The French invented movies.
Although, they originated not in fine arts, but in science – with researchers fascinated with the persistence of vision, trying to understand how the human eye works and how the brain perceives motion.
In 1824 came the thaumatrope, created to show an impression of stable, continuous action in what eventually became the earliest form of moving picture. The eye no longer saw the bird and the cage, but the bird in the cage.
Two years later, Joseph Nicephore Niepce captured the earliest known surviving photograph in a camera by fixing a photographic image on a metal plate.
With minds like Etienne-Jules Marey who wanted to document motion expanding medical research on precise measurement and observation of blood flow and body movements, movies allowed people to think differently about the world.
Acceleration of thought washed over France with everyone celebrating the birth of a visual symphony. Then from Lumiere to Melies, the cinema was born in France.
French cinema has my heart. French movies have a way of solidarity, a way with feelings. Theirs is a cinema of empathy. As Robert Bresson once said, “I’d rather people feel a film before understanding it,” like the way you can feel Michel’s existential trap without his much saying anything in Pickpocket.
So here are some I want to share, in order of release date. Also, to feature the power of French emotion, I won’t provide any explanation or analysis other than screenshots, though sometimes just the sound will do the trick, like the donkey’s bray in Au hasard Balthazar.
1. Paris Asleep/The Crazy Ray (Paris qui dort), 1924 Rene Clair
2. The Rules of the Game (La Regle du jeu), 1936 Jean Renoir
3. Daybreak (Le Jour se leve), 1939 Marcel Carne
4. …And God Created Woman (Et Dieu… crea la femme), 1956 Roger Vadim
“Emotion is always more important in films than ideas." - Louis Malle
5. The Lovers (Les Amants), 1958 Louis Malle
6. Hiroshima, mon amour, 1959 Alain Resnais
7. The 400 Blows (Les quartre cents coups), 1959 Francois Truffaut
8. Pickpocket, 1959 Robert Bresson
9. Breathless (A bout de soufflé), 1960 Jean-Luc Godard
"And Godard—Godard has been a major nourishment to my sensibility and therefore, inevitably, to my writing." - Susan Sontag
10. Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le pianiste), 1960 Francois Truffaut
11. A Woman is a Woman (Une femme est une femme), 1961 Jean-Luc Godard
12. Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim), 1962 Francois Truffaut
13. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cleo de 5 a 7), 1962 Agnes Varda
14. My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie), 1962 Jean-Luc Godard
15. Contempt (Le mepris), 1963 Jean-Luc Godard
16. Masculin Feminin, 1966 Jean-Luc Godard
17. Au hasard Balthazar, 1966 Robert Bresson
18. Week End, 1967 Jean-Luc Godard
19. Claire’s Knee (Le genou de Claire), 1971 Eric Rohmer
20. Entre Nous (Coup de foudre), 1983 Diane Kurys
A lot of these can be seen online with a Hulu plus account if you're in the mood to feel away.
To end the post, here's a picture of Godard on set during Contempt, just because: