Opinion Divided as French Cinemas Get Class-Conscious

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In a highly cinema-friendly nation, many French remain unimpressed by the advent of the first-class cinema ticket

The move was discreet and without any fanfare, but on the 12th of December last, one of the largest cinemas in Paris – the Pathé Wepler on Place de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement – opened a new cinematic hall equipped with extra-large, extra-comfortable reclining seating.

In order to avail of this premium service, the price of the ticket is €14.20 – a price that is close to twice what you’d expect to pay in a cinema in Ireland and which is €2 more than the standard Parisian entry price.

The cinema owners – the Gaumont-Pathé chain – own a further 759 cinemas in France and are expected to extend the new service to the multiplex that will be in the shiny new Beaugrenelle shopping centre opening in the city centre in September.

Pathé + is the Formula One of the cinema seat” says François Ivernel, director of Gaumont-Pathé cinemas and of the Wepler. “We’ve had really positive feedback from our customers.”

Meanwhile, in their multiplex project in Tremblay-en-France (in the Seine-Saint-Denis department), Luc Besson‘s Europacorp plans to have a system that will allow cinema spectators to book the number of their cinema seat in advance and to avail of different service levels according to the price they pay.

The idea of premium cinema seating isn’t a new one. It has been in operation in other countries for many years. In the USA, for example, as well as in the UK, where cinema tickets can cost up to €18. In France, the activity of going to see a film has been a much more collective one up to now, apart from a period in the early 1980s when certain large city centre cinemas had pricing according to the seat position. But thirty years on, it seems that the notion of equality in the darkened spaces of the cinema auditorium has become a matter of principle in France and the idea of a two-tier society at the pictures is not to everyone’s liking:

“It’s a very bad idea and a total aberration at a time when public opinion is manifestly annoyed by the growing inequalities between rich and poor.” So says Gérard Mermet, director of the Francoscopie, a consultancy that gives advice to government agencies and private companies on economic and social changes in France. “If you want to dissuade people from going to the cinema, it’s an excellent way of going about it!”

Maybe it’s in the harder economic times that people grasp for symbols of luxury that are within their reach. The premium popcorn should be making its appearance any day now…

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