Global demand for French films this year fell for the second successive year in a row, according to the latest figures from Unifrance, the French film export body.

French films attracted a projected 48m admissions in 2003, taking roughly Euros 240m in box-office.

The numbers are down compared to 2002's 55 million tickets sold worldwide. 2001 saw 60 million admissions - largely thanks to the Amelie phenomenon. However, the 2003 figures remain among the strongest of the past decade.

Newly installed Unifrance president Margaret Menegoz said that the shift was largely down to an overall downturn in admissions across Europe, which represents 50% of the French film viewing audience.

However, she said that while admissions were down in Germany, Italy and Spain, a marked increase in French film attendance was noted in Japan, up 113% over last year, Russia, up 20% and in the UK which saw a massive 166% jump over 2002. The US remained stable.

Among the best performers were The Pianist with 12.7m admissions in 2003, Taxi 3 with 3.8m admissions, Swimming Pool with 2.77m, Le Peuple Migrateur with 2.55m not including its 2002 run and Le Transporteur with 2.4 million also not including tickets sold during its 2002 release.

Three of the top five films were produced in the English language which clearly helped in some territories, although Menegoz was quick to point out that, "We'll never know for example if Swimming Pool would have done as well had it been in French but I don't think that the fact that a film is in English guarantees its success outside France."

Projections are strong for 2004 with at least 35 French films already sold in over 10 territories. Notable among them are: Francois Ozon's 5x2, Frederic Schoendoerffer's Agents Secrets starring married couple Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, Catherine Breillat's Anatomie de l'Enfer, Cassel again in Blueberry from Jan Kounen, EuropaCorp's Morgan Freeman starrer Danny the Dog, Patrice Leconte's Confidences Trop Intimes and the sequel to Crimson Rivers.

Also, many titles that performed well at home in 2003 will continue their releases in other territories in 2004 including Jet Lag, Bon Voyage, Jeux d'Enfants and Les Triplettes de Belleville.

Unifrance also has plenty of work ahead of it with events planned for the entire year of 2004 beginning with the French Film Rendez-Vous which showcases French film for foreign buyers in Paris (Jan 16-19) and followed by annual meetings in Yokohama, Mexico, Budapest, Moscow, New York and Northern Africa.

The group has also succeeded in breaking into China and could see more French films chosen for exhibition in the country. China currently has a quota of 20 foreign films per year with a French film receiving a berth from time to time.

Following a recent trip to China, Menegoz has negotiated a possible increase in the number of French films that will go before the public. At the end of January, when members of the Chinese government come to Paris to celebrate 40 years of cooperation between the two countries, Menegoz said she expects a treaty of cooperation "and quasi co-production" will be signed by the delegation.