France Cinematography in the 1950’s

France Cinematography in the 1950’s

A filmmaker deeply attached to Central European culture such as Max Ophuls lived in France his most fortunate season, with La ronde (1950; La ronde – The pleasure and love), Le plaisir (1952; The pleasure) and Madame de… (1953; The jewels of madame de…), in which the geometry of the structure found a perfect accord with the evocation of passions, and the metacinematographic and discussed Lola Montès (1955). Renoir resumed his activity in his homeland only in the mid-fifties, to devote himself to comedy in costume, with some hints to the musical, in subjects of an ironic reinterpretation of French worldly culture, such as French cancan (1955) and Eléna et les hommes (1956; Eliana and the men). Carné, the only one left at home during the occupation, returned to melodrama after separating from Prévert, with Thérèse Raquin (1953;

According to Historyaah, the continuity with the cinema of the past offered new chances to the stars of the Thirties (Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Danielle Darrieux, Michèle Morgan), while among the young the bohemian-looking ones were privileged, such as Daniel Gélin, Gérard Philipe and Serge Reggiani, to which we must add the intense Yves Montand and the magnetic Simone Signoret. In the comic scene, where actors such as Bourvil, Noël-Noël and Fernandel (who became famous in Italy thanks to the character of Don Camillo in the series inaugurated by Duvivier) stood out, the innovative spirit of Jacques Tati burst, which with Jour de fête (1949; Festa di festa) resumed stylistic and gestural modalities typical of the mute and full of surreal ideas, subsequently perfected with the invention of the character of Hulot, a sort of clown of modern everyday life: Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953; The holidays of Monsieur Hulot) and Mon oncle (1958; My uncle). The credit for an absolutely unique style, detached and at the same time sacred, went to Bresson, who went through the reversals of French cinema unscathed, from Le journal d’un curé de Campagna (1951; The diary of a country priest) to Un condamné a mort s’est échappé (1956; A condemned man escaped) and Pickpocket (1959).

Cocteau, former director of the experimental medium-length film Le sang d’un poète (1930), made his feature film debut at the age of sixty with La belle et la bête (1946; La bella e la bestia) followed by L’aigle à deux têtes (1948; The two-headed eagle) and Orphée (1950; Orpheus), visionary works between classical and baroque, imbued with profound theatrical culture, as well as reflections on the mechanisms of art.

Excluding these particular cases, the cinema of the period was marked by a reiterated professionalism, without any homogeneous current, and saw some significant works in the detective vein (which would be consolidated in the following decade): Justice est faite (1950; Justice is done) by André Cayatte, Bob le flambeur (1956; Bob the player) of Melville, and other minors by M. Allégret and Bernard Borderie. Some of the most prominent directors, including Clément, Becker and Clouzot, often integrated the mechanisms and settings of noir in a sort of authorial variant. Clément’s films include Au-delà des grilles (1949; The walls of Malapaga) and Plein soleil (1960; Crime in full sun), and, in a different context from the police, Jeux interdits (1952; Forbidden games), through who denounced the loss of innocence of children caused by war. Becker’s work was a sort of pamphlet on the world of the underworld, aimed at overcoming the formal constraints of noir in favor of a historical and psychological analysis: Casque d’or (1952; Casco d’oro), Touchez pas au grisbi (1954; Grisbi), Le trou (1960; The hole). Clouzot, on the other hand, explored the mechanisms of suspense, with dark and unreal, almost metaphysical atmospheres, in Le salaire de la peur (1953; Lives sold or The wages of fear) and Les diaboliques (1955; I diabolici), showing notable insights also in the art documentary (Le mystère Picasso, 1956, The Picasso Mystery).

The fifties ended with the exotic-musical Orfeu negro (1959; Orfeo negro) by Marcel Camus, and with the refined but also wild beauty of the new diva Brigitte Bardot, star of Roger Vadim’s film Et Dieu créa la femme (1956; Too many like it), who defied censorship, advocating the freedom of customs and provoking a sharp contrast with the older generation: a sign of a need for independence and change that spread to the entire cinema circuit. Agnès Varda in 1956, outside an official production and distribution system based on trade union authorizations and rules, made La pointe-courte, anticipating the low-budget films with new content that would spread over the next decade.

France Cinematography in the 1950's