French President Emmanuel Macron will this week kick off a three-day trip to Beijing, a high-stakes diplomatic mission that will be a delicate balancing act between urging Chinese leader Xi Jinping to change his stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and maintaining French trade priorities. The French delegation accompanying Macron will include dozens of people spread across two jets landing in Beijing on Wednesday — and the French film industry will be one of the constituencies represented in the group.
Experienced filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud will travel with Macron and attend several official occasions, including the China-France state dinner hosted by Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday night. During the trip, Annaud is also promoting his most recent film, the 2022 disaster story Notre Dame on fire, which will be released nationwide in China on Friday. It will be the first French film to hit theaters 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 French culture minister Rima Abdul Malak, will attend the Chinese premiere of Notre Dame on fire in Beijing’s Emperor Cinemas in Jianguomen District.
Notre Dame on fire is a docu-realistic disaster story that recreates the events surrounding the real-life conflagration that engulfed Paris’ world-famous medieval cathedral in 2019. reconstructions to tell the story of how the fire was extinguished and how some of the monument’s most valuable artifacts were courageously saved. It was released in France last spring and made $5.9 million.
Annaud, director of The name of the rose and an Oscar winner for his feature film debut Black and white in color, has a long-standing relationship with China. He directed the Sino-French co-production wolf totem (2015), based on the critically acclaimed novel by Chinese author Jiang Rong. The project was supported by state distributor China Film Group and Annaud spent a whole year filming in Inner Mongolia with local actors and real wolves. The film made $125 million in China and became the country’s official entry for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category that year (although it was later controversially disqualified due to a technicality because the Academy said that too much of the the film’s main creatives were French (to qualify as Chinese).
Beijing-based film manager Sélim Oulmekki, originally from France and formerly of Chinese company Hisshow Entertainment, brought the project to Chinese financier and distributor Jialin Culture and Media in 2020. China. It’s an exciting, straight-forward story about the rescue of Notre Dame, one of the first places Chinese go when they visit Paris. And Jean-Jacques Annaud is highly respected here in China.”
Jialin Culture and Media comes out Notre Dame on fire in cooperation with state distributor Huaxia. Since then, Oulmekki says the film will be an interesting test of the post-Covid recovery of China’s film market Our Lady on Sprucee is one of the first European mid-budget films to premiere in the country for many months.
“Recently, only Chinese titles, Hollywood movies and Japanese anime have been released in China, so it’s hard to predict how we will do,” Oulmekki added. “But it’s a great movie with very appropriate IP for China, so we’re pretty hopeful and excited.”