The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Cinema of France

France has been influential in the development of film as a mass medium and as an art form.



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 screening of L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de la Ciotat in Paris in 1895 is marked by many historians as the official birth of cinema. 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 ever science fiction film A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune, 1902).

Other early individuals and organizations of this period included Gaumont Pictures and Pathé Frères. Alice Guy Blaché was one of the first pioneers in cinema. She made her first film in 1896, 'La Fée au Choux', and was head of production at Gaumont 1897-1906, where she made in total about 400 films. Her career continued in the United States.

Beginning in 1935, renowned playright and actor Sacha Guitry directed his first film. He made more than 30 films that are seen as the precursor to the new wave era.

In 1937 Jean Renoir, the son of famous 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 critic's have cited this film as one of the greatest of all-time.

Marcel Carne'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 conditions during 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.

Post-World War II: 1940s-1970s

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 Truffaut's The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cent Coups, 1959) starring Jean-Pierre Léaud and Godard's Breathless (À bout de souffle, 1960), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Personalities from this period


When Jean-Jacques Beineix made Diva (1981) it sparked the beginning of the 80s wave of French cinema. Movies which followed in its wake included Betty Blue (37°2 le matin, 1986) by Beineix, The Big Blue (Le Grand bleu, 1988) by Luc Besson and The Lovers on the Bridge (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, 1991) by Leos Carax .


In 1991, Jean-Pierre Jeunet made Delicatessen. In 1995 The City of Lost Children (La Cité des enfants perdus) came out. Both films featured a distinctive style.

In the mid-1990s, Krzysztof Kieslowski released his Three colors trilogy, Blue, White and Red. Mathieu Kassovitz's film Hate (La Haine, 1995) made Vincent Cassel into a star.

In 2001 after a brief stunt in Hollywood with the fourth Alien film (Alien: Resurrection), Jeunet returned to France with Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain) starring Audrey Tautou and Kassovitz.

Current situation

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. Interestingly, the once prospering filmmaking industry of countries such as Italy has now largely been eliminated. The French government has therefore implemented various measures aimed at supporting local film production and movie theaters, including:

  • the Canal Plus 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.

Notable contemporary French cinema personalities



See also

Last updated: 02-08-2005 00:35:32
Last updated: 05-03-2005 09:00:33