Alexandre Astruc was the embodiment of the revolutionary hopes of a renewed cinema after the war. True, Clement, Bresson, and Melville were already making films in a new way, but making them in the age-old industry. Astruc represented a new, arrogant sensibility. He had grown up on the ideas of Sartre and was one of the youthful literati surrounding the philosopher in the St. Germain-des-Pr?s cafes. There he talked of a new French culture being born, one that demanded new representations in fiction and film.
Claude Autant-Lara is best known for his post-World War II films in the French ?tradition of quality.? His earliest work in the industry was more closely related to the avant-garde movements of the 1920s than to the mainstream commercial cinema with which he was later identified. He began as a set designer in the 1920s, serving as art director for several of Marcel L'Herbier's films, including L'Inhumaine, and for Jean Renoir's Nana; he also assisted Ren? Clair on a number of his early shorts.
Next to Jean Gr?millon, Jacques Becker is surely the most neglected of France's great directors. Known in France for Goupi Mains rouges and Antoine et Antoinette, his only film to reach an international critical audience was Casque d'Or. But from 1942 to 1959, Becker fashioned thirteen films, none of which could be called a failure and each of which merits respect and attention.
Bertrand Blier directs erotic buddy movies featuring men who are exasperated by the opposite sex, who perceive of themselves as macho but are incapable of satisfying the women in their lives. In actuality, his heroes are terrified of feminism, of the ?new woman? who demands her right to experience and enjoy orgasm. But Blier's females are in no way villainesses. They are just elusive?and so alienated that they can only find fulfillment from oddballs or young boys.
Robert Bresson began and quickly gave up a career as a painter, turning to cinema in 1934. The short film he made that year, Affaires publiques, is never shown. His next work, Les Anges du p?ch?, was his first feature film, followed by Les Dames du Bois du Boulogne and Journal d'un cur? de campagne, which firmly established his reputation as one of the world's most rigorous and demanding filmmakers.
At a time when film schools were non-existent and training in filmmaking was acquired through assistantship, no one could have been better prepared for a brilliant career than Marcel Carn?. He worked as assistant to Ren? Clair on the first important French sound film, Sous les toits de Paris, and to Jacques Feyder on the latter's three great films of 1934-35.
If Jean-Luc Godard appeals to critics because of his extreme interest in politics and film theory, and if Fran?ois Truffaut appeals to the popular audience because of his humanism and sentimentality, it is Claude Chabrol?film critic, filmmaker, philosopher?whose work consistently offers the opportunity for the most balanced appeal.
Ren? Cl?ment was the most promising filmmaker to emerge in France at the end of World War II. He became the most technically adroit and interesting of the makers of ?quality? films during the 1950s, only to see his career begin to disappoint the critics. In the years of the New Wave it was Cl?ment, above all, who tied the older generation to the younger, especially through a film like Purple Noon. In a more recent phase he was associated with grand-scale dramas (Is Parts Burning?) and with small, personal, lyric films (Rider on the Rain).
During the 1930s, when the French cinema reigned intellectually preeminent, Ren? Clair ranked with Renoir and Carn? as one of its greatest directors?perhaps the most archetypally French of them all. His reputation has since fallen (as has Carn?'s), and comparison with Renoir may suggest why. Clair's work, though witty, stylish, charming, and technically accomplished, seems to lack a dimension when compared with the work of Renoir; there is a certain over-simplification, a fastidious turning away from the messier, more complex aspects of life.
In a country like France where good taste is so admired, Henri-Georges Clouzot has been a shocking director. A film critic during the age of surrealism, Clouzot was always eager to assault his audience with his style and concerns.
Jean Cocteau's contribution to cinema is as eclectic as one would expect from a man who fulfilled on occasion the roles of poet and novelist, dramatist and graphic artist, and dabbled in such diverse media as ballet and sculpture. In addition to his directorial efforts, Cocteau also wrote scripts and dialogue, made acting appearances, and realized amateur films. His work in other media has inspired adaptations by a number of filmmakers ranging from Rossellini to Franju and Demy, and he himself published several collections of eclectic and stimulating thoughts on the film medium.
The films of Constantin Costa-Gavras are exciting, enthralling, superior examples of dramatic moviemaking, but the filmmaker is far from being solely concerned with keeping the viewer in suspense. A Greek exile when he made Z, set in the country of his birth, Costa-Gavras is most interested in the motivations and misuses of power: politically, he may be best described as an anti-fascist, a humanist. As such, his films are as overtly political as any above-ground, internationally popular and respected filmmaker in history.
Jacques Demy's first feature film, Lola, is among the early distinguished products of the New Wave and is dedicated to Max Oph?ls. These two facts in conjunction define its particular character. It proved to be the first in a series of loosely interlinked films (the intertextuality is rather more than a charming gimmick, relating as it does to certain thematic preoccupations already established in Lola itself); arguably, it remains the richest and most satisfying work so far in Demy's erratic, frustrating, but also somewhat underrated career.
As a writer, Marguerite Duras's work is identified, along with that of such authors as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Jean Cayrol, with the tradition of the New Novel. Duras began working in film as a screenwriter, with an original script for Alain Resnais's first feature, Hiroshima mon amour. She subsequently wrote a number of film adaptations from her novels. She directed her first film, La Musica, in 1966.
Louis Feuillade was one of the most solid and dependable talents in French cinema during the early twentieth century. He succeeded Alice Guy as head of production at Gaumont in 1906 and worked virtually without a break?aside from a period of war service?until his death in 1925. He produced some eight hundred films of every conceivable kind: comedies and contemporary melodramas, biblical epics and historical dramas, sketches and series with numerous episodes adding up to many hours of running time. Although most of these films were made from his own scripts, Feuillade was not an innovator.
Franju's career falls clearly into two parts, marked by the format of the films: the early period of documentary shorts, and a subsequent period of fictional features. The parts are connected by many links of theme, imagery, attitude, and iconography. Critical attention has focused primarily on the shorts, and there is some justice in this.
Abel Gance's career as a director was long and flamboyant. He wrote his first scripts in 1909, turning to directing a couple of years later, and made his last feature, Cyrano et d'Artagnan, in 1964. As late as 1971 he re-edited a four-hour version of his Napoleon footage to make Bonaparte et la r?volution, and he lived long enough to see his work again reach wide audiences.
If influence on the development of world cinema is the criterion, then Jean-Luc Godard is certainly the most important filmmaker of the past thirty years; he is also one of the most problematic.
Jean Gr?millon is finally beginning to enjoy the international reputation most French film scholars always bestowed upon him. Although Americans have until recently been able to see only one or two of his dozen important works, he has generally been placed only slightly below Renoir, Clair, and Carn? in the hierarchy of French classical cinema.
Values change and time plays tricks on one's memory of how it really was. Back in the early 1930s, when talking pictures were gaining a foothold in this country and all foreign nations were exhibiting their product in America, it seemed as if there was nobody in films as charming, witty, and multi-talented as Sacha Guitry. His films, made in France, appeared at all the best art houses; he was a delightful actor, a director with a Lubitsch-like wit, and a writer of amusing sophisticated comedy. Seeing his films today in revival, however, they do not seem that funny.
In 1989 Patrice Leconte earned international acclaim upon the release o? Monsieur Hire, a sharp, clever thriller. Yet for almost a decade and a half, he had been thriving as a director of light, strictly commercial satires?smashingly successful at home but little-known outside France?which were crammed with physical slapstick, plays-on-words, and other assorted shenanigans. These films were amusing and nonsensical, with his casts including Josiane Balasko, Michel Blanc, Bernard Giraudeau, and other prominent actors from the French theater and cinema.
Few directors since Louis Lumi?re have enjoyed such total control over their films. As inventor of the cin?matographe, the first camera-cum-projector, he determined not only the subjects but also the aesthetics of early cinema. A scientist devoted to the plastic arts, Lumi?re initially specialized in outdoor photography. This experience, coupled with an appreciation of framing, perspective, and light values in a composition, informed his pioneering films.
Georges M?li?s, prestidigitator and master illusionist in the Parisian theatre of the late nineteenth century, turned to the cinema and made some five hundred films of every kind fashionable at the time between 1896 and 1912. Of these less than ninety survive, though working drawings (M?li?s was a prolific and considerable graphic artist) remain to supplement his work.
In the scramble for space and fame that became the nouvelle vague, Louis Malle began with more hard experience than Godard, Truffaut, or Chabrol, and he showed in Ascenseur pour l'chafaud that his instincts for themes and collaborators were faultless. Henri Deca?'s low-light photography and Malle's use of Jeanne Moreau established him as emblematic of the new French cinema. But the Cahiers trio with their publicist background made artistic hay while Malle persisted in a more intimate voyage of discovery with his lovely star.
Chris Marker's principal distinction may be to have developed a form of personal essay within the documentary mode. Aside from his work little is known about him; he is elusive bordering on mysterious. Born in a suburb of Paris, he has allowed a legend to grow up about his birth in a ?far-off country.? Marker is not his name; it is one of a half-dozen aliases he has used. He chose ?Marker,? it is thought, in reference to the Magic Marker pen.
The career of Jean-Pierre Melville is one of the most independent in modern French cinema. The tone was set with his first feature film, Le Silence de la mer, made quite outside the confines of the French film industry. Without union recognition or even the rights to the novel by Vercors which he was adapting, Melville proceeded to make a film which, in its counterpointing of images and a spoken text, set the pattern for a whole area of French literary filmmaking extending from Bresson and Resnais down to Duras in the 1980s.
Max Oph?ls's work falls neatly into three periods, marked by geographical locations and diverse production conditions, yet linked by common thematic concerns and stylistic/formal procedures: the pre-Second World War European period (during which he made films in four countries and four languages); the four Hollywood films of the late 1940s (to which one might add the remarkable Howard Hughes-produced Vendetta, on which he worked extensively in its early pre-production phases and which bears many identifiable Oph?lsian traces, both thematic and stylistic); and the four films made in
Marcel Ophuls's 1976 film, The Memory of Justice, which examines war crimes by juxtaposing the Nuremburg Trials with the conflict in Vietnam, managed to please neither the critic Pauline Kael ("I feel a pang of guilt, because I think it's a very bad film?chaotic and plodding, and with an excess of self-consciousness which at times Ophuls seems to mistake for art") nor David Puttnam, one of its British producers, who claimed that the work was far too ?personal? and who apparently urged Ophuls to be more ?fascist? in his approach.
?The art of the theatre is reborn under another form and will realize unprecedented prosperity. A new field is open to the dramatist enabling him to produce works that neither Sophocles, Racine, nor Moli?re had the means to attempt.? With these words, Marcel Pagnol greeted the advent of synchronous sound to the motion picture, and announced his conversion to the new medium. The words also served to launch a debate, carried on for the most part with Ren? Clair, in which Pagnol argued for the primacy of text over image in what he saw as the onset of a new age of filmed theater.
Described by Alain Bergala in Cahiers du cnema as ?Renoir's true heir today,? Maurice Pialat is squarely in the tradition of French auteur cinema. Like Renoir, Feyder, and Gremillon in the 1930s, and Godard, Resnais, Varda, and a few others after the war, Pialat is an artisan who works both within and against the French film industry. He has often acknowledged his ?debt? to Renoir, as well as to Pagnol, in terms of both working methods and a certain conception of realism.
Jean Renoir's major work dates from between 1924 and 1939. Of his 21 films the first six are silent features that put forward cinematic problems that come to dominate the entire oeuvre. All study a detachment, whether of language and image, humans and nature, or social rules and real conduct. Optical effects are treated as problems coextensive with narrative. He shows people who are told to obey rules and conventions in situations and social frames that confine them. A sensuous world is placed before everyone's eyes, but access to it is confounded by cultural mores.
Alain Resnais is a prominent figure in the modernist narrative film tradition. His emergence as a feature director of international repute is affiliated with the eruption of the French New Wave in the late 1950s.
In the days when the young lions of the New Wave were busy railing against ?Le Cin?ma du papa? in magazine articles and attending all-night screenings of Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis movies at La Cin?math?que, Jacques Rivette was quite the keenest cinephile of them all. He made a short as early as 1950, worked as an assistant director for Becker and Renoir, and wrote endless essays for Gazette du cin?ma and Cahiers du cin?ma, which he would later edit.
By virtue of a tenure shared at Cahiers du cin?ma during the 1950s and early 1960s, Eric Rohmer is usually classified with Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, and Rivette as a member of the French New Wave. Yet, except for three early shorts made with Godard, Rohmer's films seem to share more with the traditional values of such directors as Renoir and Bresson than with the youthful flamboyance of his contemporaries. Much of this divergence is owed to an accident of birth.
A prolific and innovative ethnographie filmmaker as well as a pioneer of cin?ma v?rit? and improvised film psychodrama, Jean Rouch has not only redefined documentary film practice but also stimulated radical developments in fiction film. It was as a civil engineer preferring West Africa to the German occupation that Rouch came to anthropology through observation of Songhay rituals.
The career of Claude Sautet was slow in getting underway, but by the 1970s he had virtually become the French cinema's official chronicler of bourgeois life. He had made his directing debut with a solidly constructed thriller, Classe tous risques, in 1960, but a second film, L'Arme ? gauche, did not follow until 1965 and was markedly less successful. Despite numerous scriptwriting assignments, his directing career did not really get underway until he completed Les Choses de la vie in 1969. This set the pattern for a decade of filmmaking.
Jacques Tati's father was disappointed that his son didn't enter the family business, the restoration and framing of old paintings. In Jacques Tati's films, however, the art of framing?of selecting borders and playing on the limits of the image?achieved new expressive heights. Instead of restoring old paintings, Tati restored the art of visual comedy, bringing out a new density and brilliance of detail, a new clarity of composition.
It is significant that Bertrand Taverniere films have been paid little attention by the more important contemporary film critics/theorists: his work is resolutely ?realist,? and realism is under attack in critical quarters. Realism has frequently been a cover for the reproduction and reinforcement of dominant ideological assumptions, and to this extent that attack is salutary. Yet Taverniere cinema demonstrates effectively that the blanket rejection of realism rests on very unstable foundations. Realism has been seen as the bourgeoisie?s way of talking to itself.
Maurice Tourneur is one of the greatest pictorialists of the cinema, deriving his aesthetic from his early associations with Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes. Having worked for Andr? Antoine as an actor and producer, he joined the Eclair Film Company in 1912 and travelled to their American Studios at Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1914. There he directed films based on successful stage plays. In The Wishing Ring it is possible to see the charm and visual beauty he brought to his work.
Fran?ois Truffaut was one of five young French film critics, writing for Andr? Bazin's Cahiers du cin?ma in the early 1950s, who became the leading French filmmakers of their generation.
It is difficult to think of another director who made so few films and yet had such a profound influence on other filmmakers. Jean Vigo's ? propos de Nice, his first film, is his contribution to the French surrealist movement. The film itself is a direct descendant of Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera. Certainly, his films make political statements similar to those seen in Vertov's work. Vertov's documentary celebrates a people's revolution, while Vigo's chastises the bourgeois vacationers in a French resort town.
Jacqueline Audry?s career is significant not only because she was one of the rare female directors working in a motion-picture industry dominated by men, but because she created a
Over the course of the last ten years, Claire Denis has created an impressive body of work that ranges from narrative features and music documentaries to films for television. Known worldwide as an inspired director with a vivacious, trenchant perspective, she has been called ?one of the great directors of our time,? and enjoys a reputation as an extraordinarily inventive and influential independent filmmaker.
When she was two months old, Denis?s parents moved to Africa, where, while her father worked in the French civil service, they lived in a series of countries until she was 14 ye
Before becoming a film director, Germaine Dulac had studied music, was interested in photography, and had written for two feminist journals?all of which played a role in her development as a filmmaker. There were three phases to her filmmaking career: in commercial production, in the avant-garde, and in newsreels. In addition, filmmaking was only one phase of her film career; she also was prominent as a theorist and promoter of the avant-garde film, and as an organizer of the French film unions and the cin?-club movement.
Recently, film historians have rediscovered Marie Epstein?s contributions to French cinema as one of the few French women filmmakers of the 1920s and 1930s. Although she worked as a screenwriter, director, and editor, she was typically unacknowledged in film histories in favor of her two collaborators, brother Jean Epstein and Jean Beno?t-L?vy.
Alice Guy was the first person, or among the first, to make a fictional film. The story-film was quite possibly ?invented? by her in 1896 when she made The Cabbage Fairy. Certain historians claim that films of Louis Lumi?re and Georges M?li?s preceded Guy?s first film. The question remains debatable; Guy claimed precedence, devoting much effort in her lifetime to correcting recorded errors attributing her films to her male colleagues, and trying to secure her earned niche in film history. There is no debate regarding Guy?s position as the world?s first woman filmmaker.
It is not unusual for young independent filmmakers to create an autobiographical first or second feature: perhaps a tale of struggling adolescence on the model of Truffaut?s The Four Hundred Blows. But Peppermint Soda, Diane Kurys?s first film, a resounding critical and box-office success in France, was highly unusual in 1977 for having a female perspective on teenage rites of passage. It also initiated a remarkable group of films?one that does not follow the same characters through a series of sequels, ? la Truffaut?s Antoine Doinel cycle, but focuses upon essentially the
There are unsolved questions, gaps, mysteries, and misunderstandings (willful or not) in Sarah Maldoror?s career and biography that are best summarized by the origin of her name: Maldoror is the title of one of the ?venomous? flowers of French culture, The Songs of Maldoror, a book-length descent into hell written by 19th-century-poet Lautr?amont.
One of the greatest stars of the French silent cinema, Musidora gained extraordinary fame playing France?s first screen vamp, Irma Vep (an anagram of ?vampire?) in Louis Feuillade?s 1915-16 film series, Les Vampires. She played its femme fatale with great aplomb, appearing in each of its ten semi-independent episodes in a different disguise?both male and female. In addition, her sexy villainess wore a provocative black leotard and expressed an unashamed sexuality.
?For all the Black Shack Alleys of the world??with these words, the opening dedication of her first feature, La Rue cases n?gres (Sugar Cane Alley), Euzhan Palcy arrived on the scene of international filmmaking. The film not only garnered a C?sar from the French Film Academy, and a Silver Lion from the Venice Film Festival, it also demonstrated that there was an audience for films with central black characters. The film proved to be remarkably successful in France; in Martinique, the setting of the story and Palcy?s first home, Sugar Cane Alley outgrossed the Holl
From the mid-1970s through the early 1990s, Christine Pascal had starring or supporting roles as girlfriends and mothers, students and schoolteachers in more than two dozen European-made features. While never blossoming into a major international star, she lent charm and depth to films directed by Claude Miller, Pedro Almod?var, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, and, most especially, Bertrand Tavernier. She appeared in a half-dozen Tavernier films and, most significantly, co-scripted (as well as starred in) one, Spoiled Children. This blatantly autobiographical
Ginette Vincendeau?s insightful survey of Coline Serreau?s career calls it a ?high wire act,? but one might shift the metaphor a little to ?balancing act,? for Serreau has managed to keep a steady balance between feminism and commercial success, outright farce, and drama of sentiment, while keeping a cool eye on her typically obtuse?but educable?male protagonists.
Serreau?s first film, a documentary interviewing women as socially and economically diverse as a Swiss church minister and a sex-film star, was named after Freud?s famous expression of bafflement, ?What do women want?? Her s
From the very beginnings of the career of Nadine Trintignant, the filmmaking process has been a family affair. One of her early credits, Of Flesh and Blood, on which she is the editor, was directed and co-scripted by her brother, actor-director Christian Marquand, and features another brother, actor Serge Marquand, in a supporting role. Trintignant?s husband, from whom she separated during the 1970s, was actor-director Jean-Louis Trintignant; he frequently appeared in her films, beginning with a starring role in her debut feature, My Love, My Love. Their daughter is actres