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Reviewed by:
  • A Companion to Contemporary French Cinema ed. by Alistair Fox, et. al.
  • Alison Smith
A Companion to Contemporary French Cinema. Edited by Alistair Fox, Michel Marie, Raphaëlle Moine, and Hilary Radner. (Wiley Blackwell Companions to National Cinema.) Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. xx + 691 pp.

This is a landmark volume of essays tracing the topography of the last two decades of French cinema through a series of separate, but connected, chapters written by the foremost scholars in the field, both anglophone and francophone. It aspires to be an état des lieux, with each chapter constituting an overview of a particular sector of contemporary French cinema production or of a particularly significant issue that concerns it. The book opens with a set of four essays that focus on the French cinema's economic context, and it is particularly welcome to find this often rather dry, but nonetheless essential, material brought together clearly and accessibly in English. Here is a place where those interested in how French cinema works can find explanations of the significance of the 1993 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) crisis, the changing fortunes of Studio Canal, or the production implications of the complex French system of film funding, set out in relatively brief, readable, and well-directed texts. Starting with the last two chapters of Part One, on political and postcolonial cinema respectively, the body of the book offers an encyclopaedic spread of articles on themes, genres, and issues prominent in recent French production. Part Two is devoted to auteur cinema; Part Three to a very wide spread of significant genres prevalent in contemporary France; while Part Four concentrates specifically on issues of gender and sexuality. Each chapter in these sections has to find its own balance between a general discussion of developments and tendencies, and an anchoring reference to particular, symptomatic films. Naturally, strategies vary, but the reader will come away from any of the articles with a clearer understanding of the stakes involved in, for example, the popularity of historical films or the millennial trend towards 'extreme' cinema, with some additional insights regarding individual texts and also with a range of further titles to explore. The organizational unity is perhaps less clear in the final section, 'Continuities and Emerging Trends', if only because, by definition, the vast majority of the essays in the book seek to project the future development of tendencies they identify in the present and recent past. It is amusing to note that the only essay explicitly to take the future as a theme does so in order to show how French cinema forges forward gazing at (and creatively reframing) its own iconic past. The essays collected here are perhaps more accurately a set of new ways of thinking about French cinema, ending with Roger Odin's stimulating assessment of film practices outside the profession. This book brings into one place a summary of the most dynamic scholarly work currently being undertaken on contemporary French cinema. As such it will be an invaluable reference for [End Page 142] anyone needing speedy, accurate, and meticulously researched contextualization of the complex forces that produced a given film or body of work. I would anticipate its essays becoming required reading for all students on undergraduate courses in French cinema, as well as kick-starting further research. Any aficionado of recent French cinema will find something here that speaks to his or her interests. The mixture of anglophone and French perspectives is another great strength of the collection, and in that context I must end with a mention of the impressive work undertaken by Alistair Fox in providing lucid translations of the French texts.

Alison Smith
University of Liverpool


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pp. 142-143
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