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Authors: Fergus Daly and Garin Dowd

Leos Carax's early career was in two complementary ways conducted under the scrutiny of the French film journal Cahiers du Cinéma. In his 1999 television interview with Pierre-André Boutang, Carax touches on many of the qualities of a still developing personal mythology. Carax's first finished film, Strangulation Blues is in the director's own words the student film he never made. The 'autistic' part of 'autistebavarde' as this persona populates the films of Carax must be differentiated from this metaphorical usage. The typology developed by Carax contributes to the characters' withdrawal from verisimilitude; they are presented to us less as formed, reified types, or exemplars than as 'supple individuals'. This book performs a minute dissection of the heterogeneous elements shaped by Leos Carax into works of great complexity and élan in order to isolate the true singularity and originality of his 1980s films, Boy Meets Girl and Mauvais Sang. The haste with which Carax's overbudget film of 1990, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf has been categorised and in certain quarters thereby dismissed, combined with the spectacular budget catastrophe and the myths developed around the on-set events, contributed to a widespread misunderstanding of the film, as well as to a certain blindness among critics as to the merits. The title of Leos Carax's Pola X was an acronym of the title in French of Herman Melville's novel of 1852, Pierre, or The Ambiguities, that is, Pierre, ou les ambiguïtés.

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Author: Hugo Frey

This book introduces readers to the cinema of Louis Malle. Malle needs little further preliminary discussion here. His is a body of work that most film critics around the world recognise as being one of the most productive in post-war international cinema, including as it does triumphs such as Ascenseur pour l'échafaud; Le Feu follet; Lacombe Lucien; Atlantic City USA, and Au revoir les enfants . Malle's work attracted intense public controversy, with a new Malle film being just as likely to find itself debated on the front page of Le Monde or Libération as reviewed in the film section of those newspapers. Malle's four major films of the 1970s represent a fusion of the youthful bravado and confidence of the 1950s combined with the new political questioning adopted in the late 1960s. Le Souffle au cœur, Lacombe Lucien, Black Moon, and Pretty Baby were made in relatively quick succession and each engaged in controversial and divisive themes. The book analyses Malle's political journey from the cultural right-wing to the libertarian left, to explain how Le Souffle au cœur marked a radical break with the 1950s by speaking of that era through a comic mode. It explores how Lacombe Lucien works as a film, to discuss its core rhetorical devices and what they mean today. The book also demonstrates that Malle is too complex to be explained by one theory or interpretation, however tempting its conclusions.

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Author: Susan Hayward

Luc Besson's work, with the exception of his first feature film (Le Dernier Combat) which was liked by almost all those engaged in film criticism, has been acclaimed by the popular film journals (such as Première) and excoriated by the more serious ones (such as Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif). Stylisation and excess are hallmarks of Besson's work. Le Dernier Combat, Besson's first feature, came out in 1983 and Léon in 1994. According to Anne Parillaud and Besson, the message of Nikita and Léon is not one of violence but the idea that people who are full of despair and missing love are not alone. All Besson's films have violence at the core of the narrative. This book presents a broad overview of Besson's work to date and an analysis of his films through a number of theoretical avenues in an attempt to show the many levels on which one can read the narratives. It examines questions of violence, particularly in relation to the so-called youth in crisis, and discusses these issues within the context of surveillance and technology. The book looks at Besson's films as the mise-en-scène of the double cult of technology and commodified capitalism within the context of technology and the body. Display and excess are fundamental aspects of Besson's characters' performance. It investigates the issues of transgressive 'child' and absent parent in Besson's films and is going to do so through the triple-optic of genre and gender construction, regression and pathology, resistance and power relations.

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This book considers Marcel Carne's films within the broader social and political context. It reinvestigates Carné's highly contested position within French film history, and in particular how his films relate to major moments of French cinema such as poetic realism, the tradition of quality and the French new wave. The period from the late 1920s to the end of the 1930s was crucial in Marcel Carné's career: he entered the French film industry, made films now considered his masterpieces, and achieved significant box-office success. The book reflects on the main developments in his career, from his early work as a journalist, amateur filmmaker, and assistant director, to his production of his first feature films, Jenny and Drôle de drame. It also discusses his contributions to poetic realism at the end of the decade, Le Quai des brumes, Hôtel du Nord, and Le Jour se lève. The book also re-examines how Carné fitted into both popular and artistic French cinematic traditions, and his identity as a 'populist filmmaker', an area that has not received sufficient analysis. Redressing the neglect of Carné's postwar work, it highlights its value in bringing about greater understanding of Carné's cinema per se, but also its relationship with broader social, political and cinematic contexts. The book also focuses on charting the main developments that led towards the production of these films, and explains what was specific to Carné's own particular inflection of poetic realist cinema.

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Author: Brett Bowles

One of the first commentators to attempt a balanced reassessment of Pagnol was Cahiers du cinéma founder André Bazin, who in his 1959 classic Qu'est-ce que le cinema? devoted a chapter to the filmmaker as part of an extended reflection on the links between theatre and cinema. Bazin broke new ground by rejecting the longstanding tendency to dismiss Pagnol's work as the cinematic recycling of theatrical convention and by recognising the value of subordinating image to speech. This book offers the first comprehensive, scrupulously documented, and unapologetically critical reading of Pagnol's cinema. It highlights his singular contribution to classic French film as an auteur and businessman while at the same time evaluating the larger cultural and aesthetic stakes of his movies. Rather than adopting a strictly chronological approach, the book traces the emergence of Pagnol's signature style in theatre and presents an epilogue that surveys the afterlife of his work in France since the mid-1970s. It discusses the definitive opening up of Pagnol's theatrically inspired cinema and his maturation from dramatic author into bona fide screen director. While Pagnol battled to defend and perfect his signature brand of cinématurgie, he simultaneously pursued an alternative production model that rejected both theatrical convention and contemporary film industry practice by shooting feature-length pictures on site in the Provençal countryside. The success of Pagnol's business model was unmatched in 1930s French cinema, offering industry insiders and the general public welcome proof that their nation could not only defend its unique cultural identity against Americanisation.

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Author: Renate Günther

Marguerite Duras embarked on a second career as a film director in the late 1960s; by then was already a well-known and highly acclaimed novelist and playwright. Bearing in mind this dual influence, this book presents an outline of Duras's early life and of her later political preoccupations, highlighting the relationship between these two dimensions and her films. Duras's aim was to transcend the limitations of both literature and cinema by creating an écriture filmique. Working within the 1970s French avant-garde, Marguerite Duras set out to dismantle the mechanisms of mainstream cinema, progressively undermining conventional representation and narrative and replacing them with her own innovative technique. The making of Nathalie Granger in 1972 coincided with the period of intense political activity and lively theoretical debates, which marked the early years of the post-1968 French feminist movement. India Song questions the categories of gender and sexuality constructed by the patriarchal Symbolic order by foregrounding the Imaginary. Agatha mirrors transgressive relationship and quasi-incestuous adolescent relationship, as the film resonates with the off-screen voices of Duras and Yann Andréa who also appears on the image-track where he represents Agatha's anonymous brother. Her work, both in literature and in film, distinguishes itself by its oblique, elusive quality which evokes her protagonists' inner landscape instead of dwelling on the appearances of the external world.

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Author: Will Higbee

The book begins with a consideration of the origins and influences that have shaped Mathieu Kassovitz's development as a director, but also the cultural context within which he emerges as a filmmaker. It argues new realism, the banlieue. The book examines the American influences evident in all of Kassovitz's films to date as a director and explores the continuity and difference between his films as actor and director. The first phase of Mathieu Kassovitz's career comprises his short films and feature films up to and including Assassin(s), engages in an often provocative way with socio-political debates in contemporary France through an aesthetic mode of address designed to appeal primarily to a youth audience. The second phase, post-Assassin(s), appears to be marked by a conscious shift towards bigger-budget, more unashamedly commercial, genre productions. The book explores the cultural context within which Mathieu Kassovitz emerged to direct his first three short films, concentrating in the second half on key transformations relating to that have taken place in relation to French popular culture. What Kassovitz offers is not social realism, but rather what might be termed 'postmodern social fables'. Assassins, Les Rivières pourpres, Fierrot le pou and Cauchemar blanc, Métisse, La Haine are some films discussed extensively. In a national cinema that has made strategic use of the auteur's cultural cachet in order to mark its difference from Hollywood, Kassovitz is seen by many to side more closely with the American 'invaders' than the defenders of French cultural exception.

Dominique Cabrera, Noémie Lvovsky, Laetitia Masson and Marion Vernoux
Author: Julia Dobson

This book aims to provoke increased interest in the work of the four directors: Dominique Cabrera, Noémie Lvovsky, Laetitia Masson and Marion Vernoux, although some of their early works have become more difficult to access, most of their films remain commercially available through French distributors. The four directors are not new arrivals and began making films in the early 1990s, yet they have received scant critical attention in both popular and academic film criticism. They share similar profiles in terms of box office success, number of films made and generational affinities and, shorts and feature films in France. They make films that straddle boundaries of categorisation and therefore escape the quickly established and self-perpetuating groupings that serve as powerful frameworks for popular access via DVD distribution, critical canonisation and academic curricula. Whilst Cabrera attests her sanguine awareness of the discriminatory treatment of women in all areas of the film industry she rejects the suggestion that the process of her filmmaking is determined by sexual difference or a gendered creative identity, asserting provocatively. The book discusses Masson's use of romance and detective narratives to debunk the former and subvert the later. The career path of Lvovsky remains distinctive from that of other directors. Vernoux's oeuvre maintains a coherent focus on the modes of transgression present within the generic conventions of comedy and romance in films which exploit the common narrative device of the encounter to propel narratives and characters across social boundaries within a dominant generic focus on romantic comedy.

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Author: Lisa Downing

Patrice Leconte appears to the world as a Janus-faced figure. On the one hand, he seems to wear the mask of the populist comfortably. On the other hand, one might argue, his credentials could not be more highbrow. He served an apprenticeship at the prestigious IDHEC (Institut des hautes études cinématographiques) and spent his early days working as a critic for Cahiers du cinema. This book explores Leconte's use of comedy as a strategy for negotiating and navigating the subject's passage through the world. It examines Leconte's representations of masculinity in relation to the rich and under-explored concept of the 'masculine masquerade', a term taken from psychoanalytic theory. During the year of preparation for the concours, he enjoyed rich pedagogical experiences, including visiting lectures by canonical names of French cinema such as Jean-Claude Carrière, and he relished the hands-on approach to the study of cinematography. The book also examines the criticism often levelled at Leconte's cinema that it is excessively fetishistic and reveals a bias of misogyny. It focuses on Leconte's most recent films, La Fille sur lepont, La Veuve de Saint-Pierre, Felix et Lola and Rue des plaisirs, which have in common a focus on unconventional relationships between men and women. For many film critics and cinemagoers , Leconte's corpus divides neatly between the comic films of his 'apprenticeship', such as those made in collaboration with the Splendid company, and his mature, 'serious' output, usually thought to begin with Tandem in 1986.

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Author: Keith Reader

Lacanian discourse has a complex and multiplies determined relationship with Catholicism, and Robert Bresson has the reputation of being the cinema's greatest Catholic director. Few Catholic artists, however, have found the institutional life of 'their' Church a congenial or inspirational topic, and its declining importance in Bresson's later work is not of itself particularly surprising. Pascal's wager on the existence of God has what contemporary linguistics might call a performative effect, for it is only thanks to the wager that God's existence becomes certain and available to the believer. Bresson's first film, Affaires publiques, is in many ways as unBressonian a work as could be imagined. Bresson from Journal onwards works to all intents and purposes outside genre, with the exception of those parts of Pickpocket and the inserts in Le Diable probablement that are close to the documentary. In 1947, Bresson went to Rome to work on a screenplay of the life of St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, which was never to be filmed. Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé, released in 1956, was and remains Bresson's most commercially successful and critically best-received film, though curiously for a very long time it was unavailable in Britain. Bresson's next two films, his first in colour, are also his first true adaptations from Dostoevsky. Bresson's final film, shot in the summer of 1982 and released in 1983, brought to an end the longest gap in his work since that separating Journal from Les Dames, more than thirty years before.