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The History of French Cinema – Part 2

The sequel to part one of the history of French cinema looks at the beginning of sound and the invention of the first talking movies. The early 1930’s saw an explosion of French talent in this new genre, from actors, directors, producers and just about anybody who was connected with the making of French movies.

The Invention of Sound

The invention of sound in the French cinema was like everywhere else in the world, it was like an explosion and talent seemed to be in all aspects of the movies. From actors and directors, to sound technicians to the invention of special effect studios.

One playwright in particular grasped this opportunity and his name was Marcel Pagnol, who adapted his Marseilles plays for the new talking movies. Films such as Cesar, Fanny and Marius captured the imagination of French film goers who never before had seen or heard anything like it. One of the first French musicals to hit the big screen in 1930, was Under the Roofs of Paris and it lit up cinemas all over the country. An explosion of talking movies were released in the pre-WWII years, A Day in the Country, La Grande Illusion, La Bete Humaine and Crime of Monsieur Lange were the pick of the bunch.

The Post War Years

As with many industries the Second World War caused massive disruption and in French cinema, those films that were released were mostly censored due to Nazi occupation, it was a time of the doldrums as far as French cinema was concerned. It was not really until the 1950’s that the industry picked itself off the cutting floor and started to produce worthwhile films again. One of the most recognized films of the post war years was La Belle et la Bete, closely followed by Orphee.

At the time in France there was also a new generation of film critics that had a very political agenda, leader of this movement was Andre Bazin who was closely connected to Cahiers du Cinema. These critics were responsible for a whole new wave of films that concentrated on political ideals.

Cinema du Look

The new wave experiment petered out after successfully leaving its mark on European cinemas and even to a lesser extent Hollywood. But closely following new wave came Cinema du Look which was all to do with style. The films were glossy, elegant and stylish such as, Betty Blue, Mauvais Sang, Subway and the fabulous Diva. Speeding motorcycles, flash suits and extravagant sets were the name of the game right up to the 1990’s.

The Present Day

After the 1990’s French cinema once again calmed down and more realistic films were made again, such as the classic La Haine directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. But perhaps at the forefront of this new generation was Jean-Pierre Jeunet who made some outstanding films that have been celebrated all over the word, such as Amelie and Delicatessen. French film making from the very beginning has never followed conventional rules, it has forever been outside the cinema box, and that is why it is so engaging and interesting. It will be interesting what the French Film industry has in store for us in the future.