Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film
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Just before World War II, French cinema reached a high point that has been dubbed the style of "poetic realism." Working with unforgettable actors like Jean Gabin and Arletty, directors such as Renoir, Carné, Gremillon, Duvivier, and Chenal routinely captured the prizes for best film at every festival and in every country, and their accomplishments led to general agreement that the French were the first to give maturity to the sound cinema. Here the distinguished film scholar Dudley Andrew examines the motivations and consequences of these remarkable films by looking at the cultural web in which they were made.
Beyond giving a rich view of the life and worth of cinema in France, Andrew contributes substantially to our knowledge of how films are dealt with in history. Where earlier studies have treated the masterpieces of this era either in themselves or as part of the vision of their creators, and where certain recent scholars have reacted to this by dissolving the masterpieces back into the system of entertainment that made them possible, Andrew stresses the dialogue of culture and cinema. In his view, the films open questions that take us into the culture, while our understanding of the culture gives energy, direction, and consequence to our reading of the films. The book demonstrates the value of this hermeneutic approach for one set of texts and one period, but it should very much interest film theorists and film historians of all sorts.
"A perceptive, subtle account of French 'poetic realist' cinema in the 1930s."--Choice
"Essential reading, this work makes a valuable contribution to scholarly research published on 1930's French cinema, [Well}-researched and informative without being over-scholarly, Andrew's evident enthusiasm for the topic cannot fail to inspire interest and enthusiasm."--French Cultural Studies
of many critics enticed by a kind of film that encourages far-reaching aesthetic speculation while remaining a cinema of broad consumption and hence of great social significance. Unlike the necessarily restricted, elite audiences addressed by "arty" films and by scientific or documentary products, "poetic realism" vaguely addresses what most audiences seek at the movies, something that is true to life , yet more concentrated and intense than life. Although the name "poetic realism" is seldom
and would give shape to the na tion's most characteristic cinematic proclivity, ultimately labeled "poetic real ism." Came, Rene Clair, Jean Vigo, Jean Gremillon, Jacques Becker, and Jean Renoir form the trunk of this great tree to the top of which Resnais adds the comic Jacques Tati and among whose roots he implicates Feuillade' s two an tagonists of the 1 920s, Louis Delluc and Jean Epstein. Despite his reputation as one of the most coolly intellectual of directors, Resnais likes to date his
particularly those that promote such tropes as superimpositions or metrical editing. Broken Blossoms, on the con trary, distinguishes itself by its balanced use of standard techniques, proving that "the cinema is not yet so old that it is necessary to call on odd techniques so as to infuse it with new blood. "23 38 C HAPTER Z Instead of music, Gremillon calls on the words "poetry" and (transfigured) "realism" to characterize the film's delicately balanced cinematic language . Here he
line acquires a truly poetic ring and so is assumed to take its place in a world of simple but tenderly plump expressions and sentiments. Leenhardt compares this to Francis Ponge's interest in the proverb as a form in which values and language are peculiarly concentrated. The closed space of the set in L 'Affaire est dans le sac, the distant camera angle observing "marionettes" (the word is Leenhardt's) who seem happily caught within that set, and the flat lighting that dcdramatizes the plot in
silent era he had denounced even e xperimental cinema as compromised. To retain his purity he had composed instead a series of unfilmable cine-poemes, or "fetuses" as he referred to them, a genre he proudly announced that culture could never tolerate. Yet by 1 930 he could be found working at Paramount Studios evidently hoping for a chance at independent expression if he stayed on long enough.38 Did Fondane have scruples working for an industry producing and selling images he loathed? And why