Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960 – PFA

September 14, 2012 – December 9, 2012
Pacific Film Archive

A common canard of film history is that the French New Wave of the late 1950s swept aside the French cinema that had come before it, replacing a staid “tradition of quality” with a new, breathless energy. But even for Truffaut, Godard, and their Cahiers du cinéma brethren, the history of film in France, from the passionate poetry of Jean Vigo to the magisterial ironies of Max Ophuls, was an essential source of inspiration. This major series, presented in conjunction with New York’s Film Forum, surveys that history from the end of the silent era to the beginning of the sixties. Spanning four months and dozens of films—including both beloved classics and rarities, many in imported 35mm prints—Grand Illusions builds on our long tradition of exploring this most influential and enduring of national cinemas.

The series brings together an extraordinary constellation of directors and actors, each worthy of a series of their own. In September and October the program spotlights, among others, René Clair, whose experiments with sound translated an avant-garde attitude into popular art; Marcel Carné and Jean Grémillon, whose poetic realism survived the German Occupation; and Ophuls, whose late work imbued the period drama with subtle acuity. Showcased in November and December are the humanist genius of Jean Renoir and the Provençal warmth of Marcel Pagnol; the variously surreal sensibilities of Vigo, Jean Cocteau, and Georges Franju; and the postwar cynicism of Yves Allégret. The directors’ visions are brought to life in performances by Jean Gabin, Michèle Morgan, Gérard Philipe, Raimu, Simone Signoret, and many other icons of the French—and international—screen. See these films again or for the first time and revel in the diversity and vitality of the “old wave” of French cinema. As Truffaut once wrote of Renoir’s work, these are “films that still breathe.”

All the Programm

 

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