LEGACY AND REGENERATION: 1944 TO 1959
The end of the war and Liberation would present yet another challenge to the film industry. With Liberation came the creation of the Committee for the Liberation of Cinema and a journal, L'Écran français (French Screen), which appeared in July 1945. In the immediate postwar period, the French film industry was in crisis. Its equipment was outmoded or destroyed by the war and its personnel dispersed and demoralized. Most felt that the only solution was continuing the state regulation and support inaugurated by Vichy. In 1946 the CNC was created as an autonomous institution with the mandate of regulating and supporting the French film industry. It was funded through taxes levied on the industry itself. In the same year the Blum-Byrnes agreement was signed, which stipulated that during four weeks out of the year only French films could be shown in a given theater. In 1948, the period was extended to five weeks. In 1949, France signed an agreement with Italy that gave certain advantages to Franco-Italian co-productions. This agreement in turn supported the development of what came to be known as the Tradition of Quality.
The creation of the CNC, the regulations providing state-mandated support, the normalization of relations with the United States, and the creation of a film market enlarged initially by the addition of Italy laid down the basis for what has come to be known as the French mode of production—a compromise between state regulation and free trade under the guidance of the CNC. If, through its inception, this system was subject to controversy, in time it garnered strong popular support, particularly when other national cinemas in Europe suffered marked decline in the 1980s.
Though economically healthy, the industry was rigid, and from an artistic perspective it languished during the immediate post–World War II period. French cinema remained under the threat of censorship throughout the 1950s, when it touched on politically sensitive current events, such as the economic situation, the aftermath of World War II, the Cold War, the war in Indochina, and the Algerian War. This censorship program was effective particularly in terms of fostering a climate of self-censorship among directors and producers. By tacit agreement, there was little or no material produced that reflected on the war years or, more specifically, the problem of collaboration.
The French film industry was characterized by inflexibility, not only in terms of subject matter, but also in terms of personnel. Films were stylized, reflecting the domination of the industry by cinematographers and technicians who were protected and nurtured by the unionized structures of the big studios. Directors typically served long years of apprenticeship and were often forty years old before making a first film. One of the few directors to emerge in this period was Yves Allégret (1907–1986), who remained limited by his adherence to the traditions of the past. New, more notable actors and actresses included Simone Signoret (1921–1985), Gérard Philipe (1922–1959), and Madeleine Robinson (1916–2004).
This period was identified with the Tradition of Quality—dismissed by young critics of the period, such as François Truffaut (1932–1984), as "cinéma de papa" (daddy's movies). The Tradition of Quality emphasized craft over innovation, privileged established directors over new directors, and preferred the great works of the past to experimentation. Literary adaptation provided fertile ground for this decade, on the part of those who were anxious to prove the cultural superiority of French film in the face of a massive influx of Hollywood movies into the French market. Grémillon, Guitry, Pagnol, Renoir, Clair, and Duvivier continued to make films, as did the new generation that emerged during the Occupation. Autant-Lara, Clément, Georges Rouquier (1909–1989), Clouzot, Becker, Ophüls, Jean Cocteau (1889–1963), Bresson, and Jacques Tati (1908–1982) made significant films during this period. Characteristic Tradition of Quality films include Douce ( Love Story , Autant-Lara, 1943), La Symphonie pastorale (Delannoy, 1946), and Casque d'or ( Golden Marie , Becker, 1952). Actors associated with the Tradition of Quality are Philipe, Martine Carol (1922–1967), and Simone Signoret. Philipe's polished acting style and the sophisticated mature femininity of Carol and Signoret contrasted the youthful insouciance of the actors who would be used by the directors of the later New Wave.
The ciné-club movement, inaugurated by Delluc in the 1920s, became a significant force in French culture and in the development of French cinema. The cinéphile—the amateur fanatic of film and film history—appeared as a distinct character on the French cultural scene and was defined as specifically French, as the word itself suggests. The ciné-club produced a new type of film spectator, film critic, and eventually director, preparing the way for the French New Wave. Such film critics as André Bazin, Alexandre Astruc, Truffaut, and Ado Kyrou (Adonis Kyrou) revived the debates of the Impressionists in the context of post–World War II France. Cahiers du Cinéma (1951) and Positif (1952) replaced L'Écran français (1943–1953) and remained important venues for discussion about film throughout the twentieth century. This lively intellectual climate was a major force in the dramatic changes in film aesthetics and the film industry that subsequently took place.
The government also played a role in fostering a new generation and a new type of director. A regulation eliminating the double-bill (two feature-length films) created a renaissance of short films, as did the new system of supporting film projects based on quality that had been inaugurated by the CNC during this period. Such directors as Alain Resnais (b. 1922), Georges Franju (1912–1987), and Pierre Kast (1920–1984), later known as part of le groupe de trente (the group of thirty), were already making short films that fell outside the Tradition of Quality. These short films were distributed via the ciné-clubs and the art et essai theaters, that is, small theaters that were the equivalent of the art house theater in Great Britain and the United States. By the end of the 1950s, the old guard had been successfully challenged in the popular arena by young filmmakers, such as Roger Vadim (1928–2000) with Et Dieu … créalafemme ( And…God created Woman , 1955). Critical reception of the outsider filmmakers was equally positive, as in the case of Jean-Pierre Melville's (1917–1973) Le Silence de la mer (Silence of the Sea, 1949), Astruc's Le Rideau cramoisi ( The Crimson Curtain , 1953) and Les Mauvaises rencontres ( Bad Liaisons , 1955), La Pointe-courte (AgnèsVarda, 1956), Ascenseur pour l'échafaud ( Elevator to the Gallows , Louis Malle, 1958), Un Amour de poche ( Girl in His Pocket , Kast,1958), and Goha (Jacques Baratier, 1958). Some of these films, such as La Pointe-courte , starring Philippe Noiret (b. 1930), encountered legal problems that forced them to be shown clandestinely in the first instance and prevented widespread distribution until many years later. On the whole, however, most members of the CNC were sympathetic to the ideals of the young filmmakers and were instrumental in supporting the changes to the cinema that characterized the late 1950s and early 1960s.
b. François Roland Truffaut, Paris, France, 6 February 1932,
d. 21 October 1984
As a director, François Truffaut incarnates the virtues and weaknesses of the French New Wave. Much of his work reflects the troubled circumstances of his early life—illegitimacy, abandonment, and foster care. At age sixteen, Truffaut came under the influence of André Bazin, who served as a father figure and introduced him to the film society Objectif 49, a group that would become a forum for New Criticism. A noted critic from 1950, Truffaut wrote many periodical articles, including "Une Certaine tendance du cinéma française" (1954), in which he attacked the Tradition of Quality and set the agenda to revitalize French cinema.
Truffaut's work as a director is uneven. His first film, Les Quatre cents coups ( The 400 Blows , 1959), starring Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, was considered a triumph for a new generation of filmmakers because in it Truffaut introduced a more personal, spontaneous style that thumbed its nose at the stilted academic work of the studio directors who had dominated French film production during the postwar years. This film was financed by Truffaut's first wife, Madeleine Morgenstern, whose father owned one of the most powerful French distribution companies of the time, Cocinor. Despite his obsessive love of other women, she supported him throughout his career and was at his bedside when he died of a brain tumor at age fifty-two.
In a number of subsequent films, Truffaut used the Doinel character (played by Léaud) as an alter ego to mirror his own life, from the misunderstood child and troubled delinquent of The 400 Blows to the tormented lover and failed husband approaching middle age in L'Amour en fuite ( Love on the Run , 1978). Truffaut is at his best when immersed in the study of character, as in Jules et Jim ( Jules and Jim , 1962), in which the innocence, generosity, and tenderness of the three main characters is very sensitively captured, and at his worst when he attempts to imitate Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he professed a strong admiration. An example of an unsuccessful effort to imitate a Hitchcock thriller is La Mariéeétait en noir ( The Bride Wore Black , 1968), which even Truffaut declared he did not like much.
Truffaut's influence on cinema was international in scope. He conveyed in his films and in his writing an apparently inexhaustible and infectious enthusiasm for the possibility of authentic personal expression in the cinema. Perhaps his most moving film after The 400 Blows , L'Enfant Sauvage ( The Wild Child , 1970) stars Truffaut as a scientist who attempts to communicate with an abandoned autistic child. Throughout his life, Truffaut believed that human communication could transcend language and culture. No doubt, his influence on young filmmakers derives from this faith.
Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), Tirez sur le pianiste ( Shoot the Piano Player , 1960), Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962), La Mariéeétait en noir ( The Bride Wore Black , 1968), Basiers volés ( Stolen Kisses , 1968), La Sirène du Mississippi ( Mississippi Mermaid , 1969), Le' Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child, 1970), Domicile conjugal ( Bed & Board , 1970), Deux anglaises et le continent ( Two English Girls , 1971), La Nuit américaine ( Day for Night , 1973), L'Histoire d'Adèle H. ( The Story of Adele H , 1975), L'Argent de poche ( Small Change , 1976), L'Homme qui aimait les femmes ( The Man Who Loved Women , 1977)
Crisp, C. G. François Truffaut . London and New York: Praeger, 1972.
De Baecque, Antoine, and Serge Toubiana. Truffaut: A Biography . Translated by Catherine Temerson. New York: Knopf, 1999.
Petrie, Graham. The Cinema of François Truffaut . New York: A. S. Barnes and London: Zwemmer, 1970.
Truffaut, François. The Films in My Life . Translated by Leonard Mayhew. New York: Da Capo, 1994. Translation of Les Films de ma vie (1975).
——. Letters of François Truffaut . Edited by Gilles Jacob and Claude de Givray. Translated and edited by Gilbert Adair. Foreword by Jean-Luc Godard. Boston and London: Faber, 1989.
Hilary Ann Radner
By the end of the 1950s, French cinema had undergone a major transformation from a free-market economy to an economy largely submitted to state control. Stagnation had set in, provoking harsh criticism from a generation of film critics who had grown up with film as a major cultural force. The ciné-clubs had developed a
highly literate audience for film, sophisticated in their tastes, and informed about the historical issues governing the development of film. In the post–World War II years, debates about the status of film as art were reanimated by a new generation of critics writing for journals, such as Cahiers du Cinéma, and concerns about quality had become a paramount issue at the CNC. Polemical debates about the rigidity of the old guard created an environment receptive to a new kind of filmmaking, one that once again would define itself against Hollywood while looking to a number of Hollywood directors who had gained the status of auteur for inspiration.