France is generally perceived as the birthplace of the cinema by many cinephiles and there's a reason why, as several of the most renown pioneers of the cinema all have one thing in common. A majority of them were born in France.
Briefly describing French cinema would be like asking an individual to briefly define every word in the dictionary, it would be an extremely onerous task however I’ll provide a short history of French Cinema and a few influential films to watch if you’re intrigued.
The Lumiere brothers are the earliest known instigators of what we now know as ‘cinema’. In 1895 it is recorded that they displayed a projection of moving images on a Café wall in Paris.
It could be argued that World War I had a disastrous effect on the French film industry as lots of equipment and infrastructure was wiped out, leaving the French societies to lust for a film was at an all-time low. During the 1920s things picked up nonetheless and the rise of the ‘avant-garde’ films became popular. Avant-garde films can be described as films that differ to mainstream and commercial documentary filmmaking. They are usually experimental and often distinguished by the lack of linear narrative. Early influential producers were individuals such as Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Rene Clair and Jean Cocteau who all experimented with films as an artistic medium.
The second World War once again disrupted the French society, meaning that a majority of film equipment and infrastructure was once again destroyed. Several films were also lost and a huge part of French cinema was taken away with this war, but once again this did not totally diminish the influence of French cinema.
One of the most celebrated French film movements is known as the ‘Nouvelle Vague’, which translates to ‘New Wave’. This was a response to the characterless Hollywood films that were influencing the film scene during the 1950s. The New Wave films were less concerned with how much money a film grossed, instead, they focused on if the directors' creativity and notions were communicated to the spectator. Some of the more influential New Wave filmmakers are individuals such as Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who triggered more almost two decades of creative filmmaking.
After the French New Wave left its imprint on cinema as a whole. It slowly began to peter out during the end of the 1960s. Shortly after, a new style of cinema named ‘cinema du look’ came to fruition during the 1980s. This has been characterised as films that had an aesthetic for smooth, captivating visual style. The films tended to focus on the marginalized youth of France. The films also included many themes, but the most prominent ones were; focusing on the underground society in France, foredoomed love affairs and a more resentful view of the police. The pioneers of this movement are Luc Besson, Leos Carax and Jean-Jacques Beneix.
Films to watch:
Jean-Luc Godard's ‘Pierrot le fou’- Follows Ferdinand who is unhappily married. Ferdinand then abandons his family and runs off with the enigmatic Marianne in search of artistic fulfilment.
Claude Chabrol's ‘Les Bonnes Femmes’- Four young girls are working for a lewd boss who advocates about morality but never acts the part. The girls hope to find their true loves in Paris, while considering a variety of suitors.
Luc Besson's ‘Léon: The Professional’- A Crime/ Suspense film that follows a young girl named Mathilda whose family is murdered by a drug deal has gone bad. She is forced to take shelter in the apartment of a neighbour named Léon- who also happens to be a professional hitman. The story follows the two unlikely companions.