Blum-Byrnes Agreement

The Blum – Byrnes agreement is a Franco – American agreement signed onby US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes and representatives of the French government, Leon Blum and Jean Monnet , after lengthy negotiations . It liquidates part of the French debt to the United States after the Second World War (two billion dollars ).

The Truman administration even offers a new loan to France on repayment terms considered exceptional. The United States is providing US $ 300 million worth of assistance ( $ 3.5 billion worth in 2012) repayable over 35 years and a $ 650 million bank loan ($ 7.6 billion worth of 2012 bonds).

One of the counterparts of the agreement is the end of the quota system, imposed on American films in 1936 and remained in place after the Liberation. Byrnes would like a return to the 1933 agreements, which provided for a fixed quota of American films per year projected in French theaters. For its part, the sector of French cinema requires that seven weeks out of thirteen be reserved only for the diffusion of French films. The final compromise is on the one hand an abandonment of the quota of American films and on the other hand an exclusivity granted to the French films four weeks out of thirteen, which corresponds to a reduction of half of the diffusion of French films compared to the years 1941 -1942.

For the Communist Party and trade unions of the French film industry, it is a way for the United States to spread the American way of life (the American way) 1 in a population may be tempted by socialism and to promote the Hollywood film industry . In response, the French authorities create thethe CNC ( National Center of Cinematography ) with the mission to protect the French cinematographic creation.


Economic context

With the end of the war, the Truman administration put an end to lending, leaving France both a US debtor and dependent on them for imports essential to the revival of the national economy. In addition, the lend-lease agreements, through their Article VII provided for a lowering of customs barriers between the two countries 2 . By order of De Gaulle , Jean Monnet is in charge of negotiating the resumption of the supplies as well as an additional credit, corresponding to sums of 655 and 550 millionsdollars respectively. In exchange, Monnet offers the renewal of the commitments made to give up protectionism as well as the support of France in the multilateral negotiations which will start (following the Bretton Woods agreement , GATT ) 3 .

A similar agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States is also being prepared, and Jean Monnet urges the French government to draw up a list of needs and to launch negotiations as soon as possible, in order to avoid the Anglo-American agreement serves as a reference. Difficulties in the constitution of the government resulting from the elections ofHowever, Monnet’s mission is delayed and an Anglo-American agreement is reached in December, on the basis of a large and advantageous loan ( $ 3.75 billion to 2% to be repaid in 50 years ) in exchange for significant liberalization. exchanges (in particular the abandonment by the British of the imperial preference) 4 .

The breadth of the loan to the British worries the American population, which has a negative view of the rapid reconstruction of commercial competitors, placing France in a difficult position and with as main bargaining weapon the threat of a return to protectionism that limit the outlets for US products. Given these concerns, Truman presented to Congress on loan to the British as a unique case, justified by the economic importance of the United Kingdom and the special relationship that unites the United States 5 .

While Keynes advises Monnet to limit itself to the importation of the only essential capital goods, the new mandate of Monnet at the head of the Commissariat general to the Plan obliges him to find the important means corresponding to the objectives of the first Plan, evaluated in January 1946 to four billion dollars. At the end of January, following the fall of the De Gaulle government, Leon Blum was appointed to lead the negotiations which, from the point of view of the US State Department, start from the base of a loan of 500 million dollars as well as a series of specific commitments 6 .

Intellectual context

In cinematographic circles, the desire to regain an identity leads to a strong appreciation of filmmakers who remained in France during the Occupation, a choice assimilated to a form of Resistance as opposed to those who fled the country to continue their activity in the United States . Particularly targeted Julien Duvivier , René Clair and Jean Renoir , who do not show a strong desire to return to France and are treated as “new employees” 7 . Thus, the critics receive rather lukewarm the films of these, yet very popular, Six destinies and My wife is a witch where influential critics likeAndré Bazin or Alexandre Astruc think they see an impoverishment of the styles of filmmakers, passed to the mill rules of American production. Despite the return of rumors in the 1945 running of Clair and Duvivier, the fear of seeing the talents of French cinema remain or be attracted Hollywood weighs on receiving Blum-Byrnes agreements 8 .

After the signature of these, he sets up a rhetoric equating the arrival of American films to a “new occupation” with a designation as collaborators of filmmakers working in the United States or accepting partnerships with American production companies . Meanwhile, opposition to American cinema and the Blum-Byrnes agreements allowing certain figures separated during purification, as Raoul Ploquin to go through 9 . The Battle of the Rail then serves as the leading figure of French cinema in the face of the arrival of American films shot during the war and speaking of it, including by the French, like Vivre libre (by Jean Renoir) or L’Imposteur(Julien Duvivier, with Jean Gabin ). The critics of these films often pay in the bad faith, reproaching them for not reflecting the reality of the Occupation in France (that their authors did not know), whereas these films do not pretend to be in France 10 .


The first part of the negotiations is devoted to the examination of the French Plan, its approval constituting for the Americans a prerequisite for any discussion of loans. This review obliges Jean Monnet to commit to elements that have not yet been validated in Paris and, according to Alfred Sauvy , to make some important clarifications in the initial Plan for the definition of national accounts during following years. These negotiations introduce important changes, promoting the elements of reconstruction of the production facilities, with a view resorption deficit by 1950 at the expense of reconstruction spending 11 .

The second part is a deficit reduction exercise that would be covered by a US loan, which ultimately amounts to only $ 650 million . Added to this is the cancellation of debt related to the loan-lease, or $ 2.8 billion , and the promise of an additional loan of $ 500 million from the World Bank from the establishment of the next year 12 .

Merchant Fleet

In other acquisitions to re-equip the French economy, the French government acquired 75 liberty-ships , of which 21 were entrusted to the Transatlantic General Company . Deliveries were staggered until 1947 13 .

The question of cinema

As negotiations begin, the film negotiations have been going on since mid-1945. Since the agreement Marchandeau duSuspended during the Occupation, American films enjoyed border quotas. On the American side, the State Department calls for a return to this system, based on 108 American films released each year, for a French market with a capacity of 180 films . The French on their side offer free access to French screens six weeks out of thirteen, reserving the other seven to French films only. Their main goal is then to avoid a numerical quota of US films 14 . The seven weeks corresponded to a distribution of 84 French films per year, compared to 48 with a quota of 108 American films . French production had been 80 filmsin 1941-1942 (reduced by the restrictions of war) and 120 films per year between 1932 and 1939. The final agreement (specifically the amendment to the Blum-Byrnes Agreement, exclusively devoted to cinema) avoids the digital quotas (system of ( in ) Screen quotas  (in) , screen quotas) and reserve four weeks out of thirteen French films, a capacity of 48 films per year 15 .

This concession to the Americans, the real scope of which remains controversial, had an immediate repercussion. Directors Marcel Carné , André Blanchard , Jacques Becker and screenwriter Pierre Laroche denounce a “sell-out of French cinema”, followed by the French Union of Film Producers and the National Federation of CGT 16 and the French magazine L’Écran français and Arts 17 . The sector, however, has disorganized, distributors and operators enjoying significant revenue generated by American movies 18This was all the more so since the public had been deprived of it during the war and when major films ( 2,000 American films produced during the 19 war ) came on the market . As a result, the agreements did not give rise to as strong and unanimous reprobation as the one that was later reconstructed by the “black legend” that surrounded them.

In retrospect, French production is far from having collapsed: 86 films in 1946, 92 in 1947, 94 in 1948, 103 in 1949 18 compared to 140 American films . The weeks when American films were allowed, French films were present in half of the rooms, and in 1948 French films accounted for 45.36% of the audience against 43.63% for American films 20 .

The challenge of the Blum-Byrnes agreements must also be seen in the light of the ousting of the communists of the government, which shortly precedes the founding, in the autumn of 1947, of the Committee for the Defense of French Cinema by Claude Autant-Lara supported by the Communist Party and the CGT.

This protest culminates with a great demonstration on January 4, 1948, gathering far beyond the trade union the stars of the moment, like Jean Marais or Simone Signoret . The pressure is then such that the French government obtains from the US government for four years four additional weeks of exclusivity per year and a quota of up to 121 American films per year (revision of the Blum-Byrnes agreements in Paris on September 16 1948) 21. Above all, this movement led to the creation of a 10.9% tax on all banknotes (Law of 23 September 1948), which were fiercely opposed by distributors and operators. This tax feeds a Film Industry Assistance Fund, setting up a system of automatic aids calculated on the basis of the receipts of the previous films of the eligible directors 21 , laying the foundations of the system organized by the CNC . It is almost accepted that this system had a considerable role in the maintenance and development of French cinema after the war 22 .


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For Marxist historians such as Annie Lacroix-Rice 23 , these agreements had a political purpose on the part of the United States, that of anchoring France, then likely to switch to communism in the liberal camp. According to Lacroix-Riz 23 , the film section aimed at destroying French production, constituting the paradigm of alienating French independence and placing the country under trusteeship. This vision of the agreements is strongly contested by Wall 24, who believes that the disappointment related to the terms of the agreement, certainly less generous than that granted to the British, is due first of all to the magnitude of the French demands, not very compatible with the inflationary tensions and the wave of isolationism which weakened the United States 25 .

The idea that these agreements have harmed French cinema is not unanimous. If this point is obvious for Lacroix-Rice 23 and is accepted by Wall 24 and Ory 26 , Portes 27 says that according to the terms of this agreement, French films enjoyed effective protection against American competition. This opinion is shared by Jeancolas 28 .

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