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Why a French film about a killer shark in the Seine is the popcorn film of the summer so far

Netflix still of Berenice Bejo with a shark in the Netflix movie Under ParisNetflix

(Source: Netflix)

Netflix's monster movie and eco-thriller set in the French capital is making waves. Following the success of Godzilla Minus One, this is the latest low-budget non-English language film to show major US studios how popular entertainment is made.

No matter Emily in ParisNetflix viewers are currently captivated by Lilith in Paris – Lilith is the name of a man-eating mutant shark. In Under Paris, she is seen through the Seineengulfs anyone foolish enough to take a dip in the river, and the idea has proven so irresistible that Under Paris is currently the number one film on Netflix. In a Summer, when Hollywood fights to attract the audience A Colt for all occasions, Furious and his other high-profile releases, US studio managers could perhaps learn a thing or two from the French.

After all, it is not the first time in recent months that a smaller film that is not in English has shown Hollywood how it is done. Last year it was a Japanese film, Godzilla Minus Onewas shot at a fraction of the cost of a typical blockbuster, but was rightly hailed as the monster movie of 2023 and won an Oscar for its visual effects. Caryn James said In their BBC Culture article, the stripped-down but powerful story appealed to viewers who were fed up with Marvel and DC's overcomplicated shared universes and wanted “entertainment, not homework.” Last weekend, the film also came out on Netflix and was the number one film on the platform until it was dethroned by Under Paris.

Potential viewers should be warned that Under Paris doesn't live up to the 30-story-high standards of Godzilla Minus One. It's a lurid B-movie whose cheap effects and camerawork seem more suited to the TV screen than the cinema, and Lilith herself isn't much more convincing than the holographic shark that snaps at Marty McFly in Back to the Future III. But with the bridges and boulevards of Paris in the background, the images are already a step ahead of most films. And the director, Xavier Gens, understands the importance of a surprising image, however cheaply executed: blood spurting from the ear of a person being dragged down into the high-pressure depths of the sea; a diver's red torch illuminating a school of sharks gliding over his head. He's also careful to preserve Lilith's mystique by keeping her off-screen for most of the film, and when she does swim into frame, she's often depicted as a shadow in the murky water.

Moreover, just as some sharks must keep swimming to survive, Gens' film is a lean and mean eco-thriller that never takes a break. The Artist's Bérénice Bejo is admirably straight-faced as Sophia, an oceanographer who attaches tracking devices to sharks to show how they are affected by pollution. One shark is more affected than the others: in the opening credits sequence, her team visits the North Atlantic garbage patch and sees that Lilith has grown from 2.5m to 7m in just a few months. Three years later, the shark is spotted in the Seine, an event that prompts a breathless Bejo to utter things like “That's impossible” and “That's not normal behavior” before Sophia concludes that Lilith has adapted to her freshwater habitat.

Netflix The film about an oceanographer and a tough river policeman on the hunt for the man-eating mutant shark Lilith has been compared to “Jaws” (Source: Netflix)Netflix

The film about an oceanographer and a tough river policeman on the hunt for the man-eating mutant shark Lilith has been compared to “Jaws” (Source: Netflix)

She decides to hunt this beast with the help of Adil (Nassim Lyes), a tough river policeman. However, a group of environmentalists see the shark as a symbol of humanity's mistreatment of the oceans, and so the film, as superficial as it is, already has more depth than The Fall Guy or Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. Another political dimension comes from the smug Paris mayor (Anne Marivin), who prefers to keep the matter under wraps. The world's press is soon gathering for a triathlon designed to prove that Paris is ready to host the Olympics, and she doesn't want rumors of apex predators to spoil the fun.

The inclusion of the triathlon is a stroke of genius. As soon as it's mentioned, the viewer knows that Under Paris ends with dozens of men swimming down a shark-infested river in front of crowds of spectators. Some viewers will also smile at the introduction of a female mayor who cares more about publicity than public safety, as it's a sure sign that Under Paris, like Godzilla Minus One, was heavily influenced by Steven Spielberg's 1975 hit. The White sharkJaws was the highest-grossing film of all time until Star Wars and is sometimes called the first modern summer blockbuster. Today, almost 50 years later, however, it seems to belong to a bygone era when Hollywood's success did not depend on cartoon characters and colossally expensive special effects.

So maybe US studio bosses don't need to learn from their counterparts in France and Japan. Maybe they just need to learn from their own history. If they remember to prioritise concepts over digital images, streamlined plots over elaborate myths and dedicated actors over complacent superstars, then maybe they'll have big hits like Jaws again. As Lilith could tell them, you have to adapt to survive.