Drazin (Film Studies/Queen Mary Univ., London; The Man Who Outshone the Sun King: A Life of Gleaming Opulence and Wretched Reversal in the Reign of Louis XIV, 2008, etc.) presents a lucid, engaging history of French film, from the fanciful, whimsical inventions of pioneer Georges Méliès to the formalist daring and intellectual rigor of contemporary artists like Olivier Assayas and Catherine Breillat.
The author credits Thomas Edison with actually inventing the mechanism that makes pictures move, but early French filmmakers such as Méliès and the Lumière brothers were the first to realize the narrative and artistic possibilities of the new medium, and French directors have long represented the vanguard of cinema, insisting on a personal, individual approach to the art that has had an incalculable influence on “the movies.” Drazin charts the economic and social conditions that nurtured French film, providing fascinating insights into the pragmatic methods of the Pathé studio, the shift to more escapist, “Hollywood” style films that characterized the Nazi occupation, the rise of film culture supported by magazines like Cahiers du cinéma and the attendant New Wave spearheaded by directors including François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, and the vital but often uneasy relationship between French and American cinema. Drazin’s account is endlessly readable, alternating penetrating analysis of classics like Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu with serious appraisals of less well-known figures like Julien Duvivier and Agnès Varda. Readers are advised to keep pen and paper at hand to note interesting titles for further exploration.
A cogent, approachable and comprehensive look at the endlessly fascinating world of French film.