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Nationalism and the Cinema in France

Nationalism and the Cinema in France: Political Mythologies and Film Events, 1945-1995

Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    Nationalism and the Cinema in France
    Book Description:

    It is often taken for granted that French cinema is intimately connected to the nation's sense of identity and self-confidence. But what do we really know about that relationship? What are the nuances, insider codes, and hidden history of the alignment between cinema and nationalism? Hugo Frey suggests that the concepts of the 'political myth' and 'the film event' are the essential theoretical reference points for unlocking film history.Nationalism and the Cinema in Franceoffers new arguments regarding those connections in the French case, examining national elitism, neo-colonialism, and other exclusionary discourses, as well as discussing for the first time the subculture of cinema around the extreme right Front National. Key works from directors such as Michel Audiard, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, Marcel Pagnol, Jean Renoir, Jacques Tati, Francois Truffaut, and others provide a rich body of evidence.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-366-6
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. INTRODUCTION: From International ‘High Art’ to the Parisian Political Melee
    (pp. 1-15)

    The cinema is an art form equal to any other and as such it is appropriate to find examples of it displayed in esteemed galleries, often alongside a focus on photography, pop art or video installations. A helpful way into the themes addressed in this book begins at precisely one such exhibition: the autumn 2012 Tate Modern show dedicated to two artists known primarily for their photography, William Klein and Daido Moriyama. There, the first exhibition space is dedicated to the screening on a permanent loop of an early short film from Klein that is titledBroadway by Light(1958)....

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Cinema of Self-promotion: Patriotic Subtexts in ‘Films about Films’
    (pp. 16-42)

    This chapter provides a new analysis of selected major works of French cinema that focus on the process of filmmaking itself. The opening pages describe the mythic content and reception of François Truffaut’sLa Nuit américaine(1973). It is a work that exemplifies how the cinema can be plainly international in intention and format but also function to contribute to the circulation of implied nationalist values or myths. This work is then compared with the films and film events dating from the Centenary of Cinema, which was celebrated in 1995. The working hypothesis of the chapter is that modernist meta-film...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Search for National Unity through History
    (pp. 43-73)

    For the past twenty-five years the question of how modern France understands its own past has received extensive and sustained attention from political and cultural historians. Scholars interested in themes of collective memory, representation and politics have addressed this subject in groundbreaking works including publications that focus on the role of history films. One thinks immediately of Henry Rousso’sLe Syndrome de Vichy, SylvieLindeperg’sLes Écrans de l’ombreor Shlomo Sand’s Le XXesiècle à l’écran.¹ This chapter returns to the fascinating question of how works of cinema project selected slices of positively read national history to relay to...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Representation of a Modern Chic People
    (pp. 74-99)

    As Ferro’s original definition of ‘film event’ implied, it is evident that individual landmark films and their reception do impact on society and contribute to changing attitudes and perceptions. This chapter proposes that Claude Lelouch’sUn homme et une femme(1966) and its reception, including a controversial triumph at the Cannes Festival that year, worked in precisely this way as a vector for nationalism. Lelouch’s seemingly neutral work perpetuated the myth that France was a united, economically thriving and morally upstanding community. The debates that developed around it in Paris are important too because they exemplify how discussing cinema can...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR A Paradox in Anti-Americanism: Public Protest and Visual Ambiguity
    (pp. 100-128)

    One of the most memorable scenes from Jean-Pierre Melville’s resistance epic,L’Armée des ombres,which I discussed at some length in chapter 2, follows its central protagonists in their escape from occupied France to freedom in London. The sequence offers an audience significant repose from the violence and tensions of the preceding acts and makes a powerful tribute to the British war effort. It also includes for me one of the most touching and effective passages from any work of cinema ever made. Cutting quickly from a solemn ceremonial meeting with de Gaulle, Melville shows how the resisters spend an...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Maintenance of Neocolonial Attitudes
    (pp. 129-156)

    In the highly regarded art filmCaché(Haneke, 2005), a middle-class Parisian family is thrown into turmoil as scenes from their past filter back into their memory, prompted by being seemingly stalked by an Algerian immigrant. As any sense of security painfully unravels, images from a deeply repressed historical episode flash before the principal character’s mind. Blocked out from his recollection are the days of his youth when his family took brief custody of an Algerian child who was orphaned after his parents mysteriously disappeared, probably murdered by the police in the violent roundups that infamously took place in Paris...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Persistence of Anti-Semitism
    (pp. 157-188)

    The chapter begins with a detailed consideration of a major film event: the six month period when in 1989 the veteran director Claude Autant-Lara was elected to the European Parliament as a representative of the far-right-wing Front National and, secondly, it then discusses the longer and more covert twists and turns of anti-Semitic nationalism as expressed in postwar cinema debates and selected individual films from 1945 to 1989. Autant-Lara’s public anti-Semitic rhetoric was all the more scandalous and inflammatory because for much of the postwar period, with the exception of Michel Audiard, no major figure from cinema had so openly...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Cinema and the Extreme Right–wing Undercurrent
    (pp. 189-215)

    A little later than the period discussed in this work, the film critic Serge Kaganski wrote inLibérationthat the international hit filmAmélie(Jeunet, 2001) had a dangerous ideological subtext. The charming romantic comedy set in Montmartre provided an erroneous picture of the state of the nation. It was an all white, picture-postcard version of Paris that chimed with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s rhetoric on what France meant.¹ With the benefit of hindsight, Kaganski’s judgement was a little misplaced and overstated, not least because as this chapter discusses there are several far more convincing historical examples of complex intersections between...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 216-222)

    Before turning to a discussion regarding the ‘bigger picture’, it seems useful to first underline that one aim throughout this work has been to suggest an intellectual gain from a different kind of writing on film history: the microhistories of reception and the expansion on Marc Ferro’s idea of the film event. Excellent academic articles focusing on individual films have of course already more than adequately demonstrated the importance of context in better understanding the cinema, but such an approach has only rarely been undertaken in a very thematically focused book. Readers are invited to reconsider the material offered in...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-242)