It’s that time of year when the world’s showbiz lenses are trained eagerly on the photogenic vedettes (stars) and leading actors and actresses (interprètes who take le premier rôle) of the cinematic world, as they strut their stuff on the Croisette (little cross) in Cannes at the annual film festival. Those with a new film in competition or a glittering première (French word, bien sûr!) to attend might be seen heading up the prestigious steps of Palais des Festivals et des Congrès.
Hollywood’s big guns are wheeled largely out for promotional duties (blockbusters are usually shown out of competition – not part of la sélection officielle) or to be on le jury. When it comes to the big prizes such as the Palme d’Or (‘golden palm leaf’, first introduced in 1955) it’s often those at the auteur end of the film spectrum who grab the gongs.
The word auteur, after all, is French and relates to film criticism in the 1940s as a means of differentiating French New Wave réalisateurs (directors – think Godard, Rohmer, Rivette and Chabrol) from those in the mainstream. Other terms for the filmmaker are le cinéaste or le metteur-en-scène.
Away from the glamour, it’s all about quality filmmaking, often with a social conscience, and advance marketing to get bums on seats au ciné when the films are released months later.
Going to the pictures is an essential part of any French person’s social life. When inviting you they might say ‘on va au cinoche?’ or ‘on se fait une toile?’ (toile here describes the material on the screen). As for the film experience, once le rideau (curtain) goes up, la bande sonore (soundtrack) counts just as much as le dialogue. Much more so, inevitably, for le cinéma muet (silent films).
Le cadre (frame) describes what’s on screen while any action heard off-screen is deemed hors champ and the sounds voix off. Le montage is the editing, while the basic linear form of le déroulement (the plot) is called montage linéaire but le montage en flash-back is a common tool. A fade-in/fade out of a scene (a dissolve) is called fondu-enchaîné.
At Cannes, the producer of any film whose apogée (climax) is met with vigorous applaudissement (applause) will have high hopes of succès when it finally meets is publique for a séance (viewing) dans les salles (the cinema).
While many Anglophone films can be seen in their version originale in French cinemas (ie in English, with French subtitles) the French are more than used to watching dubbed films. Tom Hanks and Helen Mirren will never sound the same to you again.