French president Emmanuel Macron is set to kick off a three-day trip to Beijing this week, a high-stakes diplomatic mission that will be a delicate balancing act between urging Chinese leader Xi Jinping to alter his stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and maintaining France’s trade priorities. The French delegation accompanying Macron will include as many as 400 people spread across two jetliners touching down in Beijing on Wednesday — and the French film industry will be among the constituencies represented in the group.
Veteran filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud will travel with Macron and attend various official functions, including the China-France state dinner hosted by Xi Jinping in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Thursday evening. During the trip, Annaud will also be promoting his most recent film, the 2022 disaster epic Notre-Dame on Fire, which is getting a nationwide China release on Friday. It will be the first French film to open theatrically in China since the country declared the COVID pandemic over in January and reopened its doors to the world. Later on Thursday night, Annaud and the film’s cast, as well as France’s minister of culture, Rima Abdul Malak, will attend the Chinese premiere of Notre-Dame on Fire at Beijing’s Emperor Cinemas in Jianguomen district.
Notre-Dame on Fire is a docu-realist disaster epic that reconstructs the events surrounding the real-life conflagration that engulfed Paris’s world-famous Medieval cathedral in 2019. Starring Samuel Labarthe, Jean-Paul Bordes and Mickaël Chirinian, the film combines actual footage of the blaze with cinematic reconstructions to tell the story of how the fire was put out and how some of the landmark’s most precious artifacts were courageously rescued. It was released in France last spring and earned $5.9 million.
Annaud, director of The Name of the Rose and an Oscar winner for his debut feature Black and White in Color, has a long relationship with China. He directed the Chinese-French co-production Wolf Totem (2015), based on the acclaimed novel by Chinese author Jiang Rong. The project was backed by state distributor China Film Group and Annaud spent a full year shooting in Inner Mongolia with local actors and real wolves. The film earned $125 million in China and became the country’s official entry to the Oscars in the best foreign language film category that year (although it was later controversially disqualified over a technicality because the Academy said too many of the film’s lead creatives were French for it to qualify as Chinese).
Beijing-based film executive Sélim Oulmekki, originally from France and formerly with Chinese company Hishow Entertainment, brought the project to Chinese financier and distributor Jialin Culture and Media back in 2020. “I read the script and felt this would be a really great film for China. It’s a thrilling, straightforward story about the rescue of Notre Dame, which is one of the first places Chinese people go when they visit Paris. And Jean-Jacques Annaud is deeply respected here in China.”
Jialin Culture and Media is releasing Notre-Dame on Fire in partnership with state distributor Huaxia. Oulmekki says the film will provide an interesting test of the Chinese film market’s post-Covid recovery, since Notre-Dame on Fire is among the first mid-budget European films to open in the country in many months.
“Recently, there have only been Chinese titles, Hollywood films and Japanese anime releasing in China, so it’s hard to predict how we will do,” Oulmekki adds. “But it’s a great film with very appropriate IP for China, so we’re quite hopeful and excited.”
Check the latest Hollywood news here.