the support of international media organizations, defiantly published its next issue with a cartoon of Muhammad on the cover holding a "Je suis Charlie" sign. It became a historic print run, with 7.95 million copies sold around the world in six languages, an astronomical increase for a weekly that usually sold upwards of 30,000.

In France, media watchdog the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) issued warnings and penalties of varied severity to the majority of news channels, which had broadcast the ongoing police actions live, and had disclosed sensitive information about the police actions and the location of some hostages. The networks jointly defended their freedom of the press.

Just 10 months later, those freedoms were again a topic of debate, when a group of gunmen attacked several locations throughout Paris’ popular canal district, storming and opening fire at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theater. The carnage was greater — 130 across the city, including 89 in the theater — and so were the psychological wounds.

The voices that had been defiant in the wake of Charlie Hebdo were silenced, with artists such as U2, the Foo Fighters, Marilyn Manson, Motorhead and Papa Roach canceling concerts. Film premieres also were canceled, including for Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Tom Hardy’s Legend and Natalie Portman’s Jane Got a Gun, with the latter's release pushed back to 2016.

Two Islamist-focused films took different approaches. Made in France, about homegrown Jihadis, was pulled for the second time; it had originally been scheduled to hit theaters just after Charlie Hebdo. Thomas Bidegain’s Les Cowboys kept its premiere and release date, with the premiere turning into an impromptu gathering of the who’s who of French cinema turning out to show support.

Cinemas reopened within days of the attacks, but security has remained elevated.

While U2 paid homage to the victims, appearing outside the Bataclan the next day, and President Obama visited the location a week later, no world leaders came to march. The government called for a ban on all public gatherings, barring supporters from converging on Place de la Republique as they had done after Charlie Hebdo, and putting a stop to peaceful environmental demonstrations for the COP21 climate conference that took place in Paris just two weeks after the attack.

While U2 returned to Paris on Dec. 7, with the Eagles of Death Metal triumphantly joining them on stage at the city’s Bercy Arena, the government extended a state of emergency that greatly curbed public civil rights. It is scheduled to sunset in three months' time. Whether it will be extended remains to be seen.

One immediate impact: When police had a standoff with the Bataclan suspects in a Paris suburb Nov. 18, news channels were sure to avoid divulging information.

CanalPlus Shake-up

Months after Charlie Hebdo and months before the Paris attacks, France shifted focus to the more prosaic world of the French media industry and to a surprise shake-up at CanalPlus.

Vincent Bollore, chair of media giant Vivendi, strengthened his hold over Vivendi's pay TV subsidiary with an executive shuffle that saw the exit of CEO Rodolphe Belmer, replaced by former executive vp and head of TV Maxime Saada. It was the first of several such moves. Nathalie Coste-Cerdan, longtime director of cinema at CanalPlus, was replaced by former Ubisoft Motion Pictures head of production and development Didier Lupfer. Bollore also kicked out CanalPlus management chair Bertrand Meheut, substituting in Bollore's close ally Jean-Christophe Thiery and CanalPlus CFO Gregoire Castaing. Bollore also took over as supervisory board chairman at CanalPlus, making clear who is in charge. 

Bollore's Vivendi also acquired a majority stake in French YouTube-esque company DailyMotion and added a television studio outside of Paris to help bolster the group's online offerings. Vivendi had sold off many of its telecom assets in recent years, leaving it with a massive war chest ripe for acquisitions to build its content business. That again came into play later in the year, as Bollore sunk his euros into stakes at French video game makers Ubisoft and Gameloft.

Bollore has long spoken of his strategy of finding synergies between the film and television properties CanalPlus and Studiocanal, with Vivendi’s Universal Music Group and its See Tickets, as well as the group's data mining partnership with Havas media.

Bollore's plans to directly tinker with CanalPlus programming, however, proved less successful. The media boss threatened to cancel the legacy satirical news show, Les Guignols de l’Info, a Spitting Image-style puppet show that makes fun of news makers. Bollore had been rumored to object to the show's skewering of his political allies and other friends in high places. But a huge public outcry forced him to back down on threats to shutter the show, though the new season premiere was delayed while Les Guignols worked on its "tone."  

Bollore also missed the mark by replacing popular host Antoine de Caunes on CanalPlus' flagship nightly news/chat show Le Grand Journal with a handpicked successor, Maitena Biraben. Like Bollore, Biraben has many friends in high places and scored some impressive interviews — her first guest was French Prime Minister Manuel Valls — but viewers tuned out. Ratings for the show have slipped from an average of just above 1 million per night to below 600,000.

Cannes' Dress Code Falls Flat

This year, a Pret-a-Porter scandal trumped the film lineup at the Cannes Film Festival, France's number-one media event. Security guards took on the job of fashion police on the red carpet, barring women who were not wearing heels from the premiere of Cate Blanchett’s Carol.

The festival quickly faced a backlash for what was seen as a sexist policy, especially in a year that it was trying to shine a spotlight on women in film through special initiatives during the festival. 

Actresses including Emily Blunt quickly stepped out in support of comfortable footwear. “Everyone should wear flats, to be honest. We shouldn’t wear high heels,” she said at the press conference for her film Sicario. “It’s very disappointing, just when you kind of think there are these new waves of equality.”

While the festival does not have an official dress code, it does require guests at red-carpet premieres to be “smartly dressed.” That, of course, is open to interpretation. The (all-male) security guards seemed to believe that Louboutin-level shoes were mandatory, but festival director Thierry Fremaux quickly clarified that heels were not required. "The rumor saying the festival insists on high heels for women on the red carpet is unfounded," he said in a tweet. It was too late. #Flatgate became a Twitter trend and the top topic of Cannes' chattering classes in 2015.

Cesars Fete Kristen Stewart 

France's fashion and film elite in 2015 also came together to embrace former Twilight star and Chanel model Kristen Stewart, who made history by becoming the first American actress to take home a Cesar Award, France’s equivalent of the Oscar. The actress had already received rave reviews for her role as the personal assistant to Juliette Binoche’s aging star in Olivier Assays' Sils Maria, but taking home the French honor took the reluctant star by surprise.

"I couldn't believe that I got nominated, and then obviously I really, really couldn't believe that they gave it to me, because those people rigidly dole out praise, especially to Americans," she told The Hollywood Reporter backstage at the Feb. 20 awards, praising the French approach to film.

"There is a great divide between what motivates people to make films in the States and to compare it to what motivates people to make films here, and I kinda prefer it here," the actress said. "If you're not scared of something, it's not worth it. It takes a pretty unique American filmmaker to do something and to be scared and to do it anyway, and here that's what it's really about and what film lives and breathes here.”

She added: "This is where I feel I can do my best and be happiest." If a move to Paris is in the future, surely Uncle Karl (Lagerfeld), the Chanel designer who recently cast Stewart in a short film as Coco herself, would welcome her with open arms.

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