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French & Francophone Film: A Research Guide

Popular Francophone Films

Crepaux, F. A., artist. Vive la France! 1918. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In the popular imagination, "cinema" is synonymous with France, and French actors such as Brigitte Bardot and Gérard Depardieu are household names. Many spectators associate French film with the glamour of the Cannes Film Festival or the distinctive style of the French New Wave.

Besides this, many Americans are (perhaps unknowingly) familiar with French film through Hollywood remakes: We know the the film La Jetée (1962) as Twelve Monkeys (1995), Trois hommes et un couffin (1985) as Three Men and a Baby (1987), or La Cage aux Folles (1978) as The Birdcage (1996).

While moving pictures as a technology developed in both Europe and North America towards the end of the 19th century, it was France that developed filmmaking into a major part of its artistic and cultural landscape. Cinema, often known as le septième art (the seventh art, after architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, and poetry), holds such a special place in French culture that there is extensive government protection and promotion of that industry. For example, the "cultural exception" in France means that culture-related products are to be protected by law so that French cinemas (and radio stations, television channels, etc.) are not overshadowed by non-French products. Another example: The French government provides generous subsidies such as tax rebates to encourage film production by French directors and French companies.

Essentially, France nurtures the art of film.

Thus, it has succeeded in retaining a central space of influence in film, from aesthetics to production norms to the star system. This is no coincidence, since from its earliest days, French film has been a global force. The Lumière Brothers, for example, sent filmmakers throughout the world, disseminating their technologies, creating audiences for their product, and training nascent filmmakers.

In addition, France's global presence via its empire meant that French-language newsreels, educational films, and fiction films found audiences and distribution networks throughout the world, all part of la mission civilisatrice, the "civilizing mission" of colonization. Moreover, colonial occupation by France meant that entire regions such as the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa, French Canada, and parts of southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean were all linked by language and other legacies of colonization, cultural memory created through cinema.

This guide is a sample of the resources available through the Library of Congress. It provides a general introduction to the rich filmic traditions of the Francophone world. For instance, Belgium and Switzerland are home to directors such as Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, and Alain Tanner. Quebec's Denis Villeneuve has directed English-language blockbusters such as Dune (2021) and Arrival (2016). Raoul Peck, director of Lumumba (2000) and I Am Not Your Negro (2016), is one of Haiti's most important directors. Senegal, the first African country to make its own films, is home to Sembène Ousmane, father of African cinema. Abderrahmane Sissako, Med Hondo, Jean-Pierre Lledo, Moufida Tlatli, Djibril Diop-Mambéty, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Kad Merad, Souleymane Cissé, and many more directors bring a myriad of perspectives from Francophone North and sub-Saharan Africa. French-language films by directors from Tahiti, Madagascar, Martinique, Louisiana, Rwanda, Réunion, and diverse other areas provide entertainment and information in one of the fastest-growing languages on Earth.

The films and resources listed here are a starting point for discovering the Francophone film world. Other pages in the guide are separated chronologically and by genre, and provide information on Francophone cinema as an industry.

Suggested titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.