French Comedy on Screen: A Cinematic History
Rémi Fournier Lanzoni
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French film comedies have always been extremely popular with English-speaking audiences, especially in America with the numerous Hollywood remakes of comedies from France. These films occupy a specific cultural space and are influenced by national traditions and shared cultural references, but at the same time they have always been difficult to classify. Often a combination of several genres, they can be described as a hybrid art form, incorporating basic slapstick elements (the Lumière's brothers L'arroseur arosé, 1895) all the way to rather daring, even delicate subjects such as war (Autant-Lara's La traversée de Paris, 1956) or racism (Philippe de Chauveron's Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu? 2014). The diversity of disciplines - history, linguistics, social and political sciences - that form the background of this analysis guarantees a variety of approaches. French Comedy on Screen investigates the different methods in which these comedies textually inscribed and exemplified a variety of cultural and historical landmarks.
spent 60 days in jail in late 1944 after being arrested without charge by a group of resistants. He was denounced in the press on unfounded rumors by writers such as Pierre Descaves and journalists from the Figaro, despite the fact that he had always opposed the idea that his plays be performed in Germany. When the judge could not gather any conclusive evidence, the charges were dropped due to a lack of proof. Battling for his rehabilitation, he obtained the dismissal in 1947; however, the event
heralded the parodic series which was going to take place in the 1950s and 1960s with Georges Lautner’s Les tontons flingueurs (Monsieur Gangster, 1963). But it was not until the adaptation of the first true French thrillers, mixing the milieu, humor, and slang, that the French film noir took shape. These novels were Albert Simonin’s Touchez pas au grisbi and Grisbi or not grisbi, and Auguste Le Breton’s Du rififi chez les hommes, Le clan des Siciliens, and Razzia sur la schnouff. Their
and remarks: “J’ai vu trois noirs entrer, et maintenant, je ne vois plus que du blanc!” (I saw three blacks entering and now I only see white!). On the other hand, a more culturally based humor may be more difficult to apprehend such as Villeret’s reaction when investigating the kitchen of an African restaurant and discovering a dead monkey inside the refrigerator: Michel : Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça? Aïda: C’est le singe de ma cuisinière, mais moi je mange pas ça. Michel : Vous avez ses
have expected a gay comedy to attract a mainstream crowd in the 1970s? Consequently United Artists sought to score big with the profitable film, despite its unusual plot, as an American remake of the film was released in 1996 as Mike Nichols’s The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, and Gene Hackman with the action taking place in Florida’s South Beach. The commercial success in the United States was far from ephemeral as it remained the most watched foreign language film in the
groups. Surprisingly, while the polemic was raging in mass media, comedy filmmakers and even stand-up comedians unexpectedly refrained from covering this controversial subject. The notion of multiculturalism on screen first appeared in popular culture as a double-edged sword as it offered to some a possible benefit for a nation increasingly scoring under the demographic rate, but it was also perceived by 178 ● French Comedy on Screen others as a potential menace to national identity.