A new book by Dr. R.-J. Berg, French, is destined to be a welcome and indispensable guide to French cinema and to the study of film itself for French-speaking teachers and students of film.
Published in July by Yale University Press, À la rencontre du cinéma français is written in French primarily for French audiences. It will be marketed in North America and in Europe. Though in the United States there are several excellent textbooks on cinematic style and technique, there is an inexplicable dearth of them in France, Berg said—especially unexpected in a country that has been at the forefront of innovation in filmmaking.
The book has received an enthusiastic endorsement from none other than Michel Mourlet, a well-known writer and film critic in France (as well as a comrade-in-arms with Berg in the fight against the invasion of “franglais” into the French language). Mourlet writes, “I have known few works on cinema that have given me such an impression of competence and wisdom.”
“I’m very fortunate and honored to have found Michel Mourlet as the foreword writer,” Berg said appreciatively. Berg is also the author of three widely used textbooks on French literature and business French.
À la rencontre does not assume any previous knowledge of French cinema or background in film studies, though, as Berg writes in the preface, “It will help to like movies, and to have seen quite a few.”
It can serve as the core textbook for upper-level undergraduate and graduate French classes. Through a well-thought-out presentation of information, Berg’s goal was maximum flexibility. The book concentrates on stylistic analysis, or “close viewing,” but it can also be used in courses based on content, theme or issues, on a particular genre or movement, on the adaptation of narrative into film, or a number of other areas of study.
However, the books stands out in that Berg is adamant that film must be studied primarily as film—apart from any “issues” or “content.” Berg writes, “In a very real sense, the form is the film, and we, as students of film, need to study it.”
To that end, he takes as the basis of study two popular, influential and widely available movies, “A bout de souffle (Breathless)” Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 masterpiece, and the more recent “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie),” both of which contain ample examples of film technique for a thorough examination of how directorial choices shape the work. Straightforward diagrams and definitions of terms are provided as background, and students engaged in a close study can directly see how it all applies to the films.
Berg also includes a section for classes engaged in making a film, with step-by-step instructions and even a prize for the best short film each year.
An accompanying website contains resources such as sample tests and quizzes, Web-based research projects and a forum page through which students may query Berg.
À la rencontre du cinéma français is so thorough that Mourlet compares it to the foremost other two “Roberts” —the “little Robert” and “big Robert” dictionaries of the French language. “Here is the ‘Robert Berg’ of the French cinema,” Mourlet writes.