While the French film industry has recently been polarized at home – spurred on by a Le Monde editorial penned by Wild Bunch co-founder and sales chief Vincent Maraval – there was good news from abroad this morning. Foreign admissions hit a record high in 2012 with French films selling 140M tickets, an 88% uptick over 2011, for 875M euros ($1.17B) in receipts. Export body Unifrance says today that the figures for 2012 are doped by the extraordinary performance of a handful of films including Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s The Intouchables, Olivier Megaton’s Taken 2 and Oscar-winner The Artist, which rep 65% of overseas sales. Intouchables, which was shortlisted for the Foreign Language Oscar but failed to make the final nominations, is the most successful French-language film ever internationally at 29.6M tickets sold while the Luc Besson-produced Taken 2 is the most successful French film ever outside the home territory with over 46M admissions. Other films hitting high marks abroad include Michael Haneke’s multiple Oscar nominee Amour, comedy Asterix & Obelix: God Save Britannia, Bibo Bergeron’s animated A Monster In Paris, Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone and Pathé’s What’s In A Name. Western Europe consumed French films in record numbers and Asia had the strongest progression. North American audiences bought 32M tickets to French movies for a 45% jump on 2011.

Unifrance this week has been hosting the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema which gives international buyers a look at upcoming French films on the slates of local sales companies. Next week, it will be back to business and to the debate over how French films are financed. In response to the Maraval editorial, Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti has charged the CNC – the government-backed org that doles out subsidies – to organize meetings on January 23 which will discuss the current system. Filippetti recently said, “All the editorials and stories written show that there’s a need for much pedagogy and transparence on how we finance film in France.” The local industry enjoys possibly the world’s most generous subsidy system which relies in part on investment by TV networks (a central topic of next week’s discussions), but Maraval called 2012 a “disaster” and wrote, “Even the biggest commercial successes lose money” with budgets inflated by above the line costs. While noting that the subsidy system was “unique and enviable,” he lamented that French films are too expensive, leading to hot debate in the press and the industry and creating a frenzy around the exec. Indeed, when he turned up at a Unifrance cocktail reception on Tuesday night, he was mobbed within minutes, barely allowing him to enter the soirée.