By Sarah Williams
Cinessance is a new streaming service that intends to be the first US streamer exclusively for French film. As an alternative to arthouse streaming like Mubi or Criterion Channel, what Cinessance programs isn't bound as much by pedigree in critical circles or international precedent, but a subsection of French film that tends to stay within national borders. It is worth a wonder as to who tends to subscribe to specialty streaming services, whether it’s cinephiles committed to finding legal access to rarer classics, or a casual viewer who likes a particular formula. The selection favors a more traditional breed of cinema, steering clear of genre pictures, but that isn’t to say there’s no potential for the best of this populist simplicity to slip through. If you enjoyed Cédric Klapisch’s The Spanish Apartment, some deeper cuts like Russian Dolls and Family Resemblances are now streamable, and recommended. It’s also nice to see a small family section, particularly after recent online discourse as to whether non-English cinema precludes a ‘snobbish’ set of interests. The democratization of non-Anglo culture is of course commendable, especially as a selection of kid-friendly films is incredibly helpful for promoting early language learning, something harder to achieve with other, solely-adult specialty services.
Perhaps it is wrong of me to criticize a service for what is not. There is a solid start for a platform of largely '90s and '00s French film that isn’t easy to find overseas. While major arthouse features, and controversy-drivers, tend to make it across the ocean, the language of French comedy is largely lost on audiences that can access little of it. While it would be nice to see more from the era (I’m particularly partial to a lot of the '80s/'90s films by women that writer Françoise Audé championed), there is a skewed perception of popular French film in the US, and the platform does change that, by providing more of it, though near exclusively this palatable portion. In terms of the addition of more recent releases, Mélanie Laurent-starring Return of the Hero is under the coming soon subheader. It’s a lightly comedic, pleasant historical drama of small scale, and a good sample for the sort of content that Cinessance distributes.
This week, the streaming platform added a hub to watch both the short and feature lineups of My French Film Festival. While the shorts are free in other places (personal highlights I’ve seen in the past from the lineup are Hold Me Tight and Little Bear), the feature film selection is more exclusive, often boasting premieres for films that do not have US distribution, this year, MFFF includes major festival titles of the past year such as Honey Cigar, All Hands On Deck, and Nadia Butterfly, as well as underseen Marguerite Duras adaptation The Lover. These films engage France, and its film culture, in a broader world context, and give a greater perspective than what the initial streaming lineup may show. This partnership shows a lot of potential for what the service can become, with events to connect a past and present of French film beyond Breathless or Amélie.
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The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.