If we want to know learn more about the role of cinema in today’s world, French cinema is a good place to start.
France produces more films than any other country in Europe and French cinema audiences support those productions in significant numbers. Many would argue that French cinema is one of the few global cinemas with successful film exports and a diverse film culture supported by the state. Film is important in France. But what does French cinema say about France and French society?
In this course we ask how films inform and illustrate what has happened to France and its people over 50 years, between les événements of May 1968 and now, between the last year of De Gaulle and the first year of Macron? How does a major national cinema engage with change – through films that deal directly with ‘social issues’ or through the details of familiar genres?
We can’t hope to cover everything, so we’ve selected two broad issues – the impact of 1970s feminism and changes in employment practices and the workplace. We’ll screen two very different films directed by women and explore the range of different genres and filmmaking approaches in French cinema with reference to French theorists.
Led by Isabelle Vanderschelden, Senior Lecturer in French Studies, Manchester Metropolitan University and Roy Stafford, Freelance Film Educator.
Beginners level, no prior knowledge necessary.
Weekly course outline
Mon 8 Oct, 18:30 – 20:30
In this first session we want to briefly explore ‘France on film’ in the 1960s. We’ll use extracts from a range of films focusing on family life and employment prospects and then discuss the representations in the context of analyses of what might have changed after May 1968. We’ll also introduce the work of Agnès Varda, active as a filmmaker from the early 1950s and still active today.
Screening 1: L’une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, dir Agnès Varda, France-Belgium-Venezuela 1977)
Mon 15 Oct, 18:20
This female friendship film follows the lives of two Parisian young women from 1962 to 1976. It provides an insight into the societal and political changes that took places in the 1960s and 1970s focusing on the female condition and feminist debates. In typical Varda style, the film combines fiction and documentary footage (e.g the Bobigny rallies in 1971), social realism and fantasy musical moments. A new copy has just been re-released in 2018.
Feminism and French cinema in the 1970s and 1980s
Mon 22 Oct, 18:30 – 20:30
We’ll discuss what we made of L’une chante, l’autre pas and then move on to consider Varda’s career alongside that of other women directors who emerged in French cinema in the 1970s such as Diane Kurys and Coline Serreau. We will question the links between film and feminist movements of the period.
Legacies women and film now
Mon 29 Oct, 18:30 – 20:30
What impact has the legacy of 1970s feminism and the significant increase in the number of women active as filmmakers in the industry made on contemporary French cinema? We will explore more recent films in the context of looking back on the 1970s.
Workers and employment after 1968
Mon 5 Nov, 18:30 – 20:30
One of the outcomes of the May events of 1968 was an improvement in working conditions and wages. We’ll contrast films like Jean-Luc Godard’s Tout va bien (1974) and Marin Karmitz’s Coup pour coup (1972). We’ll also question why such films might have had a lower profile in the 1980s but seem to have re-emerged in different forms from the late 1990s.
Screening 2: Grand Central (dir Rebecca Zlotowski, France-Austria 2013)
Mon 12 Nov, 18:30
This genre film, a romance drama, raises some interesting questions about French society and in particular conditions for casual workers and sub-contractors in a nuclear power plant. As director Zlotowski puts it, “Going inside a power station, like falling in love, is like fighting against your own self-interest. The analogy between the contamination of love and that of radiation is perfect”.
France and the global-local, casualisation and under-employment
Mon 19 Nov, 18:30 – 20:30
We’ll discuss Grand Central and follow up some of the references and allusions. France in 2018 has become accustomed to problems associated with its position as a large European country feeling the impact of the global economy in trade, migration and employment practices.
Conclusions: France on screen in the 2010s
Mon 26 Nov, 18:30 – 20:30
Our two selected social/political/economic issues are closely connected and we will have tried throughout the course to keep them both in mind. This final session is a chance to summarise some of the major changes in French society over 50 years and to decide the extent to which French cinema has engaged successfully with the idea of change.