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by Marie-Noëlle Bertrand

French Education Minister Intends Keeping Prize-Winning Cannes Film out of the Schools

Translated Sunday 22 July 2007, by Patrick Bolland

Censorship: France’s minister of national education, Xavier Darcos, may ban the DVD version for classroom use of Christian Mungui’s film “4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days”, winner of this year’s Golden Palm at the Cannes film festival. Many are condemning this concession to the anti-abortion lobby.

Is Xavier Darcos about to repress his urge to be a censor … or is he about to pour petrol on the flames? Just last Friday (6 July), the minister of national education was obstinately defending his decision to refuse to allow the film 4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days to be shown in state high schools – despite its crowning at this year’s Cannes film festival. But then, on Saturday, when reactions to the decision started coming in, the minister suspended the sentence.

Before any definite decision, the minister wants to consult members of the film directors’ association (SRF) and of the Cannes jury for education awards. He intends also to get the opinion of the national commission on film classification, the only body competent to decide whether a film should be prohibited for those less than 18, 16 or 14 years of age. The motives are not clear: a precautionary principle, the minister assured critics. A concession to the anti-abortion lobby, amongst others, according to the film-director’s association.

Ceausescu’s Romania

The education award has been part of Cannes since 2003, in recognition of the artistic and pedagogical qualities of one of the films competing the Cannes film festival. The National Centre for Instructional Materials (CNDP) then puts the winning film on DVD, adding a pamphlet and other video material. This is later distributed in schools. So Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) and Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette (2006) became “pedagogical tools”. This year, the jury, presided by the actrice Bernadette Lafont, with film-maker Marcel Bozonet as vice-president, gave its award to Christian Mungui’s 4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days, a film that explores serious issues, depicting Romania at the time of Ceausescu, the lives of two adolescents, trapped in their private dilemma by a dictatorship (1). The film discusses in particular illegal abortion late in pregnancy.

Shortly after the award was made, the education minister started nosing in. First, in June, questioning the choice of membership of the jury, at a meeting attended by one of Xavier Darcos’ advisors. The sentence was announced on 2 July, through a letter sent to the inspector-general of national education, Christine Juppé-Leblond, who had initially set up and made the arrangements for this award. Philippe Court, head of the education minister’s cabinet, wrote: “After watching the film and noting the deliberate hard edge (of the film) and in view of the principle of taking precautions, it seems to be undesirable that the film be put on DVD and distributed in classes”.

Not a perverse incitement …

The principle of “taking precautions”? – this argument does not carry any weight with Christine Juppé-Leblond: “This film does not present any danger for the youth. It does not incite them to take drugs or to become suicidal”, nor even, if that’s what one is looking for, encourage abortion. “It raises all sorts of questions, and in this way reflects our priorities: raising burning current issues. To know that all urgent issues can be put on the table as long as they are subject to analysis.”

When this banning-order was announced, others became more outspoken: “Xavier Darcos has kicked the ball into touch under pressure from the anti-abortion lobby” was the reaction of film-maker and SFR member, Hervé Berard, referring, amongst other things, to a press release by the anti-abortion group Choisir la vie (“Choose Life”), which strongly criticized, starting already on 28 May, the choice of this film as winner of the Cannes education award (2). That the minister could have listened to this voice “is an insult to the members of the jury and scandalous to adolescents, when it is admitted that some issues simply cannot be raised in our high schools”, Hervé Berard added.

In an Internet blog, one of the jury members denounced an “act of censorship commandeered by the highest levels of the State in general and education minister Christine Boutin in particular.” Targeted particularly is Ghislain Gomard, who heads up the “Social Republicans”, a right-wing party of which the current housing minister is the president. “What model does this film present, if it is not that of absolute despair, giving up on life, choosing rather to die, accepting prostitution, making slavery out of your body?” – Ghislain Gomard wrote in his blog, which is now off-line but can be found still on the Internet.

Gus Van Sant would today be censored

On Friday evening (6 July) the minister denied conceding anything to anyone. “No question is taboo in the schools”, his office explained. “The abortion issue has nothing to do with banning his DVD. We object only to the film’s general harshness.” Showing young people Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s film, which presented an extremely harsh view of the US high-school massacre at Colombine reflects the previous administration … The minister has changed, the judgment criteria have changed as well.” Is the Mass over? We’ll see in the coming days.

Translator’s notes:

A brief summary of the film provided by the Cannes Festival organizing committee: “Synopsis: Romania, during the final days of Communism. Otilia and Gabita are students; they share a room in a hall of residence in Bucharest. Gabita is pregnant. The girls arrange to meet a certain Mr. Bebe in a cheap hotel. He will perform Gabita’s illegal abortion. But Mr. Bebe refuses their money and demands to be paid in kind.” (http://www.festival-cannes.fr/index.php/en/archives/film/4427638)

In a press-release entitled The culture of death wins an award Choisir la vie wrote: "This crude and powerful story of an abortion under the communist regime constitutes strong pro-abortion propaganda and represents a real danger for school children. CHOISIR LA VIE therefore informs the ministers of culture and national education of its opposition to showing such a film in French educational establishments" (http://www.choisirlavie.org/).

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