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  • Responding to Globalization:The Evolution of Agnès Varda
  • Kelley Conway (bio)

Long before Luc Besson shot Fifth Element (1997) in English, and long before the squabble over whether Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Un long dimanche de fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement [2004]) was really a French film or a Warner Brothers’ film, the “national” in French national cinema was complicated. And yet a quick glance at the course offerings of most film departments will tell us that the discipline of Film Studies persists in employing a national cinema model when conceptualizing non-Hollywood cinema. In fact, French cinema has been global from its inception, if we think of globalization as the “increasing speed, ease, and extent with which capital, goods, services, technologies, people, cultures, information, and ideas now cross borders” (Gordon and Meunier 5). Indeed, throughout the history of French film, we can find examples of films, filmmakers, and business models that challenge a unified notion of national cinema.

The crossing of national borders, whether in terms of production, distribution or exhibition, occurred in French cinema early on in the history of the medium. Indeed, “in its first decades (prior, say, to World War I) a primary way that film understood itself was as a medium that could express a new sense of a global identity” (Gunning 11). Following the invention in 1895 of the first moving picture camera, the cinématographe, the Lumière brothers began almost immediately sending cameramen around the world to shoot and exhibit films. By 1903, Pathé had opened offices in London, New York and Moscow (Millar 35). Hollywood’s Paramount Pictures set up shop in the Joinville Studios in Paris from 1929-31 and made multiple-language films (Danan). During the 1930s and the 1940s, Jean Renoir, Jacques Tourneur, Julien Duvivier, Maurice Chevalier, Simone Simon and Charles Boyer all worked in Hollywood. New Wave directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut were adept at the international promotion of their work, traveling to film festivals around the world.

Most obviously, perhaps, films regularly bear the influence of films made in other countries. French cinema—and indeed, cinema traditions around the world—absorbed many of the norms of classical Hollywood cinema. More specifically, the influence of German cinematographers on 1930s French film has been well documented. Another, more auteur-specific [End Page 109] example of the transnational loop of aesthetic influence can be found in Jean-Pierre Melville’s crime films, which manifest both American and French influences, and, in turn, exerted influence on American independent film director Quentin Tarantino and on Hong Kong/Hollywood director John Woo. Thus, phenomena such as the mobility of directors, cast, and crew and the transnational characteristics of style and genre have long challenged the notion of French cinema as something confined to France.

It seems sensible to think of globalization’s impact on French cinema less as a phenomenon of the last twenty years, than as something that ebbs and flows in its intensity. French cinema in the 1950s, for example, was particularly marked by globalization, which manifested itself in the emergence of international film festivals (Schwartz). An intenstification of European co-productions occurred in the 1960s (Bergfelder). Most would agree, however, that globalization’s impact on the film industry as a whole intensified again starting in the 1980s, and that the effects of this can be seen notably in the rise of the Hollwyood blockbuster, with its skyrocketing production and marketing budgets, its saturation release patterns, and the expansion of the multiplex. This recent wave of globalization has presented profound challenges to the film industries of small nations such as France, which struggle to remain viable in the face of competition from Hollywood films.

Understanding globalization’s large-scale impact on the film industry is certainly crucial, but globalization is not a homogeneous, top-down force. Filmmakers, industries and policy makers in small nations respond in a variety of ways to the pressures of globalization (Michael). Moreover, transnational filmmaking often has strictly economic motives, but it can also serve to promote solidarity, community and a sense of belonging (Hjort). To explore fully the variety of responses to globalization, we need to look closely...


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