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The role of generational strife and the family as larger social commentary chez Pialat

The role of generational strife and the family as larger social commentary chez Pialat

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Published by Brett Lewis
An essay on the role of the family and changing generations in the films of French film director, Maurice Pialat
An essay on the role of the family and changing generations in the films of French film director, Maurice Pialat

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Brett Lewis on Jan 28, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Bredesen Lewis (12937161)FREN 680-301
The role of generational strife and the family as larger social commentary chez Pialat
The works of Maurice Pialat, while lesser known than many of the most famous Frenchfilm directors, are amongst the most contentious. Equally loved and hated by friends andcolleagues, and more often both hated and loved by his devoted followers, Pialat continued in thetradition of the French Nouvelle Vague while blazing a path that was patently his own. Morefrequently than not, his works addressed sides of French society and the human psyche that werenot appealing to think about and were downright uncomfortable to most, lacking the chic, Paris-
centered, “bobo” tilt of many of his contemporaries.
Instead, Pialat, focused on the daily, the
mundane, and “the people of the metro,” complete with the
problems they face and how theyreflected on a society that largely ignored both them and their own larger issues.Pialat was notoriously a difficult man and director to work with. He was obstinate andhard-headed with producers, occasionally mean and always demanding with his actors. Born in1925 as an only child, Pialat missed the typical nuclear family. While his childhood and familysituation was hardly that portrayed in many of his films, given he was born into an upper middleclass family, he felt rejected by his parents and a strong malaise associated with adolescence andthe idea of the family in the larger sense. Pialat did not frequently travel or leave France in hislife. As a result, his films are deeply rooted in the country of his birth and he openly attached agreat deal of significance and influence to this in the creation of his work. Pialat focuseduncharacteristically on small towns and shied away from presenting the haute bourgeoisie that
was so frequently addressed by other contemporary filmmakers. Pialat‟s own
experience of childhood was keenly connected to the subject matter, as he was moved from Auvergne tosuburbs of Paris and subsequently felt uprooted, undoubtedly contributing to his questions of the
nature of community and „terroir‟ in France
Pialat‟s personal trajectory continued upon acquiring
a second family, that of theLangmanns, and becoming romantically involved with Arlette and Colette. The Langmannfamily and these romantic relationships, combined with his early childhood, would assume acentral role in inspiring his films and the pivotal position of the family in them, as he usuallyfocused on autobiographical subject matter. From his relatively unhappy childhood he created
 L’Enfance nue
in 1969, addressing the subject of a young child suffering in the care of seeminglyloving and welcoming homes of foster parents. From his break with Colette, he created,
 Nous nevieillerons pas ensemble
in 1972 and he addressed his break with Arlette in
in 1980.
 LaGueule Ouverte
(1974) was about the death of his mother.It is extremely difficult to typecast Pialat as one form of director or another, yet a
is perhaps the cl
osest apt description. He said, “alchemy, a transformation of the
sordid into the beautiful, from the common into the exceptional, that is what is realism to me
Inviewing his body of work, it becomes almost immediately clear that Pialat is drawn to portrayingwhat he feels is reality, in all of its volatility, violence, and occasionally optimism. He comesacross as almost viscerally repulsed by anything approaching sugar-coating or romanticizing the
subjects of „le quotidien,‟ especially those concerning
the family.While there is a great diversity of subjects and content addressed in his films
, the “family”
is time and again absolutely fundamental to the messages Pialat is relentlessly driving home. The
generational differences and interactions, often represented in the form of the relationshipbetween parents and children, take great precedence in the films and is highly symbolic of issuesfacing the larger hexagonal nation and probably farther afield as well. In, for example,
 L’enfancenue, Passe ton bac d’abord,
A nos amours
, the often strained relationship between parentsand children is the cornerstone of the films. Then there is
 Nous ne vieillerons pas ensemble
,where the troubled relationship of the couple is front and center, notably the dissolution of thatrelationship and the roadblock to the happy family that will not be. While Pialat chronicled thelives of ordinary French citizens as few other filmmakers did, his films are significantly loadedwith broader commentary, presented through this medium of the modern family. Salient themesthat come across by way of the family include issues of money, culture, sexuality, andgenerational conflict, often in the form of misunderstanding and going as
far as “disuse” and
discarding of the older generation, a frequently discussed subject even today in modern France.
 L’enfance nue
is a prime example of the social realism and familial breakdown that
would define much of Pialat‟s work. It is the story of 
a young boy and his inability to fit in intwo very different foster homes. The first is a home with another young child, the second is thehome of an elderly couple who already have other children living there. The drama of adolescence and coming of age is by no means uncommon in the French cinematic history, butPialat
treatment is different to other prominent directors, a number of films by Truffault beingprime examples. The style with which Pialat develops the narrative of the tortured child isextremely important and would go on to define much of his further works, where he repeatedlyaddresses the breakdown of the family, the intergenerational problems, and the granderimplications these have.

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