The Cinema of France comprises the art of film and creative movies made within the nation of France or by French filmmakers abroad.
France is the birthplace of cinema and was responsible for many of its early significant contributions. Several important cinematic movements, including the Nouvelle Vague, began in the country. 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. It is able to stand up well to competition when compared with the cinema industries of other countries. Characteristics of French cinema 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, and Andrzej Żuławski), Argentina (Gaspar Noe and Edgardo Cozarinsky), Russia (Alexandre Alexeieff, Anatole Litvak) and Georgia (Gela Babluani, Otar Iosseliani) are as prominent in the ranks of French cinema as native Frenchmen. French directors have been important in the development of cinema in other countries, such as Luc Besson in the United States.
In the late 19th century, during the early years of cinema, France made many important followers. Auguste and Louis Lumière invented the cinématographe and their L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat in Paris in 1895 is considered by many historians as the official birth of cinematography. Alice Guy Blaché made her first film, La Fée aux Choux, in 1896. 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) in 1902).
Alice Guy Blaché was head of production at Gaumont Pictures, where she made about 400 films, from 1897 until 1906, then continued her career in the United States, as did Maurice Tourneur and Léonce Perret 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.
After World War I, the French film industry suffered because of a lack of capital, and film production decreased as it did in most other European countries. This allowed the United States film industry to enter the European cinema market, because American films could be sold more cheaply than European productions, since the studios already had recouped their costs in the home market. When film studios in Europe began to fail, many European countries reason began to set import barriers. France installed an import quota of 1:7, meaning for every seven foreign films imported to France, one French film was to be produced and shown in French cinemas.
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. Other notable films of the 1930s included René Clair's Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), Jacques Feyder's Carnival in Flanders (1935), and Julien Duvivier's La belle equipe (1936). In 1935, renowned playwright and actor Sacha Guitry directed his first film and went on to make more than 30 films that were 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 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, it was voted Best French Film of the Century in a poll of 600 French critics and professionals in the late 1990s.
In the 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, and Eric Rohmer went on to make films themselves, creating what was to become known as the French New Wave. Some of the first films of this new genre were Godard's Breathless (À bout de souffle, 1960), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Truffaut's The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cent Coups, 1959) starring Jean-Pierre Léaud. From 1959 until 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.
Many contemporaries of Godard and Truffaut followed suit, or achieved international critical acclaim with styles of their own, such as the minimalist films of Robert Bresson and Jean-Pierre Melville, the Hitchcockian-like thrillers of Henri-Georges Clouzot, and other New Wave films by Agnès Varda and Alain Resnais. The movement, while an inspiration to other national cinemas and unmistakably a direct influence on the future New Hollywood directors, slowly faded by the end of the 1960s.
During this period, French commercial film also made a name for itself. Immensely popular French comedies with Louis de Funes topped the French box office. The war comedy La Grande Vadrouille (1966), from Gérard Oury with Bourvil, was the most successful film in French theaters for more than 30 years. Another example was La Folie des grandeurs with Yves Montand. French cinema also was the birthplace for many sub-genres of the crime film, most notably the modern caper film, starting with 1955's Rififi by American-born director Jules Dassin and followed by a large number of serious, noirish heist dramas as well as playful caper comedies throughout the sixties, and the "polar," a typical French blend of film noir and detective fiction. In addition, French movie stars began to claim fame abroad as well as at home. Popular actors of the period included Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Jeanne Moreau, Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Brigitte Bardot, and Jean Gabin.
The 1979 film La Cage aux Folles ran for well over a year at the Paris Theatre, an art house cinema in New York City, and was a commercial success at theaters throughout the country, in both urban and rural areas. It won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and for years it remained the most successful foreign film to be released in the United States.
Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva (1981) sparked the beginning of the 1980s 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 Léos Carax.
These films, made with a slick commercial style and emphasizing the alienation of its main characters, was known as "Cinema du look" Cinema du look
Camille Claudel, directed by newcomer Bruno Nuytten and starring Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu, was a major commercial success in 1988, earning Adjani, who was also the film's co-producer, a César Award for best actress.
Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Cyrano de Bergerac was a major box-office success in 1990, earning several César Awards, including best actor for Gérard Depardieu, as well as an Academy Award nomination for best foreign picture.
In 1992, Claude Sautet co-wrote (with Jacques Fieschi) and directed Un Coeur en Hiver, considered by many to be a masterpiece. Mathieu Kassovitz's 1995 film Hate (La Haine) made Vincent Cassel a star, and in 1997, Juliette Binoche won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The English Patient. That same year, Luc Besson's The Fifth Element became a cult favorite.
In 2001, after a brief stint in Hollywood, Jean-Pierre Jeunet returned to France with Amélie (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain) starring Audrey Tautou and Mathieu Kassovitz. It became the highest-grossing French-language film ever released in the United States. The following year, Brotherhood of the Wolf became the second-highest-grossing French-language film in the United States in the last two decades and went on to gross more than $70 million worldwide.
In 2008, Marion Cotillard won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of legendary French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, the first French-language performance to be so honored. The film won two Oscars and four BAFTAs and became the third-highest-grossing French-language film in the United States in the last two decades. Cotillard was the first female and second person to win both an Academy Award and César Award for the same performance.
The 2008 rural comedy Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis drew an audience of more than 20 million, the first French film to do so. Its $193 million gross in France puts it just behind Titanic as the most successful film of all time in French theaters.
In the 2000s, several French directors made international productions, often in the action genre. These include Gérard Pirès (Riders, 2002), Pitof (Catwoman), Jean-François Richet (Assault on Precinct 13), Florent Emilio Siri (Hostage), Christophe Gans (Silent Hill), Mathieu Kassovitz (Babylon A.D.), Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk), Alexandre Aja (Mirrors), and Pierre Morel (Taken).
As the advent of television threatened the success of cinema, countries were faced with the problem of reviving movie-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 implemented various measures aimed at supporting local film production and movie theaters. The Canal+ TV channel has a broadcast license imposing it to 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, and 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.
The French national and regional governments involve themselves in film production. For example, the award-winning documentary In the Land of the Deaf (Le Pays des sourds) was created by Nicolas Philibert in 1992. The film was co-produced by a multinational partners, which reduced the financial risks inherent in the project; and co-production also ensured enhanced distribution opportunities.