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ECONOMY

‘A lifeline for small towns’ – France keeps building cinemas despite Covid

The coronavirus pandemic might not seem like the obvious time to build new movie theatres, but in cine-mad France, it will take more than a virus to dampen passions for the big screen.

'A lifeline for small towns' - France keeps building cinemas despite Covid
Cinemas in France have been closed for months due to the health crisis. Photo: AFP

The town of Romorantin, deep in the Loire Valley south of Paris, has a population of 17,000 – which by French standards, makes it ripe for a new multiplex cinema.

On a recent morning, forklifts were whirling as workers rushed to complete the five-screen theatre by the end of March.

It is not the only one. France saw 22 new cinemas open their doors in 2020, despite theatres being unable to operate for much of the year.

Several more are under construction or being renovated.

France, the birthplace of moving pictures, has almost always had the highest cinema attendance in Europe.

Even though attendance was down two-thirds last year thanks to 23 weeks of closures and the cancellation of many Hollywood blockbusters, the country weathered the disruption better than most – in part because it could still rely on its prolific, homegrown movie industry.

Parisian cinema lovers are hoping that the capital's many small movie theatres may soon reopen. Photo: AFP

France is also known for its network of tiny independent cinemas dotted across its villages and small towns.

Some are beautifully quaint – but struggling to attract the next popcorn-guzzling generation.

READ ALSO: Eight great French films to watch over the holidays

The new multi-million-euro Cine Sologne complex in Romoranti is being built in an out-of-town car park, and replaces the old Palais in its medieval centre, which attracted some 70,000 spectators a year but lacked the technology and comfort needed to rival home cinema offerings.

“We have to attract people who want to go to the cinema, but look at these small, local theatres and think, 'No thanks',” said Cedric Aubry, head of the construction firm.

He specialises in bringing shiny new complexes to remote locations not considered worthwhile by the major chains.

This is his fourth cinema construction since the pandemic began, and he says the model is working, with similar remote projects in places like Meuse and Yonne as much as tripling local attendance.

READ ALSO: Why the French passion for dubbing films shows no sign of dying out

The planned programme of a closed Parisian movie theatre. Photo: AFP

'Lifeline'

For a town like Romorantin, still reeling from the closure of a car plant and devastating floods over the past couple of decades, such projects are indispensable, said mayor Jeanny Lorgeoux.

“It's a crucial lifeline for a small town,” he told AFP. “It's a social link with others, between generations, and an economic boost.”

Since the factories disappeared from this region, cinemas have become a rare place where the remnants of the working class rub shoulders with the Loire Valley's “chateau and hunting” set.

Aubry agrees, and raises the 'yellow vest' protests that spread across rural France in 2018 and 2019.

“The message was that people felt abandoned out in the provinces. It's a modest response, but clearly among the 2,000 cinemas of France, many are in dire need of renovation and transformation.

“The cinema is often, especially in small towns, the last important cultural place that still appeals to all people,” said Aubry – and it helps to have five screens that can show the latest Fast and Furious alongside an existential drama starring Isabelle Huppert.

As for the pandemic? “That's no reason to give up,” he said.

Far from it: “This crisis has only reinforced how much we miss being around other people.”

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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