The Battle of the Sexes in French Cinema, 1930–1956

The Battle of the Sexes in French Cinema, 1930–1956

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 43 illustrations Published: November 2013

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > European History, Media Studies > Film

In The Battle of the Sexes in French Cinema, 1930–1956, Noël Burch and Geneviève Sellier adopt a sociocultural approach to films made in France before, during, and after World War II, paying particular attention to the Occupation years (1940–44). The authors contend that the films produced from the 1930s until 1956—when the state began to subsidize the movie industry, facilitating the emergence of an "auteur cinema"—are important, both as historical texts and as sources of entertainment.

Citing more than 300 films and providing many in-depth interpretations, Burch and Sellier argue that films made in France between 1930 and 1956 created a national imaginary that equated masculinity with French identity. They track the changing representations of masculinity, explaining how the strong patriarch who saved fallen or troubled women from themselves in prewar films gave way to the impotent, unworthy, or incapable father figure of the Occupation. After the Liberation, the patriarch reemerged as protector and provider alongside assertive women who figured as threats not only to themselves but to society as a whole.


"[An] important and thorough work of film history and criticism. . . . Graham's expert translation brings to English readers an invaluable examination of a period of French history as represented in its cinema and analyses of particular films. . . . [T]he authors perform an important service to film history by revisiting and reframing well-known films and by unearthing many largely forgotten films. Essential. All readers."  — L. M. Anderst, Choice

"A classic in the field and we can congratulate the press on this new translation, not so as to freeze its original ideas into a new orthodoxy but rather to serve as a spur for continued reflection." — Hugo Frey, American Historical Review

"Burch and Sellier’s seminal study not only broke the pattern when it first came out in the original French  but also provided a timely and insightful account of attitudes to gender and shifting sexual identities during three of the most eventful periods in twentieth-century French history … The originality and lasting appeal of [their] approach thus derives from the choice of an under-studied section of French cinema history as much as from the in-depth analysis of the relationship between film and society across a vast array of mainstream, high-quality productions alongside unsuccessful or marginal productions." — Romona Fotiade, French History

"[T]his translation of Burch and Sellier’s study will prove immensely valuable for non-French-speaking researchers..." — Claire Boyle, French Studies

"The Battle of the Sexes in French Cinema, 1930–1956 makes an incontrovertible case for a social history of French cinema, bringing to light a whole world of films, and a period in French film history, overlooked by formalist critics. Noël Burch and Geneviève Sellier’s analyses of character, gender, and ideology are trenchant, and there is an analytic surprise on every page of this fascinating book. Required reading!" — Alice Kaplan, author of Dreaming in French

"This flawless translation of La Drôle de guerre des sexes is a boon to cinema studies. Noël Burch and Geneviève Sellier rightly argue that attention to the New Wave and auteur theory obfuscated much of the great film made in France during the years prior to the war, during the Occupation, and after the Liberation. Their book will rejuvenate historical and ideological study of classical French cinema in the Anglophone world. Anyone interested in French film history and theory will find it invaluable." — Tom Conley, author of An Errant Eye: Poetry and Topography in Early Modern France


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Noël Burch is Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the University Charles de Gaulle in Lille. His book Theory of Film Practice is widely regarded as one of the key works of Western film criticism.

Geneviève Sellier is Professor of Film Studies at the University Michel de Montaigne in Bordeaux. She is the author of several books in French, as well as Masculine Singular: French New Wave Cinema, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction 1

Part I. The Prewar Period, 1930–1939 13

1. Panorama of a Cine-Family Romance 15

Film Analyses 54

Part II. The German Occupation, 1940–1944: Fathers Take a Backseat 89

2. Castrated Fathers 91

3. Women in the Service of the Patriarchy 103

4. Misogyny Lingers On 114

5. Absent Men, Fleeing Men 125

6. Women Take Control of Their Destiny 133

7. The Zazou Film: A Dissident Style during the Occupation 140

8. A Woman Faced with Her Desire 150

9. Gentle Male Figures and New Fathers 164

Film Analyses 180

Part III. The Postwar Period, 1945–1956: Settling of Scores 235

10. The Destabilizing Effects of the Liberation 237

11. Restoring the Patriarchal Order 269

Film Analyses 305

Conclusion 341

References 347

Index 357
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5561-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5547-2
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