Contemporary French Cinema

Module code: FR3128

Module co-ordinator: Dr Ann Miller

While there are no formal prerequisites for this module, it is not taught at an introductory level: you will be expected to have a working knowledge of general film language before we begin.

The module will focus on cinema from the 1990s to the early twenty-first century, including box office hits, the jeune cinéma movement, politically engaged cinema, documentary film, and the work of auteur filmmakers such as Josiane Balasko, Claire Denis, Agnès Varda, and Michael Haneke. Issues of national and transnational cinema and identity will be explored, as well as concepts of ethical and political commitment in contemporary social realist film.

These films often depict marginalised and excluded members of society, producing new hybrid forms of identity (and new genres of filmmaking, too). Other films will explore key theoretical concepts, such as the ethical relationships bound up with social class, ethnicity, gender roles and sexuality, and the selective memorialising or repression of memories around aspects of France's past, including its colonial history.

By the end of the module, you will have:

  • Acquired a deeper understanding of key techniques in the analysis of narrative, thematic, and stylistic aspects of cinema, and be able to apply and express these concepts orally and in written essays and sequence analyses
  • Understood and explored key tensions and concepts in studies of French cinema, including auteurism, documentary ethics, feminist film theory, theories of sexuality and the body, ethics and cinéma engagé, notions of national and transnational cinema, and theories of documentary
  • Explored the impact of social, political, and cultural change on the development of contemporary French cinema and examined how formal, aesthetic, and thematic codes of cinema may rewrite or pose a challenge to these contemporary contexts
  • Investigated the codes of particular genres and movements, and understood how they evolve and relate more broadly to cinema beyond France


There will normally be a film screening every week in addition to a two-hour seminar. The seminars will include introductory lectures, discussions, and student-led presentations based on individual and group research.


  • One essay of 2,500-3,000 words (50%)
  • One sequence analysis of 1,500-2,000 words (40%)
  • Weekly seminar blog posts (10% overall)
  • One oral presentation (10-15 minutes): this is required but not assessed; feedback will be given

Texts and resources

Set films

  • Gazon Maudit (dir. Josiane Balasko, 1995)
  • La Haine (dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)
  • Un Héros très discret (dir. Jacques Audiard, 1996)
  • Beau travail (dir. Claire Denis, 1999)
  • Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (dir. Agnès Varda, 2000)
  • Caché (dir. Michael Haneke, 2005)

Recommended reading on film analysis

  • Bordwell and Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction (McGraw-Hill, 1990)
  • Lacey, Introduction to Film (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
  • Monaco, How to Read a Film: Movies, Media and Beyond (OUP, 2009)
  • Roberts and Wallis, Introducing Film (Arnold, 2001)

Introductory reading on French cinema

  • Austin, Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction, 2nd edn (Manchester University Press, 2009)
  • Mazdon, France on Film (Wallflower Press, 2001)
  • Powrie, French Cinema in the 1990s (Oxford University Press, 1999)
  • Reader and Powrie, French Cinema: A Student’s Guide (Arnold, 2002)
  • Temple and Witt (eds), The French Cinema Book (BFI, 2004)