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Grey areas in French culture: would you take a 12-year-old to see ‘Fifty Shades’?

MyFrenchLife™ - 50 Shades of Grey - French cultureJust when we thought nothing on screen could faze us anymore, along came ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. It’s the film release, based on E. L. James’ best-selling, provocative piece of fiction, that managed to shock and appal moviegoers and pop culture critics alike.

We all know the plot: literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview billionaire Christian Grey, and is lured into his world of erotic fetishes and sadomasochistic obsessions. The highly anticipated movie copped a lot of criticism for glorifying abusive relationships and encouraging BDSM.

But while everyone and their dog was busy putting in their two cents, on the other side of the world, France’s decision to allow children as young as 12 to view the film, which features a dozen sex scenes, went by unnoticed.

The French may be renowned for their je ne sais quoi stereotypes – an air of detachment that demands they be set apart from the mainstream and take strides on their own terms – this is seen in their attitudes, their language, their confidence in taking a stance. But it doesn’t seem to be well received in this specific example of separation from public opinion on popular culture.

Fierce classification abroad

In New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom and South Korea, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is strictly prohibited for those under 18, and Australian teens are restricted by the MA classification. In the US, it was rated R for its “graphic nudity”. In some Asian countries, explicit scenes were completely censored out. In Malaysia, the film was banned entirely.

Despite being ranked the most raunchy film of the decade by website Mr Skin due to the sheer quantity of sex scenes, France seems to think otherwise, giving ‘50 Nuances’ the second lowest age rating.

MyFrenchlife™ - French culture - 50 shades of grey

French film rating aloof

The commission in charge of France’s film classifications, the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée (CNC), justified their controversial decision. President Jean-François Mary said ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was merely a “schmaltzy” romance and, due to the casualness with which sadomasochism is represented, it “isn’t a film that can shock a lot of people”.

Apparently, it still managed to, as the rest of the world scoffed at their decision. According to RTL, France’s classification system is notorious for being much more lenient than those in other countries, in stark contrast to Anglo-Saxon countries that are tough, particularly on sexual themes.

American magazine Entertainment Weekly tweeted that “France is being France” by letting 12-year-olds see the film. And, Téléstar noted that in the eyes of others, France needs no filter: she stands tall as a country full of her own unrestrained and cheeky cultural practices.

The ‘French culture’ approach

But the question still remains: would you take your 12-year-old to see the film? If we were to follow the logic of the classification committee, then we are to believe that 12-year-old French girls and boys are more mature than their 12-year-old counterparts in Australia, or the United States, or the United Kingdom, non?

Or are they, instead, more desensitised over time to ‘adult themes’ thanks to lax age restrictions in cinemas? This can be likened to the strategy employed by French parents in relation to alcohol consumption: by slowly introducing drinks to children from a younger age, they will become less interested in ‘bingeing’ on drink as they grow older.

MyfrenchLife™ - Fifty-Shades-of-Grey - French Culture

Another theory, suggested by Metro News, is that opening up the age of access to films is just a way of converting interest into bums on seats. The bigger the accessible audience, the more profitable a film can be.

Moreover, statistics show that in the expansive history of French cinema, there has rarely been a film released with a restrictive classification as high as interdit aux moins de 18 ans. Even Vice’s example of ‘Baise-moi’ (‘F*ck Me’) – a “sex-and-killing-spree movie” – was given a mere 16+ rating.

In that case, are we looking at this controversy the wrong way? If there is no astonishment for the French audience, then perhaps France’s soft classification is a question of marketing strategy rather than youth desensitisation.


What do you think of France’s classification laws? Would you take your 12-year-old to see it? Join the conversation below!


Image credits:
1. via Wikipedia.
2. via The Atlantic.com.
3. via Blackfilm.com.



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