Though films were banned if deemed too demoralizing, the film industry was active during the nine months of French-German hostility in 1939 and 1940. Film production stopped completely during the summer of 1940; however, this hiatus inaugurated one of the most prosperous, if not the most creative, periods of French cinema.
Following the surrender of France to Germany, a new government was established at the small spa town of Vichy, in the unoccupied zone of central France, under the leadership of Maréchal Henri Philippe Pétain (1856–1951). Although autocratic and reactionary, the Vichy regime initiated an ambitious program to restore France to her former glory, including an effort to construct a quasi-mystical idealized vision of France grounded in a conservative social agenda and a focus on youth. The Vichy regime was quick to recognize the strategic importance of the film industry in advancing this agenda and almost immediately put in place structures that both supported and regulated the industry. In 1940, the Comité d'Organisation des Industries du Cinéma (Committee for the Organization of the Film Industry) was established, as was the COIC, which would become the Centre National de la Cinématographie (National Center for Cinematography), the CNC, in 1946. The COIC immediately set up regulations for the film industry and also a system of state support. Notably, the COIC created what would become IDHEC, Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (Institute for Film Studies) in 1944, under the direction of L'Herbier.
Financially, the COIC had a positive effect in terms of underwriting the French film industry, although it also served as a censorship arm of the Vichy government. In particular, it had an important function in terms of imposing restrictions on the activities of Jews in the film sector. A number of members of the film community fled to the United States, including such directors as Renoir, Clair, Duvivier, and Ophüls, as well as such̀le Morgan (b. 1920). Others, like Pierre Chenal (1904–1990) and Louis Jouvet (1887–1951), took refuge in Latin America. In certain respects French cinema in 1941 was severely handicapped; nonetheless, the Vichy period proved to be a prosperous time for the industry overall. Cinemas were a popular haven from the cold and from the political and social pressures of the period. British and then American films were not available. For three years Hollywood was not a competitor in the French market, so audiences chose between German films, French films, and a few Italian films. A single national market encouraged big-budget productions, such as Les Enfants du paradis ( The Children of Paradise , 1945), which was begun by Carne actors as Gabin and MicheItalian co-production.
The 220 feature-length films that constitute the Vichy cinema are not linked by any specific style or topic. The number of films that espoused right-wing views was no higher than during the prewar years (1934–1940); however, there was no counterbalancing progressive or leftist perspective. The settings lacked specificity—German uniforms and flags were rarely present within the frame—and the past, especially the nineteenth century, was preferred to the present. Popular genres included light comedies, thrillers, musicals, costume dramas, and a few fantasy films. A significant number of directors from the 1930s continued working through the 1940s, including Guitry, Pagnol, Grémillon, and Carné in 1943 as ań. New directors emerged from the ranks, including Jean Delannoy (b. 1908), Louis Daquin (1908–1980), André Cayatte (b. 1909), Claude Autant-Lara (1901–2000), Jacques Becker (1906–1960), Henri-Georges Clouzot (1907–1977), and Robert Bresson (1901–1999). Significant Vichy films include La fille du puisatier ( The Well-Digger's Daughter , Pagnol, 1940), Lumière d'été ( Light of Summer , Grémillon, 1943), L'Assassin habite au 21 ( The Murderer Lives at Number 21 , Clouzot, 1942), and Les Anges du péché ( Angels of the Streets ,