When I heard that Film Forum was putting on a show called “The French Old Wave” I was hoping that it was going to be a revisionist look at the films that Truffaut and his compadres in the nouvelle vague famously dismissed as “Le cinéma de papa” or the “le cinéma de qualité.” In his epoch-making 1954 essay “Une certaine tendance du cinéma français”, the essay which gave rise to the phrase “la politique des auteurs” and thus the Auteur Theory, Truffaut asserted that the worst of Jean Renoir’s movies would always be more interesting than the best of the movies of Jean Delannoy.
While Delannoy has two films in the series (L’eternel retour from 1943 and La symphonie pastorale from 1946), Renoir has six, so the series is less of a revisionist look at the films that the New Wave lambasted, and more of of a Greatest Hits of French sound cinema leading up to the first cresting of the New Wave (which is nothing to sneeze at—the series is a treasure chest of die-hard, must-see masterpieces). Half the films in the series are from the 1930s—a period of French cinema that Truffaut and co. revered—but there are 20 films from the 1940s and early 50s—the period Truffaut was most dismissive of—including films by New Wave bêtes noir like Delannoy, Claude Autant-Lara and Christian-Jaque that must be ripe for a second look.
Of all the directors featured, the one who seems to be getting a much deserved second wind is Jean Grémillon, recently granted an Eclipse box set by the Criterion Collection, and blessed with five films in the series, including Remorques, seen above. Grémillon directed almost fifty films between 1923 and 1958 but merits barely a footnote in English-language histories of French film. In Richard Roud’s essential 1980 two-volume Cinema: A Critical Dictionary he does get an article by Bernard Eisenschitz translated from the French, but Roud adds “Grémillon is not only underrated outside France; he is almost totally unknown...In France he has not been entirely forgotten: Straub claims him as one of the directors whose use of sound most influenced him.”
I’m not sure what Truffaut’s stand on Grémillon was as he wasn’t a purveyor of costume dramas and literary adaptations the way Autant-Lara was, but he is certainly the director in this series that I am the most excited to discover.
I have collected some of the best posters from the films in the series, sticking entirely to original French designs and leaving out some of the better known. To scroll through these is to peruse not just French film history (I’ve arranged them chronologically) but the grand history of French poster illustration, featuring many of the greats like Bernard Lancy, Roger Rojac, Constantin Belinsky (author of another Grémillon poster), Boris Grinsson, René Péron, Raymond Gid and many others.
Above: Under the Roofs of Paris (Rene Clair, 1930). Artist: Venabert.
Above: Le million (Rene Clair, 1931). Artist: Jean-Adrien Mercier.
Above: Boudu Saved from Drowning (Jean Renoir, 1932).
Above: Carnival in Flanders (Jacques Feyder, 1935). Artist: Bernard Lancy.
Above: A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir, 1936).
Above: The Story of a Cheat (Sacha Guitry, 1936).
Above: Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937). Artist: Brodsky.
Above: Hôtel du Nord (Marcel Carné, 1938). Artist: R. Marcou.
Above: L’étrange monsieur Victor (Jean Gremillon, 1938). Artist: Henri Faivre.
Above: The Baker’s Wife (Marcel Pagnol, 1938). Artist: Albert Dubouf.
Above: Le jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1939). Artist: Bernard Lancy.
Above: L’eternel retour (Jean Delannoy, 1943). Artist: René Peron.
Above: Douce (Claude Autant-Lara, 1943). Artist: Roger Rojac.
Above: Le ciel est à vous (Jean Gremillon, 1944). Artist: Constantin Belinsky.
Above: Children of Paradise (Marcel Carne, 1945). Artist: Bernard Lancy.
Above: La symphonie pastorale (Jean Delannoy, 1946). Artist: Boris Grinsson.
Above: Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946). Artist: Jean-Denis Malcles.
Above: Quai des Orfèvres (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947). Artist: Pigeot.
Above: The Lovers of Verona (André Cayatte, 1949).
Above: Orphée (Jean Cocteau, 1950). Artist: J. Harold.
Above: Casque d’or (Jacques Becker, 1952). Artist: J. Jacquelin.
Above: Forbidden Games (Rene Clement, 1952).
Above: Fanfan la tulipe (Christian-Jaque, 1952). Update: the first poster I posted turned out to be a 70s or 80s re-release design (Fanfan being a perennial favorite in France). This is more likely the original release.
Above: Le plaisir (Max Ophuls, 1952). Artist: Boris Grinsson.
Above: Les orgueilleux (Yves Allegret, 1953). Artist: René Péron.
Above: The Earrings of Madame De... (Max Ophüls, 1953). Artist: Roger Rojac.
Above: Les grandes manoeuvres (Rene Clair, 1955). Artist: René Péron.
Above: Touchez pas au grisbi (Jacques Becker, 1954).
Above: Lola Montés (Max Ophüls, 1955). Artist: André Bertrand.
Above: Diabolique (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955). Artist: Raymond Gid.
Above: La traversée de Paris (Claude Autant-Lara, 1956). Artist: Jan Mara.