In 1895, The Lumière Brothers created a short snippet of film called ‘The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station’. This was then shortly followed by Georges Méliès, who created ‘A Trip to the Moon’ (1902) which has been featured in more contemporary French/British films like ‘Hugo’ (2011). The Lumière Brothers are arguably the beginning of what we now call French Cinema which has undergone multiple periods and themes including Experimentalism, minimalist romance, New Wave and most notably, Avant Garde.
With the birth of sound around the 1920-30’s mark, French film noir began and continued on into the 1950’s until it became Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). These days, French cinema continues to copy New Wave trends with an infusion of modern dramatic elements and societal critique. But what is most notable about French cinema is its unique ability to utilise soundtracks to create suspense, passion and even horror.
French films have often used selected composition with one steady theme rather than a soundtrack filled with various artists. This is due to the nature of the films with more than half of French films being romantic dramas or clear-cut dramas such as ‘Elle’ (2016). However, recent French films have begun using ballads, indie and even hip-hop. This may be due to the film’s intent to draw in younger audience’s who favour pop and hip-hop.
French film ‘The Divines’ (which premiered on Netflix) includes hip-hop songs reminiscent of 1995 French winner ‘La Haine’. Whilst in ‘Macbeth’ (2015), the soundtrack composed by Jed Kurzel contained strong epic, cello sounds that replicate an ambient and slowed down Elizabethan era. In 2017’s ‘Raw’, Justine, a vegetarian woman, is faced with a dilemma when she suddenly develops an uncontrollable thirst for meat. The film is composed by Jim Williams and features a rapid synth background to compliment the frenetic and at times, terrifying mood of the film.
That’s French Cinema, what about TV?
In TV, more and more French artists such as electropop band Yelle are being used in mainstream shows such as The CW’s ‘Vampire Diaries’ spin off, ‘The Originals’ and Netflix originals ‘Girlboss’ and ‘Santa Clarita Diet’. These genres range from deep house to indie folk and are used in scenes that either include clubs or fight scenes. This is a new occurrence for French artists whose compositions are often used in slow or melodramatic French flicks rather than modern and contemporary TV dramas. For France’s own TV networks, BE-Films produced ‘Black Spot (La fin n’est due le commencement)’ and 2017’s ‘Zone Blanche’ feature classical scores with electronic twangs and indie riffs from artists such as Thomas Couzinier and Frédéric Kooshmanian.
If anything is certain it’s that French Cinema continues to be a leader in both film and soundtrack releases, with 2017 being no exception.