From “Balle Perdue” to “Overdose”, how streaming saved French action cinema

Shunned by theatrical audiences, French action cinema is regaining success on streaming platforms thanks to films like Bullet lost, Bronx And Tirelessly. A new golden age that inspires Hollywood.

Is Netflix the new Eldorado of French action cinema? In recent years avoided by the public and booed by critics, the “actionners” made in France are reborn in streaming. This Friday, Prime Video draws in 240 countries Overdose, a new thriller by Olivier Marchal. And in a week, on November 10, Netflix will launch the highly anticipated Lost ball 2 by Guillaume Pierret.

After the boxes of Earth and Blood (2020), Sentinel (2021), The last mercenary (2021), Tirelessly (2022) or even away from the ring road (2022), success should be once again for these two productions. Especially from the first part of Bullet lost, released in June 2020, is one of Netflix’s most popular French productions, with 37 million views. Same for me BronxOlivier Marchal’s previous film, originally intended for cinema.

Streaming has taken the place of video clubs and “Direct-To-Video”, “those films designed and produced exclusively for video exploitation,” recalls Alex Rallo, action film specialist behind the popular Twitter account. @ Head exposure: “Excellent B-series action films have been shot in this context for many years, but in France it wasn’t quite like that.” This rebirth did not go unnoticed. the New York Times greeted Bullet lost and erect The portrait by Julien Leclercq, the director of earth and blood And Sentinel.

“Immediately gratifying pleasure”

However, this success is still limited. “It doesn’t create a new appetite for these films in theaters,” regrets Thomas Bruxelle, producer of Tirelessly. And there is “a glass roof for these films of about 34-39 million complete views in 28 days”, remarks Frédéric, a meticulous observer of streaming platforms, who manages the Netflix & Figures newsletter: “These films do not explode. because like an American film. But we are at the high end of non-British films “.

But there is something to be happy about. Some of these films have become references. Since its release, Bullet lost has reappeared four times in Netflix’s top 10 non-English language movies, most recently two weeks ago. “It happens relatively regularly”, slips the specialist. “Either people decided to watch it, because 2 is coming. Or the recommendation algorithm had a specific push to promote this movie knowing the second was coming.”

For Alex Rallo, Bullet lost is “a perfect platform movie”, ideal for word of mouth: “Offers instantly rewarding pleasures, including rabid chases and violent hand-to-hand combat in a police station. A simple hero, who favors identification, and the stakes clear In short, Serie B quality Watching a film on a platform does not imply the same expectations [qu’un film de cinéma]: the return on investment for the public must therefore be greater “. The film must therefore be sufficiently paced so that viewers do not get up.

More impressive and more successful than the first part, Lost ball 2 should logically confirm this franchise’s place in the Netflix catalog. With his ruthless plunge into the world of drug traffickers, Overdose should in turn seduce fans of Narcos. They will also find in the credits one of the protagonists of the Netflix series, the Argentine Alberto Ammann. “These are films made for platforms, of course,” acknowledges Olivier Marchal.

“More authentic proposals”

Without reaching the heights of the nihilism of Hong Kong, Korean or Indonesian action cinema, these French productions of the genre attract with their often raw and uncompromising tone. “We don’t act in the same black category, but we have French directors who, when they make this type of film, they do it in a radical way,” agrees Guillaume Pierret.

“As soon as there’s a different proposition on screen in the action genre, the guys are there,” continues the director. “Don’t be put off by reading subtitles. There are so many Hollywood blockbusters out there that you need to see more authentic submissions.”

“There is a subscriber curiosity that we underestimate a lot,” adds Frédéric of Netflix & Cipher. “Accessibility is so simplified [sur Netflix] that people will give a chance to many productions ”. An accessibility that allows the French to be more easily seduced by works that they would tend to denigrate if they were released in cinemas.

Olivier Marchal also sees in the success of these films a consequence of the evolution of the state of the world: “People are so saturated with violence and bad news that they don’t want to find them in the cinema. For ten years, it has been getting worse and worse in the lack of civilization. . In theaters, we go to see UFOs or completely excluded comedies. Me too, when I’m a big consumer of thrillers. I prefer to see them myself, unless it’s Michael Mann. “

Financing problem

Less revered than Hong Kong, French action cinema has always had interesting offerings. Without going back to fear for the city (1975), works like Total Western (2000), Wasp nest (2002), The carrier (2004), District 13 (2004), Point blank (2010), The prey (2011), vendetta (2017) or even burnt (2018) made an impression. But with the exception of Pact of wolves (5 million admissions) or Northern ferry (2.1 million), success has rarely been there.

“In France, the action film has always seemed to me to endorse a more lively character, even in the days of Besson / EuropaCorp,” continues Alex Rallo. “The films that have marked the genre in France have rarely given rise to tendencies or desires to enter the breach on the part of the producers. Which films follow from the success of the ‘Pact of the Wolves’? genre, like Fred Cavayé and Florent-Emilio Siri, sooner or later had to change their register, due to lack of easy financing “.

“There was also a lack of desire on the part of many directors, who were afraid to deal with this genre, because they didn’t know how to make it happen,” continues Guillaume Pierret. And Netflix took advantage of this gaping void to establish itself, explains Thomas Bruxel: “When EuropaCorp no longer positioned itself on these films, very few distributors wanted to go there. Netflix said there was a niche to take. They wanted to reach audiences aged 15-40, who like action.”

And action directors saw their salvation there: “If you look at the budget needed to make films like this and the number of viewers they do, you don’t have much choice for platforms,” ​​adds Olivier Marchal. “We rarely make 2.5 million [d’entrées] how Northern ferry. At best, you earn between 500,000 and 800,000. These are good scores, but we’re at the top. It does not cover the budget. The platforms bring budget and visibility “.

No censorship

For filmmakers, collaboration with platforms also offers the opportunity to break away from traditional cinema and propose violent stories without fear of being censored. “We have almost total freedom. It’s really a partnership. They have faith in the work of the producer and the director,” insists Thomas Brussels. “All distributors have asked us to do Tirelessly an action comedy Netflix appreciated the radical nature of the project and agreed to produce it without distorting the essence of the film. “

If the platforms leave some creative freedom, they still keep an eye on the grain. “We worked with [Prime] on casting and editing, “says Olivier Marchal.” Depending on where the film is distributed, there are images that are more striking than others, strangely more about sex than violence. We paid a lot of attention to the image of women. At the beginning ofOverdose, there are prostitutes, they asked me to remove every other floor. They were afraid it might shock “.

At the age of 60 Olivier Marchal appreciated being “questioned” by the Prime team, made up of “young people, who are thirty years old”: “They have a different path of film buffs than mine. They are big series eaters. platform film. It is good for me to compare myself with this type of audience and with an audience that resembles them to try to make films a little less classic than the ones I did. Maybe that’s a little more rock’n’roll “.

Is French action cinema conquering the world?

Already working on his next projects, Olivier Marchal is thinking around the room of an “ultra-trash” thriller on the line of Taxi driver And nobody while developing more ambitious projects for Prime and Netflix. For his part, Guillaume Pierret is already working Lost ball 3. The revival of action films made in France has just begun. And it makes people envious on the other side of the Atlantic.

After the success of Bullet lostits star Alban Lenoir received a proposal to join Fast and Furious 10. But the actor preferred to stay in France. Guillaume Pierret in the role of Régis Blondeau, the director of Tirelessly, were contacted by American producers. It is difficult for the moment to measure the contribution of these films to the genre: “The international release of a French action film is an event for foreign viewers who are particularly interested in the genre”, observes Alex Rallo.

For the specialist, “the question will have to be asked the day a French action film will have a similar global impact Flash point, Ong Bak Where is it The raid.“But there is reason to be optimistic, concludes Thomas Bruxelles:“ Netflix has opened a great door for us. Good for French cinema. This leaves us with a very interesting field of action. A whole generation of directors and above all female directors can finally have fun. Now is the time to propose attractive projects. “

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