A Brief About French National Cinema


French national cinema and the cultures it has developed have existed within many particular subject matters and trends over many decades. These subjects and trends cover a wide range of topics from World War II and heritage films to questioning masculinity. French films also declare a palatable and selective approach towards cinematography and style which compliments each of the aforementioned popular domestic influences.

French National Cinema

World War II

The article will discuss the extent to which French filmmakers have been able to create a distinctive national cinema using World War II as their subject matter. The article looks at the fall of the Gaullist political ideology in particular during the mid seventies. The main focus is on how some French filmmakers have perceived the Gaullist attitudes that proclaimed the defiant ‘French Resistance’ movement against Nazi Germany during the war years.

The Gaullist Viewpoint

The standpoint and national feeling within France about the involvement of the nation during World War II is a contentious issue questioned by certain French filmmakers. The Gaullist impression that France was a nation of brave anti-German resistance fighters during the war has been challenged in France since the seventies. Facts and evidence that have since become available to the nation about this political era cast doubt as to the true extent of this ‘resistance factor’.

Lacombe Lucien

Lacombe Lucien directed by Louis Malle in 1974 tells the story of Lucien who joins the Milice (the French arm of the Gestapo) not out of anti-Semitism or pro-Nazi feelings, rather out of circumstance and his own naivety. Being one of the first films to show an anti-Gaullist approach of a Frenchman collaborating with the Nazi’s during the war years led the film to be most controversial on release.

Un Heros Tres Discret

Un heros tres discret directed by Jacques Audiard in 1996 mixed fantasy with an anti-Gaullist attitude by creating an accidental hero. Albert completely fabricates his existence within the resistance movement during the war years but becomes so successful at it he receives rank in the French army within Germany after the war. This film parodied the fact that the Gaullist resistance attitude could be accepted through pure simple fabrication. The film effectively implies how with the right attitude and tools of persuasion people can be encouraged to believe what they need to by someone else even if it is not actually true of the person who says so.

Purely French

French filmmaker tend to focus on France and French people in films linked to the war, they take pride in pinpointing their own culture and history when portraying World War II regardless of a pro or anti Gaullist viewpoint. This is in contrast to the grand battle staged multinational American and British productions so frequently and more commonly associated with the war.

Cinematography and Style

Each film uses a unique sense of cinematography and style to highlight the fact that the individuals are not only French but are located within France. Clever use of architecture, sense of place and constant references to French culture and traditions allow the subject matter, in this case World War II, to be absorbed into the cinematography. The results are a truly French reflection about World War II and the mixed perspectives of French national identity before, during and after this turbulent period in the nation’s history.

As the article explains French films when focusing on the subject matter of World War II are very good at declaring themselves as wholly French. The two example films in this article simply show how French films about World War II always have at their centre a subject of purely French matters whether they by historical, political or ideologically challenging.

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