The cinema of France comprises the art of film making within the nation of France or by French filmmakers abroad. France was the birthplace of cinema and saw many of its initial significant contributions. Several important cinematic movements have begun in France, including the Nouvelle Vague. It is noted for having a particularly strong film industry, due in part to a certain level of protection afforded it by the French government. For this reason also, it is able to stand up quite well to competition from America, when compared with the cinema industries of other countries. Characteristics include slower plotlines, strong character development and a deviance from happy or conclusive endings.
Apart from its strong indigenous film tradition, France has also been a gathering spot for artists from across Europe and the world. For this reason French cinema is sometimes intertwined with the cinema of foreign nations. Directors from nations such as Poland (Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Andrzej Żuławski), Argentina (Gaspar Noe, Edgardo Cozarinsky), and Russia/the Soviet Union (Alexandre Alexeieff, Anatole Litvak, Gela Babluani, Otar Iosseliani) are equally prominent in the ranks of French cinema as the native Frenchmen. Also, French directors such as Luc Besson in the United States, have been important in the development of Cinema in other countries.
Late 19th century to early 20th century
In the late 19th century
, during the early years of cinema, France produced several important pioneers. Auguste and Louis Lumière
invented the cinématographe
and their L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat
is considered by many historians as the official birth of cinematography. During the next few years, filmmakers all over the world started experimenting with this new medium, and France's Georges Méliès
was influential. He invented many of the techniques now common in the cinematic language, and made the first science fiction film A Trip to the Moon
(Le Voyage dans la Lune
Other individuals and organizations of this period included Gaumont Pictures and Pathé Frères. Alice Guy Blaché was a pioneer in cinema, making her first film in 1896, La Fée aux Choux, and was head of production at Gaumont 1897-1906, where she made about 400 films. Her career continued in the United States. Several pioneers such as Maurice Tourneur or Léonce Perret continued their careers in the United States after World War I.
During the period between World War I and World War II, Jacques Feyder became one of the founders of poetic realism in French cinema. He also dominated French Impressionist Cinema, along with Abel Gance, Germaine Dulac and Jean Epstein, see Cinéma Pur.
After World War I, the French film industry was not well, because of a lack of capital. As with every other European country recovering from the war, France suffered major financial problems, which made it very hard for the film industry to find investors. So French film production decreased as it did in most other European countries. This gave the US film industry a chance to enter the European cinema market. American films could be sold more cheaply than European productions, because the studios had already made back their costs in the home market. Thus, film studios in Europe failed, which gave many European countries reason to set import barriers. France installed an import quota of 1:7, in other words, for every seven foreign films imported to France, one French film was to be produced and shown in French cinemas.
Notable films of the 1930s included René Clair's Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), Jacques Feyder's Carnival in Flanders (1935), Julien Duvivier's La belle equipe (1936). In 1931, Marcel Pagnol filmed the first of his great trilogy, Marius, Fanny, and César. He followed this with other films including the The Baker's Wife. In 1935, renowned playwright and actor Sacha Guitry directed his first film. He made more than 30 films that are precursors to the new wave era. In 1937, Jean Renoir, the son of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, directed what many see as his first masterpiece, La Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion). In 1939, Renoir directed La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game). Several movie critics have cited this film as one of the greatest of all-time.
Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) was filmed during World War II and released in 1945. The three-hour film was extremely difficult to make due to the Nazi occupation. Set in Paris in 1828, the film was voted "Best French Film of the Century" in a poll of 600 French critics and professionals in the late 1990s.
Since 2007, cinemas in France - mostly Paris, have degraded. The cause of this is primarily due to the extensive cost of powering a cinema. Now when you walk into a cinema in France you will notice a change to how they used to look. Most notably the gigantic screen has been replaced with a 72" LCD TV (to save power). Due to the fact that this new screen is much smaller, most of the seats have been removed, and swapped out for the more comfortable sofa. As well there is no longer the need for a projector. This has led to the simple use of a DvD player. Movie companies now provide the cinemas with a few copies of their movie in DvD format, to be viewed with their new system.
In the critical magazine Cahiers du cinéma founded by André Bazin, critics and lovers of film would discuss film and why it worked. Modern film theory was born there. Additionally, Cahiers critics such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, etc. went on to make films themselves, creating what was to become known as the French New Wave. Some of the first movies of this new genre was Godard's Breathless (À bout de souffle, 1960), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and - the leading movie - Truffaut's The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cent Coups, 1959) starring Jean-Pierre Léaud. From 1959 till 1979 Truffaut followed Léaud's character Antoine Doinel, who falls in love with Christine Darbon (Claude Jade from Hitchcock's Topaz) in Stolen Kisses, marries her in Bed & Board and separates from her in the last Post-New-Wave-Movie Love on the Run. Produced during this period, French comedies with Louis de Funes are a best in French box office: La Grande Vadrouille (1966) (17 000 000 ) from Gérard Oury with Bourvil, La Folie des grandeurs with Yves Montand...
As the advent of television
threatened the life of cinema
itself, countries were faced with the problem of reviving cinema-going. The French cinema market, and more generally the French-speaking market, is smaller than the English-speaking market, one reason being that some major markets such as the United States
are fairly reluctant to import foreign movies. As a consequence, French movies have to be amortized on a relatively small market and thus generally have budgets far lower than their American counterparts, ruling out expensive settings and special effects
. The French government has therefore implemented various measures aimed at supporting local film production and movie theaters, including:
- the Canal+ TV channel has a broadcast license imposing that it should support the production of movies;
- some taxes are levied on movies and TV channels for use as subsidies for movie production;
- some tax breaks are given for investment in movie productions;
- the sale of DVDs and videocassettes of movies shown in theaters is prohibited for six months after the showing in theaters, so as to ensure some revenue for movie theaters.
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