Jean-Pierre Jeunet's next film, A Very Long Engagement, is stirring up controversy in France even before the first images have been shot.

The film is to be produced by a new outfit, 2003 Productions, which was set up and is run by Warner Bros France president Francis Boespflug and is 32% owned by Warner's along with other French partners.

Debate is raging in the local industry over whether or not the company qualifies under French regulations as a French company. This would grant it access to state funding and the 'compte de soutien' fund.

The compte de soutien is a revolving fund set up at France's cinema authority (CNC) where a percentage of each ticket sold for a particular film is then available for use in funding future productions by the film's producer.

A meeting was planned for Wednesday July 30 at the CNC to study the case and make a decision. Frederique Dumas, who was recently appointed president of the commission which deals with approving films for state funding, told Screen Daily that although the meeting did take place the official declaration on the dossier will not be made until early September.

She added that the CNC had decided to allow tempers to calm a bit before making an official proclamation.

The fact that an American major is a minority player in a French company - and certainly the high visibility of Jeunet's $50 million film - has led to fears within the industry that the US could be able to dip into France's system of state funding.

However, Boespflug has made assurances to the CNC that any reinvestment of revenues from A Very Long Engagement will be used solely for French films. Yet, because this is a precedent setting situation, there are no formal regulations in place.

Dumas explained: "They have respected the existing rules but because this is a first time experience we will make sure that new regulations will be integrated," so as to avoid this sort of problem in the future.

Meanwhile, Jeunet's film, which stars Audrey Tautou and was set to begin shooting outside Paris on August 4, has been pushed back to an August 26 start date.