Cinéma Le Français in Bordeaux: contemporary but with roots in the past
by Elisabetta Brunella
From Molière to immersive cinema: this is how we might sum up the route travelled through time by the historical building in Bordeaux that now houses the Cinéma Le Français. Built according to a design by Jean-Baptiste Dufart, which makes the most of the triangular-shaped ground available, it previously housed a theatre seating 1,638, which opened in 1801 with Molière’s “Tartuffe”, but was very soon the victim of fate.
A first fire broke out in 1855, a second in 1920. If, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the newborn cinema screenings were included in its programme, in 1923, after being taken over by Paramount, the theatre was designated once and for all to the seventh art.
During the Second World War it was the seat of the Chamber of Deputies, but also became a “Soldatenkino" for the occupying forces. In the postwar period it had a series of owners until, in 1982, it passed into the hands of CGR. Having risked closure due to the effects of the admissions crisis, it underwent several renovations before taking on its present form in 2015.
There is still some evidence of its sumptuous past, such as the dramatic flight of steps at the entrance or the fresco by Émile Brunet which decorated the ceiling of the theatre and has been preserved in the main auditorium of the present 12-screen cinema.
Apart from this, the theatre is decidedly contemporary in design, especially the foyer on the first floor, where a long, multicolour counter provides for the sale of snacks, drinks and also tickets. The only concession to tradition is the wall equipped for the sale of colourful bonbons and candies, but it is digital technology that reigns supreme. A series of screens of varying sizes make it possible to buy tickets, while offering information on the programming and on the various services for spectators and business companies.
The former, particularly if they are members of the “Club”, can obtain offers and benefits, for example reduced-price tickets or, by using the points accumulated at each purchase, access to various sorts of initiatives, starting from music events. Businesses, on the other hand, can organise meetings and conventions in the cinema by purchasing packages of services provided by CGR.
Much publicity is devoted to ICE, i.e. Immersive Cinema Experiences, which CGR has placed its bets on in order to obtain a competitive edge over other types of “premium” theatres.
The formula conceived by CGR is based on laser 4K screenings, provided by Christie equipment, and on screens that are not only exceptionally wide, but also combined with side extensions. These project complementary images to what is happening on the main screen: the objective is to give the spectator the impression of being immersed in the action, but without being distracted.
To this aim, the extra images, conceived by a specific CGR staff, consist mostly of shapes and colours. Projected in low definition they are not so much there to be watched, as to be perceived by means of lateral vision, which is supposedly linked to the brain area responsible for the emotions.
The sound system is Dolby Atmos and uses over 50 loudspeakers which can be activated in precise areas, so that the starting point and directions of the various sounds can be perceived.
The armchair seats are reclinable, particularly roomy and arranged as stadium seating where the heights have been calculated to allow for perfect screen vision.
Not all the cinemas in the CGR group, which boasts around seventy sites, and not all the auditoriums in every complex, are fitted with this technology, in much the same way as happens in general for 3D: the films that benefit from it are the more spectacular ones or those richest in special effects.
What is certain is that, even though there is no lack of special content, particularly as regards music, or productions for young people, the core of the Cinéma Le Français programming consists of blockbusters, above all action films, and in general those with strong visual impact.
If these nineteenth-century walls could speak, they would certainly tell the story of the amazing transformations taking place simultaneously - and at an increasingly fast rate - in technology and in audience expectations.