Co-founder of international distributor Wild Bunch (France)
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“A few months ago, I was invited onto a TV show where I was asked if film criticism is useful. My reply is still the same as it was then: no. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s great that we’re able to analyse and dissect films but I can’t understand why we need film criticism to be useful. That doesn’t mean I’m anti-critic: there are so few useless things in the world that it’s nice to be able to give them some of our time. I love uncovering in a review an opinion that enlightens me, that tells me something I didn’t know or see or hadn’t managed to formulate myself. For me, film criticism must not be influential but should bring to the table a viewpoint, it should allow us to compare opinions. I never read reviews of films I haven’t watched. I read them after, in a bid to engage in a dialogue around said film. But do critics want to engage? Film criticism no longer seems to speak to communities in the way platforms such as Netflix have been doing so successfully, leading to for example millions of people watching a Turkish film without a single reviewer picking up on it. And even if they had, at best it would have led to 2 or 3,000 people attending an arthouse cinema in the Latin Quarter.
Film criticism is now facing the same problem as festivals: for a long time, critics helped us audiences discover new films. Today, if a great Indonesian film is released, within three days, a local distributor will call me to say 'you should watch this, I’ll send you a link.' Critics or people like Pierre Rissient who travel the world, searching for cinematic gems, they don’t exist anymore. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. I’d rather there was increasing democratisation of discovery, that people weren't dependent on the taste of those speaking to them, holding their hands. I rarely enjoy anything as much as watching a film I know nothing about. We can’t avoid disappointment when a review oversells a film. Conversely, we can be pleasantly surprised by a film it destroys. This preconception, which prevents me from being master of my own opinion, unsettles me.
The public knows how to decrypt film criticism, they can tell when the critic really believes in a film and they’re just paying lip service, when they’re being insincere, when they champion a filmmaker because they’re trending. It is fascinating to look at the audience rankings on Allocine: generally speaking, the bottom fifteen films listed are also the top fifteen films in the critics’ ranking, as well as the fifteen least identified films. This is actually quite reassuring as it at least illustrates the fact the public doesn’t automatically follow like sheep, something that increasingly frightens me in my own sector where more and more people are reluctant to think for themselves and await to hear the views of others before forming their own opinions. Film criticism doesn’t make films successful, but this isn’t its role anyway.
Rather, that should be to steer the readers towards greater autonomy in forming their opinions, it should open the way for dialogue and not impose views. In order to do this, film criticism, if it is disconnected from the industry, should not shy away from supporting filmmakers whose work might not always appear 'on trend'. I remain convinced of the need to create TV shows and magazines that provide film criticism addressed to younger audiences, who aren’t offered much these days, very much because it’s becoming stifling to endlessly hear the same views, being told to like the same things, to be faced with the usual parade of hallowed and untouchable figures. I would love to see - despite championing his work myself - a magazine that publishes a review stating 'the latest Godard isn’t very good BUT there was this or that bit that was great.' In fact, it’s Godard himself that might have had the right idea about film reviews when he said that they should be written like the football reports in L'équipe that might describe a match as rubbish but would highlight one or two extraordinary moves at say, the 23rd and 45th minutes. Why can’t reviewers move towards this model? Why are they still so fenced in by the concept of Auteur and the restrictions that go with it?”
As told to Alex Masson