The new film – Un Francais (“A Frenchman”) – has been touted as France's answer to the acclaimed American History X movie.
Directed by Patrick Asté, who goes by the name Diastème, the film takes a closer look at the French skinhead movement of the past few decades.
But unlike 1998's American History X, which sees a US neo-Nazi come good, or even the UK's This Is England from 2006, Un Francais is not pulling in the awards. In fact, it wasn't even shown at the recent Cannes Film Festival.
To add salt in the director's wounds, 50 cinemas in 50 cities around France have pulled the film ahead of its release – and he can't can a straight answer as to why.
He wrote on his blog that distributors would only say they were “too afraid” to show it, without going into further detail.
So what's so offensive about the film?
The movie follows a 30-year period in the life of skinhead Marco (played by Alban Lenoir), as he undergoes a transformation to eventually shun the violent lifestyle and start a new life of his own.
According to French magazine Les Inrocks, the film includes landmark moments of the skinhead movement in France, such as their clashes with punks in the 80s, their systematic beating of Arabs, and the 1998 death of Moroccan man Brahim Bouarram who was drowned in the River Seine in Paris after he was beaten by skinhead members of the far right National Front.
See the trailer, below, in which a dark-skinned man is seen being physically assaulted by a gang of skinheads in a bar, and is forced to drink cleaning agent Destop.
The National Front connection is clearly one of the most contentious aspects of the film, especially considering the party's recent surge in popularity under Marine Le Pen.
Indeed, the far-right National Front has cleaned up its racist image over recent years – especially compared to the early days when founder Jean-Marie Le Pen called the death of Brahim Bouarram “an accident”.
Under Marine Le Pen, who has steered the National Front since 2011, the party has enjoyed a series of election successes, notably coming first in last year's European elections.
And Diastème is well aware of the connection. In a statement when the film was released, he said:
“The National Front is a party with blood on its hands. TV presenters forget, but I remember. This is a party that was created by French Nazis – we can't treat it like any other party, we can't hide this history.”
(A scene from the film Un Francais. Photo: Mars Distribution)
He added that even today, many party members are still members of the Groupe Union Défense, better known as GUD, a succession of violent French far-right student political groups.
But even with these political connections, director Diastème can't understand why cinemas would want to pull the premiere.
He argued in his blog that the film was an important part of France's history, and that people who've seen it have told him it's a “necessary” film, “that people need to see”, “especially now”.
“I feel a bit dejected,” he wrote after he learned of the cancellations. “I told the story of a man who gets rid of all the violence and hate that was inside him. It's a film of peace. A film of the cinema. All I'm getting in the last couple of weeks is violence, hatred, war… that's not cinema.”
The film's distributors, Mars Distribution, is yet to comment on the matter. The film will open in selected cinemas on June 10th.