Roxane, a film on the privileged relationship of a breeder with his hens, is one of the many films to see on Cinessance.
Photo: Just Film Distribution and Mars Distribution
You have a bunch of baguettes at home, some good camembert and a beret, but you can’t name a single French actor who isn’t called Timothée Chalamet? A new streaming service, Cinessance, wants to solve a simple problem – the lack of easy access to French films – while combating streaming fatigue through a curated library that aims to educate audiences about this category of cinema, and eventually on French culture in general.
Prior to the launch of Cinessance, which is now available on iOS, Android, and web browser via a $6.99 monthly subscription or $69.99 annual subscription, Vulture tried out the Cinessance app (both browser-based and on Android) and spoke with founder Clément Monnet about what he hopes to achieve with Cinessance, the films he most wants audiences to see, expansion plans for the future and how this streamer stands out compared to Netflix and other juggernauts.
Like most streamers, Cinessance’s homepage features top titles, recommendations, and categories. They happen to be available in French.
The first thing to notice when you launch the app is how similar it is to something like Netflix. Cinessance goes for simplicity and familiarity, from selecting your profile, to scrolling carousels divided by gender. According to Monnet, this was intentional. “The user experience has been standardized and people want the Netflix experience,” Monnet told Vulture. “So I’m proud that we were able to bring this to web, iOS and Android in record time, because we started a business in April and we’re launching in November.” If you’ve ever played on the Netflix app, Cinessance is pretty intuitive. The search function allows you to easily and quickly search for movie titles, actor or director names and genres. All titles come with English subtitles, but you cannot select the video quality, which automatically adjusts to the highest possible quality allowed by the source and your internet connection.
Like its user interface, the streamer itself was created to address a fairly simple but universal problem: wanting to show your American friends the latest French movie that’s all the rage back home, but never makes it to American theaters without serious rewards support. “I watch a great movie on the plane and when I tell my fiancée to watch it, we can’t find it,” says Monnet. “That’s how it all started.”
What sets the app apart on day one is its retention. Just below your classic category labels like Comedy, Drama, and Home Movies, there are categories for the best films by Gerard Depardieu, Jean Gabin, and even the cast of Le Splendid.
According to Monnet, the streaming platform’s library was guided by three criteria: films selected by Monnet himself based on what he thought would resonate with audiences in the French diaspora, surveys of customers of the around the world to find the audience’s favorite French films, and an attempt to find films that could better sum up French cinema for those who don’t know, to give them an idea of it. The result is a library of indie films, popular hits, and decades-old classics.
The goal is to create an organized experience that can combat decision fatigue and avoid spending two hours trying to find something to watch before giving up and watching nothing. “Having a curation like this would be a big game changer,” Monnet tells us. “We will also work with directors and actors to share their favorite French films with them, and share their recommendations either on the platform itself or on our social networks.” Cinessance isn’t alone in highlighting star lineups, something niche streamers like Shudder have done to distinguish themselves from the bigger players and add a more personalized touch.
These artist-specific categories keep things exciting, at least for me. Immediately, I was more drawn to these carousels than the standard genre categories, even though I didn’t know Le Splendid or Claude Sautet, because, hey, there must be a reason why these particular films are featured .
If there’s a downside to Cinessance, at least at launch, it’s the rather limited library of around 100 movies. Although the app aims to present a canon of French cinema among streaming services, at launch its offerings seem to be lacking in terms of essential selections, at least in the way we understand the category in the United States. There are no films by Godard, Jacques Becker, Truffaut, Tati, Carax or Varda. French horror is nowhere to be found, while animation has a rather tiny presence, despite being genres and staples of French film production. Despite Monnet’s desire for it to be the go-to platform for finding French films, most of the best-known French films in America are absent from the platform, although the priority given to lesser-known films was perhaps intentional – or more profitable.
According to Monnet, licensing negotiations were the biggest challenge when launching the platform, but rather than focusing on what could have been, he is already thinking ahead. There is a Coming Soon section on the platform and the plan is to “grow the library up to 500 titles by 2022” with the hope of “being at 1000 by 2023”. In the meantime, however, Monnet recommended those wishing to delve into French cinema to start with crime drama. Max and the Junkmen, romantic comedy someone somewhereand comedy Roxaneabout a farmer teaching literature to his chicken.
In some ways, the banner launch is more like appetizers than entry. It’s good taste for those who want to dip their toes into French cinema beyond Amelie but I don’t know where to start. While Netflix has pretty much abandoned streaming movies over 40 years old, that slack has been taken over by Criterion Channel or Mubi. What Cinessance offers may not be a history lesson, nor the latest trending titles like Portrait of a lady on fire Where Titaniumbut rather a solution to Monnet’s personal but relatable problem: wanting to show your American friends the latest French film that’s all the rage back home, but never makes it to American theaters without serious awards support.
More Le Splendid, please?
There are some features on the platform that are very promising that competitors miss, like a dedicated “details” tab on each title with cast and crew information, but right now you can only not click on a name and see their filmography, unfortunately. Likewise, the app launches with English subtitles on every title (no duplicates, so best to get past that one-inch barrier), but no French subtitles if you’re looking to learn French, and no subtitles in other languages. That being said, more options are on the roadmap.
“Different subtitles are being added as we speak,” Monnet explains. “What’s most important to us is to always have French audio plus the local language, so when we launch in South America we’ll add Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, and eventually French subtitles. I want Cinessance to become like a book for students when they enter the classroom. I want people who teach French to be able to have a Cinessance subscription where they can have English subtitles, maybe first before switching to French subtitles, then eventually removing the subtitles. I really want it to become a tool for people to learn French, and when you learn the language, you want to learn more about the culture.
While Monnet doesn’t give specific dates for expansion or adding non-English language subtitles, he says they can work on subtitles for Spanish before launching in Latin America because it is so widely used in the United States, and that alone puts it ahead of many of its competitors.
Despite launching with a modest library and features still in the works, Cinessance has plenty of exciting content for those who want to get away from the “mainstream” idea of French cinema a bit, at least in America, and the element of curation helps making the decision of what to watch a little easier. Plus, while Netflix has multi-million dollar productions and Disney+ has an endless IP, where can you watch a comedy about a chicken who discovers Cyrano de Bergerac?