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Contemporary French cinema

An introduction

Guy Austin

This book provides an introduction to French film studies. It concentrates on films which have had either a theatrical or video release in Britain, or which are available on video or DVD from France. Most avant-garde film-makers, including Germaine Dulac, were unable to continue in the 1930s, faced with the technical demands and high production costs of the sound film. Exacerbated by the Depression, and above all by the financial collapse of both Gaumont and Pathé, film production fell from 158 features the previous year to only 126 in 1934, and 115 in 1935. While poetic realism was at its height, a talismanic figure in post-war film was faced with a generally lukewarm reception from critics and audiences. Thanks largely to German finance and also to an influx of filmmakers replacing those who had departed, after 1940 French film. If 1968 marked a watershed in French cinema's engagement with politics and history 1974 did the same for representations of sexuality. In that year, pornography entered mainstream French cinema. Although film-making remains male-dominated in France as elsewhere, 'more women have taken an active part in French cinema than in any other national film industry'. A quarter of all French films made in 1981 were polars, and many of those were box-office successes. French fantasy has had a particular national outlet: the bande dessinée. The heritage film often takes its subject or source from the 'culturally respectable classicisms of literature, painting, music'.

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French cinema in the 1970s

The echoes of May

Alison Smith

Cinema's engagement with 1968 was perhaps most in evidence in the auteur sector of the French industry. This book presents a study that aims to consider the ways in which the shake-up in French perceptions transferred itself to French cinema screens during the following decade. The emphasis is in the changes which occurred during the 1970s in the French output of films which could be seen by an average metropolitan cinema-goer without making such special efforts as joining a cine-club or seeking out films shown in community centres or to special interest groups. The most frequently noticed effect of the new post-1968 climate on the French cinema was a change in the nature of the thriller. The book focuses on three 1970s political thriller: série-Z, Yves Boisset's L'Attentat, and René Gainville's Le Complot. It looks at some films of the early 1970s which retain a consciously politico-social approach to their protagonists' problems, which conform to the broad description of 'new naturalism' in terms of narrative and protagonist. The 'New Naturalism' movement outlived its connection to 1968, and in the course of its development launched some of the most significant new film-makers to come to prominence in this decade, such as Jacques Doillon, Jean Eustache or Claude Miller. It concentrates on the two very different cinematic Utopias imagined by Claude Faraldo: Bof! and Themroc. The book also considers two film-makers: William Klein and Alain Tanner, whose work encapsulates many of the currents and issues.

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James S. Williams

The great American film critic Manny Farber memorably declared space to be the most dramatic stylistic entity in the visual arts. He posited three primary types of space in fiction cinema: the field of the screen, the psychological space of the actor, and the area of experience and geography that the film covers. This book brings together five French directors who have established themselves as among the most exciting and significant working today: Bruno Dumont, Robert Guediguian, Laurent Cantet, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Claire Denis. It proposes that people think about cinematographic space in its many different forms simultaneously (screenspace, landscape, narrative space, soundscape, spectatorial space). Through a series of close and original readings of selected films, it posits a new 'space of the cinematic subject'. Dumont's attraction to real settings and locality suggests a commitment to realism. New forms and surfaces of spectatorship provoke new sensations and engender new kinds of perception, as well as new ways of understanding and feeling space. The book interrogates Guediguian's obsessive portrayal of one particular city, Marseilles. Entering into the spaces of work and non-work in Cantet's films, it asks what constitutes space and place within the contemporary field of social relations. The book also engages with cultural space as the site of social integration and metissage in the work of Kechiche, his dialogues with diasporic communities and highly contested urban locales. Denis's film work contains continually shifting points of passage between inside and outside, objective and subjective, in the restless flux.

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Guy Austin

The birth of cinema The year 1995 saw France celebrating the centenary of cinema as a national achievement, a celebration enhanced by the recent victory over the United States regarding the exemption of films from the GATT free-trade agreement. Numerous film exhibitions and retrospectives were organised, including a showing of the entire catalogue of 1,400 short films made by

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Guy Austin

Fantasy cinema in France: from long neglect to new blood The privileging of director over genre in French film criticism – most explicitly in the politique des auteurs (see chapter 1 ) – has mitigated against the habitually formulaic genres that make up fantasy film: horror, fairy-tale and science fiction. Moreover, despite the pioneering work of Georges Méliès, and later of

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Guy Austin

Feminism and film in France Although film-making remains male-dominated in France as elsewhere, ‘more women have taken an active part in French cinema than in any other national film industry’ (Kuhn and Radstone 1990 : 163). France claims not only the first woman film director – Alice Guy, whose career began in 1900 – but also the first feminist filmmaker, Germaine Dulac, a

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Guy Austin

May 1968 and political cinema In May 1968 French students, workers and professionals united briefly in a wave of demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins – known as ‘the events of May ’68’ – which challenged the institutions of President Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic and the ideals of the consumer society. The official reporting of the violent clashes between protestors and

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Guy Austin

Porno and after If 1968 marked a watershed in French cinema’s engagement with politics and history (see chapter 2 ), 1974 did the same for representations of sexuality. In that year, pornography entered mainstream French cinema. Emmanuelle and the legitimising of the porn film The gradual relaxation of censorship in the late 1960s had seen a steady increase

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Guy Austin

mobilizations of 1995 which signalled a change of the socio-political climate in France, and which created the conditions for the rebirth of a committed cinema and for subsequent mobilizations such as that around the sans-papiers ’ (O’Shaugnessy 2003 : 189; see also below). Mobilisation however could not disguise the fact that the erosion of class identities and of Marxism during the nineties had left many of the

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Guy Austin

in France as the série noire , while a glut of Hollywood thrillers appeared on French screens, influencing the young critics of Cahiers du cinéma who went on to form la nouvelle vague (see chapter 1 ). For this reason the French thriller, also known as the polar or film policier , has been cited as ‘the principal means by which the French cinema’s relationship to Hollywood has been articulated’ (Forbes 1992 : 48