Reaching for the stars
Official airline to the Cannes Film Festival, Air France has produced, directed and distributed many films—and even played the starring role. by Marc Branchu
A player in the film industry. What do Casablanca and Aux yeux du souvenir have in common? Air France has featured in both! The airline has appeared in several hundred movies, from shots of aircraft in flight to scenes filmed inside the cabins and screen appearances by flight and ground personnel. It has always gone out of its way to provide equipment and personnel, often without anything in return other than its presence on screen. It also advises screenplay writers, helps with the production of certain scenes and provides transportation for material and film crews. These on-screen appearances have helped make Air France one of the world’s best-known airlines. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) was one of the earliest: In the final scene, an American in exile (Humphrey Bogart) helps his ex-girlfriend (Ingrid Bergman) flee Casablanca with her Resistance leader husband. On the outside of the plane that is to fly them to Lisbon is the emblem of Air France, a winged seahorse, here a symbol of hope and freedom. After World War II, air transportation sought to glamorize its image. Air France produced Aux yeux du souvenir (Jean Delannoy, 1948), a romance between an air hostess (Michèle Morgan) and her former lover (Jean Marais). Based on a real-life event with an Air France crew, the movie depicted the everyday life of the airline with unprecedented realism. Air France has also featured in comedies such as The Daydreamer (1970) and the Umbrella Coup (Gérard Oury, 1980), in which Pierre Richard plays a third-rate actor mistaken for a hired killer. During the flight to Nice, he unwittingly kills the enemy with a poisoned umbrella. For this five-minute scene, Air France provided four different aircraft. An Air France cabin also serves as a setting in Le bal des casse-pieds (Yves Robert, 1992), in which a passenger (Jean Yanne) makes himself very unpopular.
Film distributor. In 1951, a movie was shown for the first time aboard a Lockheed Constellation flying between New York and Paris: An American in Paris by Vincente Minnelli starring Gene Kelly. Pending international legislation, in-flight cinema was then suspended until 1966, the year Air France officially launched its cinema service on its Boeing 707s. Aircraft cabins were transformed into cinemas in the sky, with projectors concealed in the ceiling, retractable screens, and earphones available for hire. As technology advanced, individual screens replaced cabin screens, and the service was extended to all its long-haul flights. Today, with its 22,000 seats, Air France is one of the largest French, even European, film distribution networks, and plays a major role in the promotion of world cinema. Some aircraft offer a selection of up to 85 films, some available in nine languages. In 2007, the 230 films featured on the movie program included 50 French films, 110 American films, and 70 films from other countries.
Documentary film producer. Among the hundreds of films Air France has produced since 1933 are documentaries promoting air transportation, such as Les routes du ciel (1933) on air mail, and Dans un fauteuil (1948) on in-flight comfort. Until the mid-1970s, these films were shown in cinemas before the main feature. The airline has also produced films on aviation history, and dozens of travel documentaries. Since the 1990s, Air France has commissioned commercials by famous directors including Michel Gondry (1999 and 2002) and Hou Hsiao-hsien (2006).
A dream cast. In 1934, a photographer pictured Buster Keaton standing in front of a Wibault 283 T 12, the first of many similar shots. The image benefited both the airline and the celebrity: It gave credibility to a means of transport of which people were still wary; and for the star, being associated with an airplane symbolized dreams and escapism. From 1955 to 1970, Air France hired photographers to capture celebrities traveling through Orly airport. Dozens of stars were thus portrayed, including Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant and Kirk Douglas. Air France has over 1,500 of these images. Cannes. Air France has been associated with the Cannes Film Festival for almost 30 years and is very much a part of the whole festive Cannes ambience.
Translation: Elizabeth Ayre, Lisa Davidson et Alexandra Keens