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Prior to showing in theaters, a license (visa d'exploitation) must be obtained from the Ministry of Culture. Upon the advice of the commission pertaining to cinema movies, the minister decides either not to grant the license (a very rare occurrence), or to grant a license among the 5 following classifications:

  • U (Tous publics) valid for all audiences.
  • 10 (Déconseillé aux moins de 10 ans) unsuitable for children younger than 10 (this rating is only used for TV); equivalent in theatres: "avertissement" (warning), some scenes may be disturbing to young children and sensitive people; equivalent on video: "accord parental" (parental guidance).
  • 12 (Interdit aux moins de 12 ans) unsuitable for children younger than 12 or forbidden in cinemas for under 12
  • 16 (Interdit aux moins de 16 ans) unsuitable for children younger than 16 or forbidden in cinemas for under 16.
  • 18 (Interdit aux moins de 18 ans) unsuitable for children younger than 18 or forbidden in cinemas for under 18.

Each rating can be accompanied by a special "warning". In practice, the ministry always follows the decision of the commission. In addition, a movie bearing the "-18" rating may be considered "pornographic or inciting to violence" (colloquially referred to as "X rated"). In this case, it bears high taxation and may be showed only in specific theatres, which are now rare in France. This classification is not used for merely violent movies, or movies containing mere erotic scenes.

Classifications, as all administrative decisions, may be appealed before the courts (Consel de Etat at litigation). The movie Base-Moi went from -16 to -18 and was branded as "pornographic". 

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