Court Métrange reclaiming the French imagination

Great lovers of cinema, Nicolas Martin, president of the Court Métrange jury and Simon Riaux, juror, both journalistses and film critics, will give a conference on October 1st at the Museum of Fine Arts. They will present the fight they lead to resurrect a genre and science fiction cinema made in France.

French cinema was a pioneer at the beginning of the 20th century in the genres of science fiction, horror and fantasy. Somewhat forgotten, it nevertheless inspired its European and American neighbours. Court-Métrange shines the spotlight on this heritage by inviting Nicholas Martin and Simon Raux at a conference entitled “What is our common fantastic imagination? on October 1 at fine arts museums of Rennes.

Nicolas Martin (left), Simon Riaux (right)

The first, Nicolas Martin, director and screenwriter, is also a producer and host of The Scientific Method on France Culture. The second, Simon Riaux, film critic, works for the webzine Widescreenthe emission The circle on Canal + and the podcast sorry cinema. Both believe that this lost cinema is remarkably rich. However, it suffered the blows of the great American franchises which were largely imposed by the cultural component of the Marshall Plan (soft-power) after the Second World War. In view of this context and after half a century, how can the fruitful reality of the European imagination be restored within film production? Maintenance.

Unidivers – What is your relationship to science fiction and how did your profession lead you to genre cinema?

Nicholas Martin – My connection with science fiction is organic. Fascinated by space, my first books and films fell under this type, in particular Alien, one of my references. Science fiction was my gateway to philosophy, politics, science too. Indeed, after studying medicine, I turned to literature. In summary, my innate love of science has been fueled by this genre – vessel of the imagination that opens up the field of thought while delivering epic stories.

alien movie

Simon Raux – Like Nicolas, my taste for science fiction was my gateway to the world of books and cinema. Coming from a family with modest cultural capital, I didn’t have the opportunity to read the great classics. These were my first literary discoveries.

When I was young, I hardly distinguished between fantasy and science fiction. Both served as reading grids for me to decode the world in order to better understand it. The filmic discoveries that followed were very formative, first in that it taught me politically as works, but also in that their reception, or the contempt they aroused within the cultural circle, told me politically about the constitution of this country and its relationship, or lack thereof, to art and the imagination.

Unidiverse Nicolas, you founded the Hurlequin film club. You present the forgotten genre cinema but also horror films as well as your own short films. As far as your productions are concerned, we think in particular of Remember me Where Last exercisewhich are related to the horrific. Where does this taste for these two categories of film come from?

Nicholas Martin – Hurlequin is intended to rediscover forgotten films as much as to review films that I have seen on VHS, in improved quality, with the atmosphere of a festival like at International Fantastic Film Festival of Gérardmer or the genre film festival in Tours, Bad type. To be afraid all together in a room is something unique that I wanted to transcribe.

Then my first science fiction readings were horrific. I loved being afraid, fear as a primary, almost bestial feeling. We are rarely afraid in life. So I like to try – with all the difficulties that entails – to recreate fear, because each fear is unique and specific to each person.

It is in a way reconnecting with the child who is afraid of the monster under the bed.

Nicholas Martin

Horror cinema is a little forgotten of the 7th art, the sub-genre. Now, if it were only a subgenre, Stanley Kubrick would not have realized shining or Ridley Scott Alien. In these two feature films, the political and social charge is crucial, because playing at being scared constitutes another way of apprehending the world.

Unidiverse Can you talk about your collaboration?

Nicholas Martin – We met at the festival Bad typethen to Gerardmer. I was at a point in my career where I no longer wanted to write alone, so we tried our hand at film format together in 48h [48 Hour Film Project, concours visant à réaliser de bout en bout un court-métrage en 48h, ndlr]. The result was much better than what each would have obtained alone; that’s why we decided to continue. Today, we have created two and a half feature films, two series and counting!

Simon Raux – Our collaboration is rare. In addition to being friends, we are complementary in our qualities and faults, but also in our rhythms of writing. There is little ego. We have a common universe. Writing together is indeed incredible, together it’s even better than alone.

I would complete Nicolas’ remarks by adding that with determinism, inheritance, and many other reasons that we don’t necessarily understand, we are all sensitive to one universe more than another. Me, like Nicolas, it’s science fiction.

screaming metal

Unidiverse Can you tell me a few words about the conference that will take place on October 1?

Nicholas Martin – The conference is based on a question that obsessed us both: what stories do we want to tell? Today, what does genre cinema say? He tells us stories whose imaginary background is preempted by Anglo-Saxon and North American genre cinema, which is not actually ours. A country rich in history, heritage and also in trauma is a perfect breeding ground for bringing stories to life. Too many screenwriters continue to take the American universe as an example.

This is why we question this rich local mythology. This is the case in our first short film, The beat, story of a manhunt where we visit the local mythology of the wild hunt. The objective is to rediscover our culture rather than continue to be inspired by a mythology which, if it has been at the origin of remarkable works, has had its day and is not ours.

Méliès on the moon
© The French Cinematheque

Simon Raux – There is indeed a very rich soil. For a long time in France, there was a culture of fantasy and what would later be called science fiction. The Second World War created a great revival in all areas and this particular imaginary was lost. Only Jules Verne’s universe has survived. And the United States has spread, even imposed, its cultural property in all liberal countries. Result: the filmmakers forgot the existence of a popular SF culture that influenced the whole world, like Screaming metal, a French film that had a notable influence. In the United States, film professionals can talk about it for hours; in France this film is almost forgotten… We seem to have bowed our heads before American supremacy when French science fiction is the source!

Jules Verne
©DR 20,000 places under the sea, by Jules Verne, Hetzel edition

Unidiverse What would be, for you, the remedies against this desertification of the public for the French genre film?

Simon Raux – First, we must fight against the received idea that is spreading among the general public that in France, fantastic or science fiction films and books are mediocre. The only solution is to propose works. The difficulties encountered are in terms of production, the means are too weak.

Nicholas Martin – It’s not for lack of good writers or directors. But with the difficulties of French production, professionals are trained in France and then leave for the United States where they are better received, with higher budgets.

If producers see genre films differently, the public’s gaze must however be reformed. Too many good French genre films are forgotten in favor of great franchise films that are nothing more than marketing stunts. Little by little, we understand that films like Titanium can win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, let them powerfully say something about our society. They are not just stress relief like the big franchise films are.

For a country which is the inventor of both cinema and science fiction, with Jules Vernes and Georges Méliès, the observation is bitter.

Nicholas Martin

Simon Raux – A path has been traveled thanks to platforms, in particular Netflix, which host French films that cinemas have missed. Those in which we did not believe but which ultimately receive a very good reception from the public. The genre film is of interest and must be taken seriously.

Nicholas Martin and Simon Raux – To conclude, we will say that we never tell better than what concerns us, touches us. At a time when we are in a kind of delirious panic, remember that there are identities that are sources of emancipation, openness, and explore the identity and imagination of this country and this continent, is something enriching and emancipating.

short film

Nicolas Martin and Simon Riaux will hold the conference on Saturday October 1 at 3 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts, 20 quai Émile Zola.

We wish to give thanks to the author of this write-up for this remarkable material

Court Métrange reclaiming the French imagination