Quality vs quanitity: the age-old cinema debate

Interesting piece in today’s Indy about the so-called ‘competition‘ between the two big French films currently on release, Entre Les Murs and Faubourg 36. Of course there is an element of media exaggeration at stake here, a kind of Stones vs Beatles fabricated rivalry between two sets of filmmakers, distributors, cinema-goers etc etc…

But there is a grain of truth amidst the hype, and in many ways the divergent ethoses of the two films represent a debate which is as old as cinema itself. Take, for example, the case of established classic of French cinema, Les Enfants Du Paradis (1945), an epic love story set around the Paris theatre world of the 1830s. As undeniably great a spectacle and production that film was, it would later come under criticism from the Cahiers du Cinema crowd as the antithesis of what they considered to be the more auteurist visions of the likes of Robert Bresson, Jean Cocteau and most significantly Jean Renoir.

Why does this matter? After all, should films not be allowed to be escapist entertainment? Renoir makes an interesting case in point. His famous World War I film La Grande Illusion (1937) stands as a perfect example of what filmmaking can express; made on the eve of the Second World War, it was a reminder for Europe not to forget her history, nor her humanity, in the near inevitable build-up to continental war again. Post-war, the most significant cinematic movement was Neorealism, which at least partially grew out of the resentment against the prevailing ‘white telephone’ genre’s inability to represent the suffering of ordinary Italians.

Cinema, like all art, is not isolated from reality, but a distorted reflection of it; the times we live in are seeing unprecedented upheavals of orthodoxies and identities, and it is the very least that film can do to stimulate and challenge our views and thoughts on such matters. I’m off to see Entre Les Murs….

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