Like French Films? Koreans Say, 'Mais Oui'French movies took off in Korea in 1981 with the appearance of the young actress Sophie Marceau in the film "La Boum" ("The Party"). Claude Pinoteau's romantic story of first love swept the hearts of Korean teenagers in their navy blue school uniforms, and photographs of the actress, then 15, blanketed students' bedroom walls and notebooks across the country.
Sophie Marceau has gone to become one of the best-loved cinema stars in Korea, and those warm feelings toward her work and other French films have inspired many movies here.
Soon after "La Boum," Korean moviegoers were drawn to "Emmanuelle" (1974, directed by Just Jaeckin), and made its star, Sylvia Kristal, synonymous with adult movies. Bootleg copies of "Emmanuelle" have been famous on the underground circuit since the mid-1980s, even though the film was not officially imported to Korea until 1994, making Emmanuelle one of the first soft-porn films to sneak into the country.
French movies gradually became staples of the art house circuit. Korean film fans love to name drop movies like "The Big Blue," "La Femme Nikita" or "Le Dernier Combat" to show off their taste for quality cinema. The popularity of French actors such as Juliet Binoche and Jean Reno rose further as more of their films arrived from France. Most notable was the phenomenal success of "Leon" (or "The Professional" in America, 1994, directed by Luc Besson) in the mid-'90s; even though this is an English-language movie, Korean filmgoers typically consider it a French film because of its French director and style. More recently, "A Pornographic Affair" (2000, directed by Frederic Fonteyne) was honored as the Critic's Choice in last year's Jeonju International Film Festival.
Last year alone, French films in Korea attracted more than1 million viewers. The profile of French cinema here was heightened last week by the first French Film Festival in Seoul. The five-day, non-competitive event took place at Central 6 Cinema in the posh Gangnam area of southern Seoul. The festival was a joint effort by Unifrance (a French filmmakers' collective) and the French Embassy to spread French culture in Korea and to promote ties between the two countries.
The festival introduced 12 films, including "15 Aout," "Mademoiselle," "Roberto Succo," "Selon Matthieu" and "Un Crime au Paradis," along with six short films. All the movies presented at the festival were produced last year.
The organizers hosted The Night of French Cinema, featuring "La Roi Danse" ("The King is Dancing," directed by Gerard Corbiau). Later, the movie's director and actors － Benoit Magimel and Boris Terral － fielded questions from the audience. Magimel, who won the Best Male Actor award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, stars in "La Roi Danse" as the artistically talented Louis XIV.
The festival's roots are in a Yokohama cinema program sponsored by France and Japan. For the past nine years, that exchange has given the Japanese film industry, media and audiences an opportunity to meet regularly with their French counterparts. Moreover, because the festival takes place only one month after Cannes, and memories are fresh, the Yokohama festival has given a boost to the French and Japanese movie industries. More than 100 French movie industry professionals attended the Yokohama festival last month. Regis Ghezelbash, president of RG Prince Films, based in Korea, told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition, "This year we brought in the same films as the Yokohama festival, but next year the selection will be different because we're dealing with a different market. How different? That's an expensive question."
The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition spoke with the French actor Boris Terral of "La Roi Danse." He plays an Italian composer Lully consumed by the need to impress his royal patron Louis XIV. Terral not only spoke of his part in the movie but also the contemporary sentiment of being a young French actor today.
IHT-JAI: What kind of preparation did you do for "La Roi Danse"?
Terral: I spent four straight months preparing for the movie. Everyday I practiced four hours of dancing, two hours of ballet, two hours of orchestra conducting and two hours of horseback riding, and once a week I paid a visit to the Belgian director's home and discussed the film. During the filming, I was working with three coaches. It was a strong character, and so many people put much effort into my role.
IHT-JAI: What was your life like before?
Terral: For an actor, I began my career pretty late. I was born on Aug. 11, 1973 into a very modest family from Rocamadour, in the south of France. My grandparents were farmers; my father was a fireman and mother a school teacher. Because we were poor, I thought my studying in a good university would make us overcome poverty. I studied history at the Sorbonne. My acting began there in school where I took drama classes. Later I took up Ecole Florent, a prestigious acting atelier where famous French actors like Elizabeth Adjani attended. I went from plays to TV and then on to movies. For my future projects, I'd like to be more selective.
IHT-JAI: How did you get into acting as a career?
Terral: My first job was on TV in 1995. I played a young man having an affair with an older woman. It was hard, but the harder the acting, the more exciting for me. The end of the same year, I worked with the director Elie Chouraqui in "Les Menteurs" (The Liars). In 1997, I did a movie called "Post Coitum Animal Triste" by another well-known director Brigitte Rouen for TV. Again, I played a young man having an affair with an older woman, which was very tough, but at the same time stimulating. It was tough because it directly dealt with a physical scene. I had to do a scene where the woman was leaving the man; when she did, she lifted his penis and put money underneath it. The movie was a big break for me. That film was selected for "Un Certain Regard," the non-competitive section in the 50th Cannes Film Festival and was also featured in the French Film Festival in Los Angeles.
IHT-JAI: What do you see as the differences between American movies and French movies?
Terral: I've always aspired to work and experience working overseas, so I began learning English. In fact, as soon as I get back to France, I have an English test waiting for me.
In France it seems that only established actors get a chance to do movies because the movie production usually works together with or under the influence of TV. It is very hard for a TV production to cast lesser known actors. During the making of a movie, the investment for TV viewing is already made, and often the movie is shown on TV first.
But, I think in America, more opportunities are given to young － as young as 17 or 18 － actors who are less experienced in the field. And, they are given more time and opportunities to prepare for a movie. As you can see in the credits, one actor has a trainer for all kinds of skills needed to shoot the movie. I envy that kind of working environment.
In France there is a dangerous tradition in movie industry. When they make a movie, they put real people in it, for example, when they need a butcher, they put a real butcher in it. If they need a street bum, they put in a real one. It's not hard for a butcher to be a butcher, and that's not acting. They don't know how hard it is to make it as an actor nor do they realize that acting involves effort and research. So in France every young person wants to become an actor. I think it also has to do with the social mood: There is no more political environment, no ideals in the country. There used to be a dream, an idea for the future. Now the young people believe that their dreams can be found in TV or movies － it's a kind of way out for them.
by Inēs Cho