As soon as the lights are out, the audience is already having fun. A first gag, a failed suicide in the purest tradition of circus clowns, and she laughs. At the back of the room, a couple of teenagers try to guess the next line, with a certain talent. This Monday evening, despite these few fans, the rows are sparse for the screening of Bodin’s in Thailand. Normal. We are in Paris and, four weeks after its release, the film has only been seen by 30,000 spectators in the capital while it has attracted more than 1.3 million in total in France. A phenomenon revealing the gulf between two France, one urban and heavy consumer of culture – and particularly of auteur cinema or original versions -, the other more rural and greedy for success for the general public. Two France who ignore each other, gaze at each other, sometimes despise each other.
Les Bodin’s are the extreme example. We, modest Parisian journalist, were still wondering whether to pronounce the “s” in the title of the film (for your information, both are admitted) that the 145 previews scheduled in the provinces were taken by storm . We were to discover that Christian and his mother, Maria Bodin, are actually called Jean-Christian and Vincent, made up in the style of the Vamps; that people, who had not been to the movies for years and asked for obsolete “balcony seats”, made the trip to laugh, along with hundreds of others, lines such as “close the cellar, the potatoes are going freeze “for a fly left open.
Familiarity is not new. Since 2015, the Bodins have been playing a sold-out show in the thirty or so Zénith hexagonal. Over 1.5 million people have seen their play Full-scale. Enough to build a real fan club, especially as the tour continues in 2022. Including in Paris where no one knows them, but where they are able to attract enough people to fill the Zénith de la Villette three evenings next February. “Many people in the room saw their show. For the previews, it was delirium,” confirms Yves Sutter, who runs Cinéville, a network of 16 cinemas in the west and north of France.
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And the transition from stage to screen works. “We are really dealing with a rural audience, which has the references of the peasant attitudes of our two heroes. There is a scene where Bodin’s son tries to catch a pig in a pen. It is a ‘seen scene’ for people of the countryside, and it’s a good time for fun for those who lived it “, underlines Jean Latreille, associate professor of economic and social sciences and author of Cinoche and society. The sociological intuitions of popular cinema (The Harmattan). Because they themselves come from the countryside, the actors can make fun of the “peckers” without being resented. In the room, we laugh at those Bodins lost at the airport because we remember their first trip and that damn feeling of not being in their place. For many, Christian and Maria are family.
Exceptional by the extent of the gulf that separates Paris from the rest of the world, but not a unique case, the Bodins. At regular intervals, films appear at the top of the box office that the capital has ignored. In 2018, there was The Municipal, a popular comedy performed by the Knights of Bile, and Basque Country Mission, the story of a pretty Parisian woman who tries to screw up an old hardware store. In 2019, In the name of the earth, Edouard Bergeon’s drama with Guillaume Canet, achieved nearly 2 million admissions but less than 100,000 in Paris. So many examples that reveal a complex geography of cinema, between the capital and the rest of France, between urban areas and medium or small towns. “There are several genres of films that work well outside of Paris: the big popular comedies that rely on local success like The Municipal Where The Bodin’s ; big family movies like Heidi which, in 2015, made 700,000 admissions, but 40,000 in Paris, Belle and Sébastien or Poly, with its 605,000 admissions but 20,000 in Paris, “explains Eric Marti, CEO of Comscore, which studies the box office data every week.
A multiplicity of tastes and desires that the world of cinema sometimes has difficulty understanding, because he is himself a Parisian, more fond of films featuring the middle classes, even bourgeois, in beautiful Haussmann apartments than of watched comedies. with a touch of condescension. “For some Parisians, there is the idea that the toothless old woman (Maria Bodin) smells of liquid manure and that, inevitably, it will not fly very high”, regrets Frédéric Forestier, the director of Bodin’s in Thailand. “The Bodins send the middle classes back to a rurality that they have fled, from which they have torn themselves away, so that does not make them laugh. They cannot laugh at their origins, they close the doors on an initial trauma that they are they want to forget. On the other hand, they make the success of Lost illusions, story of a provincial who goes up to Paris “, adds Jean Latreille. And who made 800,000 entries including 250,000 in the capital.
The good scores of popular comedies are, however, due to factors quite different from a simple “class stupidity” that some are tempted to attach to the provincial public. First, because in rural areas, people go to the cinema less – up to 2 times less than in large cities, according to the National Cinematography Center – and that, when we go, we go there differently. “With us, we are in a very family and intergenerational cinema, we have three, even four generations who come to see the same film. In Paris, we are rarely next to each other, we go to the cinema as a couple, with friends possibly, not beyond. So here, we often choose a film where there is no violence, no sex “, underlines Yann Legargeant, co-manager and operator of the Cinémarine in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie in Vendée. The price of seats, around 7 euros, against sometimes 14 euros in Paris, also helps to broaden the sociology of the public. A consensual film, like The Bodin’s, where the grown-ups laugh at gags and the little ones have fun at Maria Bodin’s stunts in the streets of Bangkok, has, therefore, much more chance to convince that The event by Audrey Diwan, even crowned with a golden lion at the Venice Film Festival, or as the last Almodovar, Parallel Mothers.
Local roots count for a lot, as the Vendéen Yann Legargeant attests: “Local glories work well. The regional press talks about it and people follow”. A few weeks ago, he received a preview of Théo Christine who plays JoeyStarr in the biopic Supreme retracing the history of the NTM group. An expected event because the young actor is from the region but who might not have had the same success elsewhere. The dimension of identification has also played a role in In the name of the earth which particularly worked in Mayenne where it was filmed. More modestly, a film like Nude Normandy benefited from a regional bonus, as well as The Ch’tite Family by Dany Boon in the North.
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People like to be talked about about themselves, about their world, even if it is to make fun of it, when humor is accompanied by tenderness. A form of self-mockery morning of pride in what they are that they find on the screen, at The Tuche (even if the headliners have a more “Parisian” profile) as at The Bodin’s. “There is the idea that the Republic or Europe or some state authority comes to explain to the people of the countryside and the people how to live. And they retort with their common sense: leave us alone, let us live in our way. The Tuches are throwing a lot of people who have power and fortune “, summarizes Frédéric Forestier. Already in 1964 The Gendarme of Saint-Tropez had taken the lead at the French box office, with 5.4 million admissions, but only 521,000 in Paris. The same year, the most consensual Rio man, with Jean-Paul Belmondo, achieved 4.2 million admissions, including almost 1 million in Paris. De Funès and Maria Bodin, same fight?
The analysis of the Express think tank