In the 1920s there was enormous creative film activity in France led by Louis Delluc and a group of directors around him—Abel Gance, Jean Epstein, and Germaine Dulac. Along with such directors as René Clair, Jean Renoir, and Carl Dreyer, they created films with an impressionistic and literary flavor. Later French films reflected first the optimism and then the despair of international events, as in Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) and Marcel Carné's Port of Shadows (1938). In the postwar era H. G. Clouzot, René Clément, and Robert Bresson directed important films.
In the late 1950s the "new wave" of young directors, including Alain Resnais, Louis Malle, François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard, made innovations in cinematography and dramatic approach. Their efforts achieved a new cinematic intimacy and a relaxed mood. French film stars who attained international acclaim during this period include Jean Gabin, Arletty, Gérard Philipe, Brigitte Bardot, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Among the foremost directors of this period were Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, and the Greek-born Costa-Gavras.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, the filmmakers of the new wave became curiously like the directors they had sought to replace, working on literary adaptations and stories of the occupation. A new group emerged, much more amorphous, concerned with reflecting their vision of present-day France. Among the new directors are Jean-Jacques Beneix ( Diva, Betty Blue ), Luc Besson ( Subway, La Femme Nikita ), and Leos Carax ( Boy Meets Girl, Bad Blood ).
The stars introduced by these films are notable for affectlessness: Beatrice Dalle, Christopher Lambert, Thierry Lhermitte, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Tcheky Karyo, and Anne Parrilaud, though some have found more range in subsequent works. The most successful star of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s has been Gérard Depardieu, who can make as many of five films in a year and is often credited for keeping the French cinema viable on the world market despite strong competition from the American film industry.
See R. Armes, The French Cinema since 1946 (2 vol., rev. ed. 1970) and French Cinema (1985); G. Sadoul, French Film (1953, repr. 1972); E. Ehrlich, Cinema of Paradox (1985); C. Crisp, The Classic French Cinema, 1930–1960 (1993) J. D. Andrew, Mists of Regret (1995); G. Vincendeau, ed., The Companion to French Cinema (1996).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.