‘Paysan, paysage, patrie: French Films and Rural Life, 1940–1950’
This article seeks to explore cinematic representations of rural life during the Occupation and the immediate post-war period. Films about the countryside were not new as France had long enjoyed what could be called a ‘rural cinema’ largely through the highly successful film versions of Marcel Pagnol's novels and plays. During the Occupation, rural films continued to celebrate pastoral life despite considerable conflict between urban and rural. Film historians have argued that in doing so, they simply endorsed Vichy's ideology of le retour à la terre and its adulation of le paysan. Yet, as I will argue, in the context of a divided nation, these films were far more significant than existing research has acknowledged and indeed conveyed a profound longing for a unified France in their suggestion that there was an inextricable link between countryside and city. Post-war films with rural themes still articulated the tensions and contrasts between the two but more intensely, by presenting the city as eternally seductive but ultimately dangerous for the rural émigré. By this deliberate juxtaposition of conflicting images, these films sought to reunite a dispersed population by ‘relocating’ rural and urban dwellers in their natural and appropriate spheres.