Nov 8

French Impressionism (1918-1928) & Surrealism

French Impressionist Cinema, also referred to as the first avant-garde or narrative avant-garde, is a term applied to a group of French films and filmmakers of the 1920s.

French Impressionist Cinema, also referred to as the first avant-garde or narrative avant-garde, is a term applied to a group of French films and filmmakers of the 1920s.

Based on David Bordwell’s Family resemblance model 4

I. Camerawork

A. Camera distance: close-up (as synecdoche, symbol or subjective image)

B. Camera angle (high or low)

C. Camera movement (independent of subject, for graphic effects, point-of-view)

II. Mise-en-scene

A. Lighting (single source, shadows indicating off-screen actions, variety of lighting situations)

B. Décor

C. Arrangement and movement of figures in space

III. Optical Devices

A. As transitions

B. As magical effects

C. As emphasizing significant details

D. As pictoral decoration

E. As conveyors of abstract meanings

F. As indications of objectivity (mental images, semi-subjective images, optical subjectivity)

IV. Characteristic Editing Patterns

A. Temporal relations between shots (Flashback or fantasy)

B. Spatial relation between shots (synthetic, glance/object, crosscutting)

C. Rhythmic relations between shots


Napoleon (1927)









L’Agrent (1983)


Cœur fidèle (1923)

Cœur fidèle is a 1923 French drama film directed by Jean Epstein. It has the alternative English title Faithful Heart. The film tells a melodramatic story of thwarted romance, set against a background of the Marseille docks, and experiments with many techniques of camerawork and editing.

The adventurous technical experiments of the film are balanced by the realism of the setting. The characters are unglamorous and belong to a working-class milieu, living in cheap lodgings, frequenting rough bar-rooms. Cœur fidèle is one of several early films to use the location of the Marseille dockside, and the evocative images of looming ships and deserted wharfs contribute to a style which would be characterized over the next decade and a half as “poetic realism”.



Eve Francis  FIÈVRE  (1921)

The French Impressionism is the art of the emotions.

1 intimate psychological stories

2 changing emotions and experiences

3 inner motivation

The form of the Impressionism used a lot of technique, for example, in the movie Napoleon

1 new lens (275mm)

2 multiple frame images

3 wide screen ratio

4 handheld camera

5 enormous mobility of the camera, which introduces of sound in the film

The movement stopped  in 1929, but, the involvement of the French Impressions is still a lot.

French Impressionist films relied on quick editing techniques and camerawork in order to relay the message of the film. With regards to the camerawork, the filmmakers used techniques such as superimpositions, filters, framing shots, slow motion, using the camera out of focus and using camera movement to help convey the emotions of the characters and the mood of the story. In “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” several of these techniques are apparent, especially the quick cuts, and the framing shots. In Impressionist films the “rhythm was central” (Thompson 91).



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