On Robert Pattinson, Cosmopolis, And The Folly of National Film Agencies

Today in Slate, Aisha Harris explains why the cast of David Cronenberg’s new film Cosmopolis features only one American actor:

Back in May, David Cronenberg told the French magazine Le Monde that one of the reasons he cast Robert Pattinson as the American lead in his new film Cosmopolis is because the actor is British. If that sounds strange to you, welcome to the world of government-financed films.

As Cronenberg explained in his interview, Cosmopolis “is a co-production between France and Canada,” and so he was only allowed one American actor (Paul Giamatti, in another role). […]

Telefilm Canada and its French equivalent, the CNC, typically collaborate on four or five film projects every year. And when they do, such hiring practices are standard. Each film can hire one “lead performer” and one “cameo performer” from a third country.

So why does Robert Pattinson not count as a “lead performer” from a “third country”?

Because any actor with an E.U. passport qualifies as a contribution from France. So while any number of European stars were eligible, no Americans—save ones that happen to have an E.U. passport—were.

It seems that government film agencies are like most government bureaucracies: They insist on regulating activity for the sake of perceived feel-good benefits that don’t pass a smell test.

Most modern films are cosmopolitan films: they depend upon the talent and resources of many countries. Trade, travel, and technology now make possible international film collaborations that would’ve been highly improbable during the first few decades of cinema.  Yet Telefilm Canada and CNC are still bankrolling projects so that they can limit international collaborations and set up artificial borders around their respective domestic film industries. Is this worth the public funds of Canada and France? Is it good for world cinema? I very much doubt it.

Cosmopolis, by the way, takes place in Manhattan. It’s based on a book by American author Don Delillo. British Robert Pattinson—most famous for playing an American [vampire] in Hollywood’s Twilight—is top-billed and is the only face featured in the promotional posters. The cast includes French Juliette Binoche, British Samantha Morton, and Canadian Jay Baruchel (all of whom have enjoyed success in Hollywood as well as abroad) as well as Somali-Canadian rapper K’Naan and New York-born, half-Japanese performance artist Phillip Nozuka, who emigrated to Canada.

The point is: Even with Canadian Cronenberg at the helm, and even with the silly protectionist policies of Canada and France’s national film organizations, the film won’t represent Canada or France. It’ll be a cosmopolitan film—as most modern films are, and as it should be.