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Are Cinemas Afraid To Show French Skinhead Movie?

Filmmaker Diasteme's new movie suggests links between neo-Nazis and France's third largest party the National Front. He says cinemas are now dropping the film.

Screenshot from "Un Francais"
Screenshot from "Un Francais"
Grégoire Leménager
PARIS — A French film set to be released next week plunges viewers into the country's neo-Nazi and skinhead subcultures. But while critics have been largely positive, the film's director says the movie will be "basically stillborn" because he believes cinema owners will be too afraid to screen it — and not for the reason most would predict.

Slated for a June 10 release, Un Francais ("A French Man") recounts the story of a French neo-Nazi, but the director Diastème has ignited controversy by writing on his blog that he thought few showings of the film would actually happen, claiming that more than 50 advance screenings already had been canceled. The cinema owners, he says, are afraid his portrayal of the French right wing could elicit a violent backlash from the National Front and other conservative extremists.

The facts of this scandal aren't so clear. The quality of the film, on the other hand, is.

Un Français begins in the 1990s, that benevolent era when you could still smoke in a bar in front of the pinball machine. We watch youths with shaved heads and bomber jackets as they beat up guys whose skin is too brown. They hate "pédés" (fags), get into brawls with punks and non-Nazi skinheads, wield meat cleavers, and force unlucky North Africans to recite "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem. They make a destitute black guy they find in the street drink detergent.

t's all just for kicks, because French youth are like this. They like to act up. Of course, it isn't funny at all. Especially when people get killed. The film aims to show this, and it does so well.

The movie focuses primarily on Marc, a tough guy played by Alban Lenoir with a crucifix tattooed on his back. Marc grew up in subsidized housing with an alcoholic father and an overwhelmed mother. He finds himself married to a blonde heiress played by Lucie Debay, who resembles National Front politician Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. She leaves him abruptly after a fight over a French national team composed of black players.

Vaguely depressed, Marc is left to himself, with a job unpacking merchandise at the supermarket. He starts to realize that Arabs aren't all criminals, ultimately redeeming himself and becoming a good guy.

Over the course of the film, the viewer sees the years roll on. We see nationalist politician Bruno Mégret on TV, pleading self-defense on behalf of two National Front canvassers in Marseille who killed a teenage immigrant from the African island nation of Comoros. We hear National Front patriarch Jean-Marie Le Pen speaking of the "incident" after a Moroccan drowns in the Seine on the fringes of the party's traditional May Day rally.

Diastème says he had the idea for Un Français after the death of Clément Méric, a 19-year-old liberal activist who was killed in a 2013 street brawl with far-right extremists in Paris. The director doesn't try to hide his intentions. He wants to remind us of something that he says is often made confusing by the media.

"The National Front is a party with blood on its hands," Diastème says. "The TV presenters forget, but I remember. The party was created by French Nazis. We can't treat it like other parties. We can't obscure the historical dimension."

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