On the occasion of the theatrical release of the mythical “La Maman et la Putain”, a panorama of films that were able to mirror the youth of their time.
What is a generational film? It is an image which, at some point in our life, looks at us at the same time as a deforming territory that we would like to substitute for our daily life in order to immerse ourselves in it eternally. Each era, each decade will have given birth to a film-mirror of its time. Here is a list in fourteen entries.
July meeting by Jacques Becker (1949)
Step aside in Becker’s filmography, July meeting offers a real wind of freedom in the French cinema of the time. Scanning with ardor and a striking modernity the youth of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the post-war period, the film paints the portrait of the first generation to listen to jazz in the cellars of the Latin Quarter while inveighing with rage against the greyness bourgeois who dominates.
Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard (1960)
No one had really filmed the street before Godard. Influenced by Italian neorealism and The Little Fugitive (1953) by Morris Engel, the young filmmaker deserted the studios for asphalt and deconstructed all the norms of cinematographic grammar. By propelling the young faces of Belmondo and Seberg onto the screen, the film is the manifesto of an entire generation. It is easy to imagine the bewildered eyes of a twenty-year-old spectator discovering Godard’s film for the first time and with it the very reflection of his existence.
Farewell Filipina by Jacques Rozier (1962)
There is almost all of his time in Farewell Filipina : the Algerian war (subject voluntarily forgotten by French productions of the time), jukeboxes, yéyés, the phrasing and gestures of those who deploy there. Emblematic link of the New Wave and great film of the beginning of the Fifth Republic, the film establishes Rozier as an immense painter of reality and one of the greatest heirs (alas too forgotten) of Renoir.
The Chinese by Jean-Luc Godard (1967)
In 1967, exalted by youth and Maoism, Godard decided to make it a laboratory of cinema and thought in The Chinese. For this, the director brings together in his apartment in the rue de Miromesnil Jean-Pierre Léaud, Juliet Berto and Anne Wiazemsky, his companion at the time, and films a closed session which, drunk with change, dreams of making a clean sweep of the society to rebuild it better. The film will become one of the most salient totems of the libertarian and utopian thought that will produce May 68.
The Mom and the Whore by Jean Eustache (1973)
Whether The Chinese captured the stammerings of sixty-eighth thought, The Mom and the Whore will be the great film of the after. After the drunkenness, the hangover. Filming for nearly four hours the intimacy of the daily life of its characters with staggering precision and stubbornness, the Eustache monument invites itself to a disarmed generation, forced to abdicate before the impossible reconciliation of ideals with the real.
The Valseuses by Bertrand Blier (1974)
A provocative and trashy comedy directed by the young Bertrand Blier, the film follows three young misfits (Gérard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere and Miou-Miou) on the run. Despite the scandal caused by the film’s irreverence and moral ambiguity, The Valseuses becomes the film of a generation. It is a formidable document of a post-68 society bipolarized between a bohemian progressive and libertarian youth and a still conservative, Pompidolian and bourgeois France.
Full Moon Nights by Eric Rohmer (1984)
Unsurpassable peak of Rohmerian stylization, Full Moon Nights is also the ultimate film of the 1980s. Far from the advertising aesthetics that abounded at the time, the film captures with dizzying sociological precision the essence of the trendy Paris of the time (the dance parties, Elli and Jacno, the teapots at the geometric design, decor in flat monochrome colors) and immortalizes the most beautiful shooting star of French cinema: Pascale Ogier.
Bad blood by Leos Carax (1986)
How to be the Godard of your generation when you were born the year of Breathless? At once sumptuously dreamlike, free and poetic, Bad blood summons the essence of the New Wave which it redeploys in a pure aesthetic of eighties. Carax films a theater out of time where a breathless race on Modern Love by David Bowie symbolizes the thirst for life of a youth surrounded by the new threat of AIDS.
Hatred by Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)
By filming the daily life of Saïd, Hubert and Vince, three young people in a neighborhood soon shaken by a riot following a police blunder, Hatred reveals the malaise of French society and immerses us in the time of 24 hours in the life of a youth then forgotten by the cinema. To the sound of Cut Killer, the Beastie Boys and Assassin, the film will end its career in theaters with more than 2 million admissions and will very quickly reach the status of cult film.
How I quarreled…(my sex life) by Arnaud Desplechin (1996)
how i argued is to the 1990s what The Mom and the Whore is for the post-68 generation. A monster work of mad density like the Eustache monument, Desplechin’s film encapsulates, with writing close to hyperrealism, the daily life of an urban and intellectual youth. Finding on the projection canvas a mirror of its own condition, the latter will propel how i argued to the status of “film of a generation”.
Love songs by Christophe Honoré (2007)
We know, since Demy’s films, that the cinephile’s imagination feeds as much on film images as on his songs, listened to again and again like inseparable traveling companions. Heartbreaking musical comedy that rekindles the flame of the New Wave (Demy, Truffaut, Eustache) and invites to a porosity of sexual identities (couple of three, bisexuality), Love songs produces the same effect. He never really left the hearts of his faithful adulators who can live in his chapel at will, for the duration of a song.
War is declared by Valerie Donzelli (2011)
Autobiographical film shot hard and brilliantly crazy signed Valérie Donzelli, who tells here her real fight to save her sick child, War is declared met with resounding surprise success in theaters. Impossible indeed to resist this ode to life, filming these young bohemian parents who advance at full speed and take everything in their path, especially the heart of a whole generation of spectators.
The Life of Adele by Abdellatif Kechiche (2013)
Great electroshock of the 66th Cannes Film Festival, The Life of Adele Logically and unanimously, Steven Spielberg’s jury will receive the supreme award on the Croisette. If for a few years, a Palme d’or has not promised automatic success in theaters, Kechiche’s film will be, despite its extraordinary length (almost three hours) and the radicalism of its sex scenes, a real tidal wave. – public tide (more than one million entries). The reputation of the film may have been tainted by a controversy over the harsh filming conditions imposed by its director, the idyll between Emma and Adèle will remain for many the most burning love story of the 2010s, shaking France a year before the legalization of gay marriage.
teenage girls by Sebastien Lifshitz (2020)
In this column as dense as it is meticulous, Lifshitz follows the trajectory of Emma and Anaïs from their 13 to their 18 years. By filming their joys, their disappointments but also the crash with which the outside world knocks on their door (Charlie Hebdothe attacks of November 13), teenage girls delivers a radiant and extremely valuable x-ray of today’s youth.
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The 14 French films that best watched the youth of their time – Les Inrocks