'Long' view on funding: Film not French enough

Court rules against WB-backed title

The saga surrounding the nationality of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's wartime drama "A Very Long Engagement" has ended in divorce, with France's highest court ruling that the film is a U.S. production and cannot tap into Gallic funding.

The decision by the State Council closes the door to U.S.-controlled companies looking to gain access to France's generous system, however "French" their movies may be.

"Engagement" was majority funded by Warner Bros., which held world rights, but produced through specially created company 2003 Prods. The movie, based on a French novel, was shot in France and in the French language with an almost entirely French cast, a French director and French technicians.

But in a judgment made late Friday, the State Council ruled that 2003 Prods. was controlled by extra-European shareholders and therefore its output could not qualify for the French funding system. A company with French statutes, 2003 Prods. is 34%-owned by Warner Bros., the rest of the capital being in French hands.

"I don't want to comment on the judicial decision," said Francis Boespflug, head of theatrical films in France for Warner Bros. and president of 2003 Prods. "The question now is, what criteria define a French film. It remains unanswered."

Boespflug cited the example of Oliver Stone's English-language picture "Alexander," which qualified for the support fund because it was co-produced by Gallic production house Pathe.

Boespflug was at pains to point out that the producers of "En-gagement" were not seeking subsidies. Rather, they wanted to tap into the so-called support fund, a kind of "forced savings" fund generated from the receipts of one film but which can only be used when reinvested in another qualifying French movie.

The 4.4 million admissions "Engagement" garnered in France meant the movie would have generated some €3 million for a future French production. "French cinema hasn't gained anything from this affair," Boespflug said. "It doesn't mean Warner Bros. won't invest in French cinema anymore; just that we have to rethink our strategy."

"Engagement" was considered French for the Cesars, France's top film awards. It picked up five of them.