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Blockbusters stall - Film funding in France and Italy - Two new British movies

There's panic in the film industry over the worldwide falling revenues for this summer's blockbusters. This period has seen the lowest box office sales since the mid-1980s. A summer of the usual diet of star-laden special effects packages, sequels and prequels, has failed to ignite at the box office.

As Jim Jarmusch told a London audience, 'you can't force feed an audience.' So would the cinema audience have a taste for a tough, gripping, thought provoking, intelligent drama about racial politics like Crash? (reviewed last month). Seems so, as this film, targeted to the mature multiplex crowds, is showing up healthily as the main alternative to the main Hollywood blockbusters this summer in Britain. It's even giving The Island a run for its money.

According to the studio acolytes, the free market should be allowed to run unhindered across the world. But if a European country is kind enough to throw government subsidies their way, in the form of tax breaks or 'soft' loans and grants, the studios will surely step up to the trough.

Last year a fierce row broke out because a French court deemed that A Very Long Engagement did not qualify for a French government subsidy because the production company was backed by Warner Bros. However the culture minister has intervened in the row, defying the protests of French film unions, to look at ways in which he can help the studios gain better leverage in the French subsidy system. So this month a Paris court of appeals has overturned the legal action by French cinema unions to prevent a Warner Brothers' backed company getting a tax subsidy for its film L'Ex Femme de Ma Vie.

The French recognise that to support local production for local stories a substantial level of government subsidy is vital. How else is France to defend itself from cultural homogeneity?

In Italy, Berlusconi cares little for such talk of cultural independence and artistic integrity. Probably mindful of the glorious radical tradition that is Italian cinema (think Italian neo-realism, 1970s leftist cinema etc) he has thrown the industry into crisis over the last two years by systematically slashing cinema funds.

The crisis is expected to result in a 70 percent drop in production for 2005. First time directors, who call themselves Gruppo 16/12, have fortunately won their case after being denied funding by the government. But nothing's safe with that clown in charge so for the filmmakers in Italy it's la lutta continua.

Meanwhile in Britain, a recent reform of the tax system for the country's film producers was announced this month, designed to tighten up the loopholes that give tax breaks to investors with zero interest in movies. The uncertain climate has contributed to a downturn in the industry with some films stalled or desperately scrambling for alternative forms of financing. Allegedly, the main beneficiaries of the new tax scheme will be the US studios and not British investors. Way to go Gordon Brown!

A great deal of misplaced hoopla will accompany the release of the feel-good On A Clear Day (dir Gaby Dellal). It's the story of a redundant docker (Peter Mullan) who determines to put his life together by swimming the English Channel. It's a join-the-dots exercise of a working class man needing to salvage his dignity. But unlike The Full Monty, or Brassed Off, this tries too hard. Not even the talent of Peter Mullan can save it from drowning.

A more interesting British film is Asylum (directed by David Mackenzie, Young Adam), a dark psychological thriller of sexual obsession set in the 1950s. Natasha Richardson stars as the frustrated wife of a psychiatrist who embarks on an affair with a charismatic inmate of the asylum where her husband works.

Their self destructive roller coaster affair turns out to be a bleak cautionary tale on the seductive ideological power of romantic love.