Because most movies are shot with English dialogue, Unfortunately, this means that the artistic views, interesting ideas and different techniques that are displayed by foreign filmmakers often go unnoticed by their English speaking peers. This essay aims to highlight the important developments, movements and influences present in historic French and Russian cinema.
In order to give a broad overview of the industries as a whole, this essay pinpoints eight chosen films, two representing each topic, one Russian, one French. It is the aim to give a short background of each film, followed by examples of how the film is relevant to its topic and backed up by citations and references from both literature and the internet. While each topic paragraph will clearly identify its main French and Russian film before going into detail; however, some supplementary films will be included in certain topics for deeper comparison purposes.Order now
The first topic “Early Developments“ will provide an informative look at the major film movement of the French New Wave and the important artistic development of the Soviet Montage Theory. There will be a discussion of one representative film from each movement. It will be argued that while Russian filmmakers were developing theories to standardise the art, the French were pushing boundaries and trying to break the standards of film. However, these opposing views to film production and the ways in which they were carried out carry many similarities which will also be demonstrated.
“Relation to Country’s Culture” will aim to show the respective position of film within each country and how film can influence and be influenced by its nation’s culture. There will be an example of each nation’s reaction to popular, home-produced films. There will be a study of the box office figures for each country, which will be related to the country’s size and number of cinemas, for both domestic and Hollywood productions, in order to numerically represent the popularity of cinema in each country.
Next, “Acknowledgement and Success Abroad” will explore both France and Russia’s ability to have their films hold a place on the international film stage. There will be an examination of a particularly successful French and a particularly successful Russian film in attempts to learn more about their success worldwide and what caused it. In this section, there will also be a look at the presence of French and Russian actors, actresses and directors in the international market.
The final topic “Modern Changes in Film“ will first of all provide a separate overview of modern topics and techniques that are apparent in domestically produced French and Russian films. There will be a study of a representative film for each country. There will then be a comparative discussion of modern eccentricities that are seen in both modern French and Russian films. There will also be a short view of the importance and availability of modern, digital technology such as CGI in domestic French and Russian cinema.
2. Earlier Developments – French New Wave and Soviet Montage Theory
2.1 French New Wave
French New Wave cinema is a blanket term used to describe a prominent group of French filmmakers that were active in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. They were well known for their self-conscious rejection of classical cinematic form, experiments with editing, unique visual style, their unprecedented methods of expression and work around social and political upheavals.
Following World War I, France was left in a poor financial state that affected many economic areas, including the country’s film industry, which reverted to a dependence on narrative and classical cinema that was evident in the years before the war. This sparked rebellion in critics’ circles. The development of the New Wave is often attributed to Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette, who began as film critics at the influential French magazine Cahiers du Cinema. The magazine was not happy with the prospect of falling back on the timeworn methods of classical cinema, instead wanting to move forward and develop their art. “Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Chabrol and Rivette five French filmmakers who, despite evident differences manifest in the more than one hundred films they have completed in the last twenty years, nevertheless share a basic attitude towards the art of film which unites them as a group and separates them from the majority of their predecessors (Monaco 1976, preface).
Together in their critique, they developed “La politique des auteurs”, referred to as the Auteur Theory by American film critic Andrew Sarris. This theory was a set of concepts centred around the belief that the primary input into a film’s creation should come from the director alone, and the end product should be a reflection of the director’s artistic vision. Relating to this, the New Wave directors used film not just to tell a story but also to explore and discover the world around them and try to gain a better understanding of its structure.
Another point of interest the New Wave directors incorporated into their work was “La CamÃ©ra-Stylo , which was an idea put forward by writer and filmmaker Alexandre Astruc. He claimed that film had the power to become “a means of writing just as flexible and subtle as written language. New Wave directors strived to see Astruc’s idea realized and turn film into a language unto itself.
These ideas, combined with others, were at the heart of the French New Wave. It was further developed through a lack of money that caused directors to have to produce low-budget films, and in doing so, were forced to examine the art form itself in order to give their films depth without having money to spend on exotic locations or large productions. Directors used new techniques and visual styles, as well as unusual subject matter, to ensure the art form was not prevented from moving forward due to a lack of state money.
2.2 Soviet Montage Theory
Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage was developed in the 1920s. Eisenstein had previous experience working in theatre, where he conducted a series of experimental plays that bombarded the audience with various different attractions in attempts to guide their thinking a certain way. After realising the physical constraints of the theatre, he turned his attention to developing montage for cinema. He first documented his theory in his 1931 essay ˜A Dialectic Approach to Film Form’.
Eisenstein’s first four methods of montage consist of using film montage to build a story where each new scene directly relates to the one that came before it. His fifth method, intellectual montage, “was not one of building bricks, but of objects in collision, producing an explosion that would arouse the viewer” (Taylor et al, 2000)
2.3 Comparisons of Films
“A Bout de Souffle” is a 1960 French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It presents the story of a petty criminal who, after stealing a car, shoots a policeman and is forced to run from the police. He hides with his girlfriend, who at first is unaware he is a wanted man, but soon finds out and turns him over to the police.
“The Battleship Potemkin” (1925) is a Russian silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein. It depicts the true story of the mutiny that occurred aboard the Russian ship Potemkin in 1905, when the crew rebelled against their Tsarist officers.
“A Bout de Souffle” was Godard’s first feature length film, and is one of the inaugural films of the French New Wave movement. The entire film was recorded on handheld camera with very little lighting; Godard had decided to produce the film in the style of a documentary and there was also little money to afford expensive equipment. It was shot on location in Paris. It has also been stated that a great part of the film was improvised on the spot by Godard, who would write lines of dialogue on set, before having a few brief rehearsals on scenes involved, and filming them.
Godard did not prepare sets in Paris, or seek permission to film on the streets, which gives the film a natural and spontaneous feel. In contrast to this, “The Battleship Potemkin” involved careful planning. The film was carefully written by Eisenstein as a propaganda film, but was also used to test his montage theory, meaning a great deal of pre-preparation was used in the production of this film.
“A Bout de Souffle” is also known for its innovative use of jump cuts. As Godard had no clear plan to conform to when shooting the film, he finished with over five hours of footage. In order to prepare the film for release, this had to be edited to approximately an hour and a half long film. Godard watched the film and simply cut pieces he found uninteresting or unimportant out, without warning, leaving gaps in the film. “The overall story structure is chronological, yet has large scene-to-scene gaps that, mirrored by the discontinuous jump cuts, leave out some information” (Neupert 2007).
It was the director’s intention to do so, and leave the audience to come to their own conclusions as to what happened in the lost time. Alternatively, as Eisenstein was using “The Battleship Potemkin” to test his theories of montage, the editing of the film was vital and all cuts were carefully administered to utilise montage. As director, Eisenstein wanted to use this montage to guide his audience to a certain conclusion or emotion, such as sympathy for the rebelling sailors, giving them little freedom to draw their own conclusions.
2.4 Similarities of Films
While there are obvious contrasts between the French New Wave and the Soviet Montage films discussed above, there are also some subtle similarities. Both films utilise and heavily rely on cuts to display their drastically different views into film production. Both films also offer tragic or sad stories, which was particularly different to the uplifting films of classical French cinema. It could be argued that these small similarities could be purely chance, but it could also be said that the French and Russian filmmakers were attempting to develop the art form that is film, but took completely opposing directions of development.
3. Relation to Country’s Culture
3.1 Culture’s Influence on Film
From our selection of films, we have found that two of the movies have had some kind of influence on or have been influence by the culture of their countries. These two movies would be “La Belle et La Bete by Jean Cocteau, and “The Diamond Arm” by Leoinid Gaidai. These two films are quite culturally relevant in their respective nations but there are some differences as to why. “La Belle Et La Bette is culturally relevant because of how it has been influenced by what’s around it and how it just slots right into the way the culture was in that time.
“La Belle et La Bette” is an old movie (1947), and was influenced greatly by the culture of its day. The story of the film is comprised of two French fairy tales that had existed popularly in French culture for hundreds of years. These stories would be “Le Prince de Beaumont” and “La Chatte Blanche.” In Essence, “Le Prince de Beaumont” is where “Beauty and the Beast”/”La Belle et La Bete” came from. The two stories are almost exactly the same and so you can see how this children’s story has come and influenced the movie so greatly. Although “La Belle et La Bete” had basically been a re-enactment of the children’s story “Le Prince de Beaumont,” the film does differ slightly in parts.
For example, in “Le Prince de Beaumont,” Belle has two sisters, who out of spite try to keep beauty from going back to the beast by showing so much love and kindness towards her so that the beast could die lonely. Whilst the movie uses someone else; Jean Cocteau added a sub plot, where Avenant (a man Belle rejected to marry) conspires with Belle’s brother and sisters to kill the Beast so that she would have no option but to marry him. Of course as any true fairy tale goes, when Avenant goes to kill Beast, he is struck by a magic arrow that reverses the effects of the curse set on Beast. Beast turns into a wonderful Prince Charming with Avenant’s handsome looks minus the horrible personality. La Chatte Blanche influences the movie in a more subtle way.
3.2 Film’s Influence on Culture
In contrast, in Russia, “The Diamond Arm” is a film that has managed to influence culture rather than be influenced by it. “The Diamond Arm” is a legendary comedy classic produced by Leonid Gaidai in 1968. The film has become a Russian cult film, meaning that it’s a film that has slowly managed to acquire large numbers of devoted fans and is incredibly popular. It has become the all time leader in the Soviet Box Office with over seventy-six million theatre admissions, which shows its major success in its home country.
These films are opposing in their relation to their country’s culture. However, there is evidence relating to both that shows a close relationship with the culture of the country they were produced in. The production of “La Belle Et La Bete” was influenced by the culture of France. The fact that it was based on pre-existing fairy tales that were already commonplace in French is an important realization. The director consciously took two stories he was familiar with and brought their tales into the modern era. In doing so, he had the opportunity to remind the nation of their childhood. It could be argued that he also made these ancient tales more accessible to the younger generation. In these ways, it could also be said that “La Belle Et La Bete” influenced the culture of France. It “dared to be naive, asking its audience to revert to childhood, the better to accept its practical magic.
“The Diamond Arm” influenced the generation of Russians who first watched it and has rooted itself in the culture they have passed on, as it still remains the all-time box office leader in Russia. It brought people to take on new sayings and phrases that had come directly from the movie and have now embedded themselves into Russian society so much that they are no longer phrases from a movie so much as phrases from everyday Russian life.
3.4 Box Office Figures in Each Country
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4. Acknowledgements and Success Abroad.
French cinema plays a more important role in the non-English speaking film industry than any other foreign language market. A number of French films are distributed in the western hemisphere (outside of France) and receive critical and commercial success.
One such film is Olivier Dahan’s “La Vie En Rose,” the 2007 biopic of Edith Piaf starring Marion Cotillard in the lead role. The film earned over $80 million worldwide. Although it earned a lot of this in French speaking countries, it is the third highest earning French language film in the American market since 1990. The film got largely positive reviews. People praised the performance of the lead actress, Marion Cotillard. She was said to have given a deeply moving performance. She also won an Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role. Although film critic A.O Scott was not impressed with the film, he credited Cotillard with a great performance.
While “La Vie En Rose” enjoyed only moderate success on the international stage, its success is far superior to any modern Russian film. This could be attributed to the familiarity of the French language in America and Western Europe, where it is widely taught in schools and regarded as beautiful.
“War and Peace” is Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1969 adaptation of the novel of the same name by Leo Tolstoy. This film is widely regarded as an “epic” of cinematic art. It was produced over a seven-year period. The battle scenes in this film are of epic proportion; one goes on for over an hour. Bondarchuk borrowed many objects from museums around Russia to be used as props, which gave a great authenticity to the film. It is estimated that it cost over an estimated $100 million, and, to this date, is still one of the most expensive films ever made. (Metallic 2011). War and Peace is widely regarded as a testament to Russian cinema. It received the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1969.
CONCLUSION – THE GOOD AND THE BAD
4.3 Actors and Actresses in America
In recent times, the amount of French and Russian actors looking English-speaking roles in American films has increased. It can be argued that this is the case because English-speaking films have a bigger target audience than their foreign counterparts. There are approximately 107 countries in the world where English is spoken by a majority. It is far more likely for a talented French or Russian actor to receive fame and recognition on a large scale if they are awarded roles in English-speaking films.
Marion Cotillard is a French actress who is currently enjoying success on the international stage. After winning an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2007, Cotillard’s fame has continued to rise in Hollywood. She has recently starred in a string of commercially successful, big budget American films such as “Public Enemies” and “Inception,” and is currently filming “Contagion” alongside Hollywood favorites Matt Damon and Kate Winslet.
In contrast, currently, there is a distinct lack of Russian presence in American cinema. In the 1920s, when the Russian Empire was replaced by the Soviet state, the United States was shaken by the first wave of Russian immigration. However, during the 1970’s and 1980’s a strange situation occurred when non-Russians were hired to play Russian roles in films. When it was spoken, the language was spoken badly. This has begun to change over the last thirty or forty years. This is because several Russian born actors began to keep residence in Hollywood. A lot of Russian actors are severely limited in Hollywood. This is mostly due to the language barrier. Their accent does them no favors either (Russian Actors). They are usually given small roles as extra or sinister characters.
A notable Russian directors is Timur Bekmambetov. He has directed such films as ‘Night Watch’ (2004) and its sequel ‘Day Watch’ (2006). He continued on to direct one of Hollywood’s biggest films of 2008; “Wanted,” starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, was an immediate success. It earned $80 million at the international box office in its first day of release. The film went on to earn more than $51 million in America alone (Gusyatinsky 2008). Due to its Russian director, “Wanted” was also popular in Russia, and was the most popular Universal Pictures release of 2008. Although his success is large, Timur Bekmambetov is one of very few Russian directors to make it big in America.
5. Modern Changes in Film
French box office attendance was subjected to a steady decline during the 80’s. However, in 2001, the French box office saw its highest numbers in 20 years (Temple and Witt, 2004: 263). While this can be attributed to the popularity of big-budget American cinema available to the younger, widely English-speaking generation, there is also evidence of rising popularity of home-grown films. “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie’ Poulain” (better known by its English title, Amelie) is a 2001 French romantic comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It tells the story of a shy waitress, played by Audrey Tautou, who embarks on a journey of self-fulfillment by helping others, while still being unable to conquer her own confidence issues. It is a simple tale of Amelie’s life and eventual success with love that is presented whimsically, with a distinct feeling of simplicity and spirit. It received a significant amount of recognition from European and American audiences. The film itself was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Art Direction and Best Original Screenplay. At home in France, Amelie’ won four Cesar Awards, including Best Film and Best Music. differences from New Wave, success abroad, etc.
Ostrov (2006) is a biographical film that tells the story of a fictional 20th century Eastern Orthodox monk. The film’s protagonist, Anatoly, is captured on a ship by Nazis and forced to shoot his friend in order to save his own life. He is rescued by Eastern Orthodox monks, and joins their monastery. Years later, Anatoly has discovered he has the gifts of clairvoyance and healing. People visit him for cures and advice, and although his life is now devoted to helping others, he is still consumed by the guilt of killing his friend. One day, a man visits with his daughter who is possessed by a demon. Anatoly exorcises the demon before finding out the man is, in fact, the friend Anatoly believed he had killed. The man forgives Anatoly as he had save his daughter. This story is drastically different to the war epics that Russian film is traditionally known for.
5.3 Wider Acceptance of Eccentricities
It can be observed that in both modern French and modern Russian cinema, there has been a wider departure from the traditional content and topic of films, to more widely accepted films with unusual content. “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie’ Poulain” is a whimsical tale of a young woman living in France. The films is narrated in a very fast-paced manner, that symbolizes the main character’s playful outlook on life. It is humourous and optimistic in its script that deals with love. The film is dominated with sepia tones and bright greens; a colourful palette to reflect the character’s colourful outlook on life, while still reflecting the Paris of the time the film is set in. The spiritual and easy tale is not one that was meant to be taken too seriously. This film provided the French cinema-going public with an eccentric fairy tale to lose themselves in. This is the last sentence, followed by a blank line.
5.4 Digital Developments
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From the careful study of French and Russian cinematic history and a detailed look at a number of representative films, a number of conclusions can be drawn from this essay.
Firstly, both France and Russia experienced separate periods of important development of film production methods. France’s New Wave movement sought to challenge the boundaries of classical film through rebellion and disregard of traditional film techniques and styles. Russia’s Soviet Montage Theory was developed to give order to the technique of montage so it could be utilized properly in films. At first glance, and through deeper analysis, there are obvious opposing differences in each movement as the Russians attempted to standardise the art form of film while the French tried to free it from tradition. However, there are also subtle similarities in the movements, particularly in the common use of certain production techniques such as cuts, only used in styliscally different ways.
Ebert, R. (2009) La Belle Noiseuse film 2011, available: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090412/REVIEWS08/904129997/1023 .
Gusyatinsky, Yevgeny (2008) Timur B, available: http://rbth.ru/articles/2008/07/28/bekmambetov.html
Monaco, J. (1976) The New Wave, Oxford University Press.
Metallic (2004) War and Peace 2011, available: http://www.epinions.com/review/mvie_mu-1023094/content_129942589060 .
Neupert, R. J. (2007) A History of the French New Wave Cinema, University of Wisconsin Press.
(2005) Russian Actors, available: http://russianamericanbusiness.org/web_CURRENT/articles/8/1/Hollywood’s-Russian-Roots .
Taylor, R., Wood, N., Graffy, J., Iordanova, D. (2000) The BFI Companion to Eastern European and Russian Cinema, London.