For its very last screening, Brittany screened The Marvels on Tuesday, November 14 at 8:30 p.m. in front of... three spectators. Its closure took place with the greatest discretion. It was while buying the small magazine L’Officiel des Spectacles from his newsagent that Axel Huyghe, head of the site sallecinéma.com, discovered it. “Under the name of the cinema in the program pages, it just said ‘permanent closure’,” he explains. For this specialist in cinemas and author of a reference book on this cinema (*), a page is turning. “I went this summer to Brittany to see the latest Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise and the room was clearly out of breath, particularly in its sets,” he remembers.
Having died last May, Benjamine Rytmann-Radwanski (1928-2023) will not have seen her beloved cinema close its doors. At the end of 2009, it sold all its cinemas, including the Bretagne at 73 boulevard du Montparnasse in the 6th arrondissement of Paris to Jérôme Seydoux, owner of the Pathé group. Despite her age, this very authoritarian little lady remained at the head of this rental-managed room until Covid. Tired by the pandemic, she returned the keys to Pathé when the cinemas reopened. Since then, Pathé has operated it with difficulty because people simply no longer go there. “In 2023, 20,000 spectators pushed open the door of Bretagne compared to a total of 700,000 expected in 2023 for our three other cinemas right next door: the PathéParnasse, the Miramar and the Montparnos”, explains to Figaro Aurélien Bosc President of Pathé Cinémas. These attendance figures explain our choice to transfer the activity of Bretagne to our other nearby venues.” And to clarify: “Contrary to rumors, the Miramar is not on reprieve and it remains in operation.”
What will become of Brittany? “It is still the property of Pathé,” explains Aurélien Bosc. We studied the possibility of converting it into a theater but this is impossible because there is not enough space to create dressing rooms and storage areas for the sets. We are not going to turn it into a cinema because the neighborhood already has a lot of them. We will study other possibilities, in discussion with the co-ownership and the city of Paris.”
The Bretagne saga is not trivial. It all starts in what is now Belarus. Fleeing the pogroms, the Ashkenazi Jew Joseph Rytmann (1903-1983) settled in Paris. He worked in wood and textile stores before focusing on cinemas. “Before the war, cinemas were a flourishing business,” says his biographer Axel Huyghe. In 1933, Joseph Rytmann began by purchasing the Miramar in Alésia which, after having been the Montrouge theater, had already been transformed into a cinema. In 1938, he acquired the Miramar in Montparnasse. During the Occupation, French Jews of the Jewish faith were prohibited from operating theaters and cinemas. Joseph Rytmann is spoiled and takes refuge in the free zone. He survived the war and had to fight in court at the Liberation to get his cinemas back. He succeeds and builds a small empire which includes Montparnos, Bienvenue, Bretagne... The latter is so named because it is located in the stronghold of the Bretons, a district full of creperies because the Montparnasse station directly serves the country of Breizh.
Le Bretagne was inaugurated with great fanfare on September 27, 1961 with Le cave se rebiffe by Gilles Grangier with Jean Gabin, Martine Carole, Bernard Blier. It is the third largest room in the capital (850 seats) after the Grand Rex and the UGC Normandie. A second room was dug there in 1973. Among the operators, Joseph Rytmann is known for his bad temper and his Russian accent but he is very respected. Nicknamed “the Emperor of Montparnasse”, it was he who made Montparnasse the essential area for screening new films in the capital after the Champs-Élysées and the Grands Boulevards which are located on the right bank of the Seine. “The Bretagne was what we called in the jargon, an exclusive cinema, it only showed new films. At the time, it was rare. There were the exclusive theaters, then those who did the second exclusivity before the general release,” says Axel Huyghe. Joseph Rytmann worked until his death in 1983. His daughter succeeded him. At the end of 2009, she handed over the family circuit to Pathé. In 2012, Bienvenüe-Montparnasse became Jean-Marc Dumontet's Grand Point-Virgule theater. Miramar is annexed to Gaumont Parnasse. The Mistral, near Alésia, closed in 2016. Spectators now go directly opposite the very modern Pathé Alésia. Until the end, Bretagne will have kept the Rytmann name on its facade...
(* Rytmann, the adventure of a cinema operator in Montparnasse, Axel Huyghe and Arnaud Chapuy, preface by Claude Lelouch. L’Harmattan, 128 pages, 30 euros.