- Le Cinéma français contemporain: manuel de classe by Alan J. Singerman, Michèle Bissière
How best to teach French cinema? Show the film, contextualize it with a lecture, throw in a review or two, and add a YouTube interview with the director? Or perhaps assign a chapter from Phil Powrie and Keith Reader's still influential French Cinema: A Student's Guide (London: Bloomsbury, 2002)? Teachers of film looking to blend both approaches (nuts-and-bolts versus historical survey) may wish to turn to Alan J. Singerman and Michèle Bissière's impressive new book. Through an examination of twenty prominent post-1980 French films, the authors offer a view of recent French cinema that is microscopic in its focus on each film's critical and commercial reception, production history, and visual and formal elements. Singerman has prior form. His notable Apprentissage du cinéma français (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004) similarly explained how to analyse films, and offered fresh takes on the classics of the canon. Yet if the reach of that book was broad and wide, Singerman and Bissière here focus on a far narrower historical period: 1980-2011. Bookending this seismic period in French cultural and political life are two films — François Truffaut's Le Dernier Métro (1980) and Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano's Intouchables (2011). Along the way, the book adopts a thematic approach to cinema of the Hexagon, considering films that reflect, critique, or contest the major category of each chapter (comedy, immigration, polar, colonialism). For instance, Chapter 2 is entitled 'Thèmes de société 1: banlieue, chômage, immigration', and contains in-depth analyses of La Haine (1995, dir. by Mathieu Kassovitz), La Vie de Jésus (1997, dir. by Bruno Dumont) and La Vie rêvée des anges (1998, dir. by Erick Zonca). So far, so conventional, especially given the focus once more on La Haine, that seemingly timeless snapshot of la fracture sociale in France. Yet the boon for teachers of French film is the impressively conceptualized dossier pédagogique that accompanies each of the twenty films. This is by some distance the book's most compelling quality, with discussion questions, a well-marshalled bibliography that blends critical work with reviews and interviews, and pistes de réflexion. The latter is a magnificent resource that will encourage students to think more reflectively about each work, especially as it breaks down the film into smaller sequence analysis segments (complete with timecodes). The eighteen-page section on Caché (2005), Michael Haneke's notoriously elusive psychological thriller, is particularly elegant in its drawing together of form, content, and historical context. A minor quibble is the lack of content on animation, the blockbuster, literary adaptations, or documentary. (Agnès Varda's seminal Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000) is the sole case study, but where are [End Page 645] Nicolas Philibert, Raymond Depardon, Nadia El Fani?) The book also contains a lexicon of French cinema terms, plus step-by-step models on how to read a film critically. Using Singerman and Bissière's highly recommended 'close watching' approach, films both familiar (Entre les murs (2008, dir. by Laurent Cantet), Amélie (2001, dir. by Jean-Pierre Jeunet)) and offbeat (Coup de foudre (1983, dir. by Diane Kurys), Gazon maudit (1995, dir. by Josiane Balasko)) reveal not just the stylistic and narrative norms of a specific moment in French film culture, but also their commonalities, divergences, and intertextual influences. University librarians take note.