French Cinema

The annual Focus on French Cinema Festival is just around the corner and with the advent of Spielberg’s new film “The Adventures of Tintin” based on the French comic books, French storylines are suddenly in vogue. This year the 8th Annual Festival will occur on March 23-25 at the Performing Arts Center of Purchase College. For more information log onto Focusonfrenchcinema.org. There is an enormous amount of talent and preparation that goes into organizing this festival and attendees are never disappointed.

French cinema is a unique genre, some say it’s an acquired taste but then again the finer things in life usually are. Much of New Wave French cinema owes its evolution to the Second World War when occupied Paris was a dark place. The blackout imposed by the occupying German forces meant that lights had to be turned off, a shortage of petrol kept cars off the road, and a curfew kept most people off the streets at night.

One of the few distractions available to the French citizens was the cinema, but the choice of what to see was limited. American films were banned, and aside from German productions consisting mainly of imitations of Hollywood musical comedies and melodramatic propaganda, they only had access to the 200 odd French films that were produced during this four year period.

To a generation of cinephiles who had grown up in the rich cinematic culture of the 1920’s this lack of choice added to the sense of loss they already felt as a consequence of the war. This experience led them to prize freedom of expression above all else; values which would become central to their later work.

During the 1950’s, French films may have been popular in American cultural meccas like New York City but it took a while for the style to catch on in a mainstream way. That all changed with Roger Vadim. In 1957, his film “And God Created Woman” proved a worldwide box office smash. The reason: a pouty lipped bombshell named Bardot.

Brigitte Bardot brought Marilyn Monroe’s star power and sex appeal to the art house screen, and her comparably more open sexuality (some partial nudity) was enough to inundate the once neglected foreign film market single-handedly. Bardot’s films all became huge hits; suddenly there were lines around the block all over the United States. The public’s appetite for all things French took off, and in the open door flew the European art house cinema as we know it.

If you’re not yet a fan of French film this upcoming Festival is an excellent way of getting some exposure into the genre. Movies help us get into the psyche of a culture; they open our eyes to new ways of life. Initially, they prove how different we can be and how our cultural conditioning divides us but if you keep watching you realize that we are actually all the same and the experience unites us on a level far deeper than we could have imagined…

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