PARIS  - An intrepid boy reporter, a black manservant and his paralysed aristocrat master, and French actors adrift in Hollywood helped make 2011 France’s best box office year in nearly half a century. A whopping 215.6 million cinema tickets were sold last year in France — whose population is 65 million — with two homegrown comedies taking pole position ahead of Hollywood blockbusters, according to industry data. The buoyant figures in Europe’s top movie market — also the continent’s biggest producer of films — come in stark contrast to the US box office, where 2011 sales were the lowest in 16 years.

“It was an incredible year for French cinema. That’s what made the difference,” said Sarah Drouhaud of industry magazine Le Film Francais, noting that the sheer diversity of French output last year contributed to the surge.