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FREN2109 - French Film History

Value: 0.5 course units
Dr Jann Matlock (lectures) Dr Roland-Francois Lack (seminars)
Teaching structure: This module has weekly required screenings and is taught through viewings as well as readings.
Assessment: one unseen three-hour written examination (100%). The examination consists in part of an analysis of a film sequence. There will be two questions, one covering lecture work and the other covering seminar work. Questions include comparative analyses that require close attention to the filmic qualities of works studied.

Module Description:


Beginning in 1895 when the Lumières first exhibited their new ‘cinématographe’ in a cafe on a Parisian boulevard, the French cinema has astonished through both its originality as well as the artistic innovations deployed to put the ‘real’ world on display. Shortly after this first presentation, the magician and theatrical showman Méliès offered another kind of spectacle, this one made of illusions and special effects, whose metamorphoses endured long after the ‘voyages to the moon’ experienced by the audience. FREN2109- French Film History will explore these two traditions, beginning with the late nineteenth-century ‘cinema of attractions’, with a primary emphasis on the period between 1902 and 1960. We will especially examine the formative years of French narrative filmmaking when this national cinema served as a path breaker for every avant-garde artistic movement and when the French broke every record for technological advances.

Students will have assignments in the required reading below but will also receive a bibliography of books and articles on subjects relating to the module films and thematics. Students will write two practice essays and keep a dossier of small research-related projects.


'Spectacle and Melodrama, 1919-1930'

Through five large-scale melodramas this seminar will explore the formal bases of narrative structure in silent feature films, alongside questions of genre and representation.

Preparatory Reading and Set Texts:

Required reading:

  • Louis Giannetti, Understanding Movies (Any edition after the 3rd edition is acceptable for purchase; check Amazon for cheap used copies of recent editions).

Viewing for the Lectures:

  • Ferdinand Zecca, Histoire d'un crime (1902)
  • Alice Guy, Sur la barricade (1907)
  • Albert Capellani, La Femme du lutteur (1908) & Mortelle idylle (1908)
  • Léonce Perret, Le Mystère des roches de Kador (1912)
  • Louis Feuillade, Erreur tragique (1913)
  • Dimiitri Kirsanoff, Ménilmontant (1924)
  • Jean Vigo, L’Atalante (1934)
  • Julien Duvivier, Pépé le Moko (1937)
  • Jean Renoir, La Grande Illusion (1938)
  • Henri-Georges Clouzot, Le Corbeau (1943)
  • Max Ophuls, Lola Montès (1955)
  • Robert Bresson, Un Condamné à mort s'est echappé (1956)
  • Alain Resnais, Hiroshima, mon amour (1959)
  • François Truffaut, Tirez sur le pianiste (1960)


  • J'Accuse (Abel Gance 1919)
  • El Dorado (Marcel L'Herbier 1921)
  • Coeur fidèle (Jean Epstein 1923)
  • Visages d'enfants (Jacques Feyder 1925)
  • Au bonheur des dames (Julien Duvivier 1930)