French Biz Decries Censorship As Far Right Mayor Pulls Pic On Populism’s Rise

Le Pacte

In what French film industry group l’ARP sees as a potential sign of what’s to come should France’s far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen advance in May’s local elections, a feature seen as critiquing her National Front (FN) party has been pulled from a municipal cinema in the south.

Chez Nous (This Is Our Land), by actor/director Lucas Belvaux, is the story of a young woman recruited by a fictional populist party, and the ascension of the party in the north of France. Pascal Verrelle, a member of the FN and the mayor of Luc-en-Provence, a small commune in the Var region, recently decided to cancel its screenings there saying, “I’m not going to give (the filmmakers) the stick to beat me with.” This week, l’ARP cried foul, condemning the “anti-democratic decision” as “an act of censorship.”

Prior to the film’s release last month, it had already raised the ire of the real-life FN. One party Vice President considered it “anti-National Front” propaganda, “scandalous” and “unacceptable.” He had only seen the trailer at the time.

Fast-forward, and employees at the municipal cinema in Luc-en-Provence inadvertently programmed it for three days this month. When Verrelle found out, he said, “I had it pulled. I’m not going to give (the filmmakers) the stick to beat me with.” He added that the film had already “caused a polemic, certain FN municipalities demonstrated against it. I wasn’t going to put myself out of the game.”

Could this be an indication of the future of France on a Le Pen ticket that has gained momentum? (Le Pen, incidentally, was the first international politician to congratulate then-President-elect Donald Trump on his November 9 victory in the U.S. elections.)

A spokesperson for l’ARP, tells me of Verrelle’s move to kibosh the film, “The FN continues to trample anything that is not in line with its politics or which represents the smallest form of opposition… It illustrates what would happen at the national level if the FN passes… This is a political act: pulling a film because it bothers an elected official.”

ARP, whose president is Claude Lelouch, said in a statement that it “condemns with the utmost firmness” the deprogramming of the film. “This anti-democratic decision is an act of censorship. Through it, the National Front reiterates once again its selective and oriented vision of culture… The filmmakers of ARP would like to recall how much freedom of creation and freedom of expression remain fundamental values to be defended at all costs.”

French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay also weighed in this week, reportedly saying the decision to pull the film “shows the real face of the National Front, one of censorship, the negation of freedom of creation, of attack on freedom of expression and the refusal of democratic debate.”

Verrelle responded on his Facebook page that the film’s “sole purpose is to harm Marine Le Pen. The film’s release schedule is not innocent, since it comes within two months of the first round of the presidential election… As Mayor of Luc-en-Provence, I refuse that taxpayers pay for the rental and the screening of a propaganda film at the municipal cinema (which is) exclusively financed by the municipality.”

Chez Nous stars Emilie Dequenne, André Dussollier and Guillaume Gouix. It includes a blonde supporting character who is the head of its fictional far right party which is associated with anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s distributed by Jean Labadie’s Le Pacte and has received solid reviews, selling about 260K tickets in France.

Belvaux earlier this year told BFMTV the movie is “not a militant film: it is a committed film, and a civic-minded film. It was made to provoke discussion, not to provoke the FN or fear of the FN.”

The French presidential election will be decided in May, just before the Cannes Film Festival kicks off.

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