Poetic Realism: French Film Style of the 1930s

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Poetic Realism
Cinematic style that emerged in the 1930s in France. Involves stories about working class lives told in moody, melancholy tones and emphasizing beauty of ordinary people and places.
Not a unified movement; often centered in characters living on the margins of society (unemployed, working class, criminals). After a life of disappointment, they find a last chance at intense, ideal love. After a brief period, they are disappointed again, and the films end with disillusionment or deaths of the central characters.

The overall tone is nostalgia & bitterness.

Julien Duvivier
a French film director who directed Pepe le Moko (1936) & the popular front film La Belle equipe (The Glorious Team, 1937), about 5 unemployed workers who win the lottery (he wanted a tragic ending).

Pepe le Moko (1936)
Typifies Poetic Realism;a 1936 French film directed by Julien Duvivier and starring Jean Gabin. It depicts an infamous gangster, Pépé le Moko (‘Moko’ is slang for a man from Toulon) who tries to escape the police by hiding in the Casbah of the city of Algiers.

He falls in love with a sophisticated Parisian. He tries to leave, but is arrested & kills himself. Pepe was played by Jean Gabin, a popular Poetic Realist hero.

Jean Renoir
The most significant French film director of the 1930’s. He also made a few films influenced by the leftist Popular Front group in the mid-1930s. Social satirist, famous for “Rules of the Game” and “Grand Illusion.” Very good at framing his films. He pioneered the long take, in which the camera holds on a subject without cut, often moving to follow action, for an unusually long time.

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Grand Illusion (1937)
a 1937 French war film directed by Jean Renoir. Features class – the upper-class German commander & the French officer understand each other better than do the officer & his French subordinates. Drama of French POWs during WWI – took a pacifist stance. The French commander sacrifices himself so his men can escape.

Rules of the Game (1939)
The contrast between the declining aristocratic class & the working class. A famous aviator causes confusion by falling in love with the wife of a French aristocrat who is in turn trying to break it off with his mistress. Takes place at the aristocrat’s chateau with many romantic entanglements. But no villains. “In this world, the scary thing is that everyone has his reasons.” It was misunderstood at the time (before WWII) and was banned. It was reconstructed in the 1950s & is considered one of the greatest films ever made.

La Bete Humaine
a film directed by Jean Renoir, with cinematography by Curt Courant. The picture features Jean Gabin, and is based on the novel of the same name by Emile Zola. The drama is partially set “on a train that may be thought of as one of the main characters in the film.”

A new rebellious type of writing introduced in the late 19th & early 20th century that imported scientific determination into literature, viewing people as part of the animal world, prey to natural forces.

Emile Zola
A giant of Realism movement in literature, articulated the key themes. Depicted life as it was, everyday life, rejected romantic search for exotic and sublime. wrote about typical and commonplace, focused on middle class and then working class. Zola a determinist, human actjion were casued by unalterable natural laws, heredity and environment determined human behavior.

Popular Front
The PCF decided to join forces with the socialists; in July a coalition party called the Popular Front was formed. In the autumn of 1935, even the moderate Radical Socialists were admitted. Economic problems & a fear of fascism led to their victory in 1936. They made propaganda films for their cause.

In January 1936, it was formed by the Popular Front
Created by the Popular Front in order to make films and publish magazines.
Made propaganda films
Members include: Renoir & Germain Dulac. Produced a propaganda film to be used in the upcoming elections, La Vie est a nous (Life Belongs to Us) and the major left-wing feature (La Marseillaise) – both were directed by Renoir.

Henri-Georges Clouzout
A French film director, screenwriter and producer. He was briefly barred from filmmaking for having made a supposedly anti-French film, Le Corbeau (the Crow, 1943).
He is best remembered for his work in the thriller film genre, having directed The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, which are critically recognized to be among the greatest films from the 1950s. He work in Nazi occupied France as a screenwriter for the German-owned company Continental Films. At Continental, Clouzot wrote and directed films that were very popular in France. His second film Le Corbeau drew controversy over its harsh look at provincial France and Clouzot was fired from Continental before its release. As a result of his association with Continental, Clouzot was barred by the French government from filmmaking until 1947.

Le Corbeau (1943)
Set in a small French town where a series of poison-pen letters signed “Le Corbeau” reveal secrets about respected members of the community. The protagonist (Dr. Germain) is falsely accused of having an affair & being an abortionist. He is seduced by the slutty Denise, who is one of the few non-hysterical ones. It was condemned for being anti-French (produced by a German-backed Continental co). Some argued it attacked the right-wing values that supported the Vichy government. The heated debates of the “CLouzot affair” led in 1945 to him being forbidden to work. He did not direct again until 1947, when he established a career based on a crime films.

Alexandre Astruc
He was primarily a film critic; he wrote “The Birth of a New Avante-Garde: La camera-stylo” (1948). He encourages directors to wield cameras as writers use pens and to guard against the hindrances of traditional storytelling.


Francois Truffuat
A film director and critic for Cahiers du Cinema. He coined the phrase “la politique des Auteurs” (the policy/program of authors) in his 1954 essay, “Une certaine tendance du cinema franquis.” “There are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors.”

The use of auteur theory to analyze films or understand the characteristics that identify the director as auteur. Auteur theory draws on the work of a group of cinema enthusiasts who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema. Exerts that a good director exerts such a distinctive style or promotes such a consistent theme that his or her influence is unmistakeable in the body of his or her work.

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Poetic Realism: French Film Style of the 1930s. (2018, Jan 03). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-poetic-realism/

Poetic Realism: French Film Style of the 1930s
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