Poetic realism

Poetic realism was a film movement in France of the 1930s. More a tendency than a movement, poetic realism is not strongly unified like Soviet montage or French Impressionism but were individuals who created this lyrical style. Its leading filmmakers were Pierre Chenal, Jean Vigo, Julien Duvivier, Marcel Carné, and, perhaps the movement's most significant director, Jean Renoir. Renoir made a wide variety of films some influenced by the leftist Popular Front group and even a lyrical short feature film.[1] Frequent stars of these films were Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Simone Signoret, and Michèle Morgan.

Poetic realism films are "recreated realism", stylised and studio-bound, rather than approaching the "socio-realism of the documentary".[2] They usually have a fatalistic view of life with their characters living on the margins of society, either as unemployed members of the working class or as criminals. After a life of disappointment, the characters get a last chance at love but are ultimately disappointed again and the films frequently end with disillusionment or death. The overall tone often resembles nostalgia and bitterness. They are "poetic" because of a heightened aestheticism that sometimes draws attention to the representational aspects of the films. Though these films were weak in the production sector, French cinema did create a high proportion of influential films largely due to the talented people in the industry in the 1930s who were working on them. The most popular set designer was Lazare Meerson. Composers who worked on these films included Georges Auric, Arthur Honegger, Joseph Kosma, and Maurice Jaubert. Screenwriters who contributed to many of the films included Charles Spaak and Jacques Prévert.[3] The movement had a significant impact on later film movements, in particular Italian neorealism (many of the neorealists, most notably Luchino Visconti, worked with poetic realist directors before starting their own careers as film critics and directors) and the French New Wave.

Poetic realism
Years active1930s–1940s
Major figuresJean Renoir, Jean Grémillon, Jean Vigo, Jacques Feyder, Jacques Prévert, Pierre Chenal, Marcel Carné
InfluencesFrench Impressionism
InfluencedItalian neorealism, French New Wave

Notable examples

Forerunners of the poetic realist movement include:

Poetic realist works from leading filmmakers of the mid-to-late 1930s include:


  1. ^ Thompson, Kristin, Bordwell,David. (2010) Film History: An Introduction, Third Edition, New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies. p. 265-268
  2. ^ Susan Hayward Cinema studies: the key concepts, Routledge, 2006, p.151
  3. ^ Thompson, Kristin, Bordwell, David. (2010) Film History: An Introduction, Third Edition, New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies. p. 265-268
Effi Briest

Effi Briest is a realist novel by Theodor Fontane. Published in book form in 1895, Effi Briest marks both a watershed and a climax in the poetic realism of literature. It can be thematically compared to other novels on 19th century marriage from a female perspective, such as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, which are also adultery tragedies.

Il bidone

Il bidone ([il biˈdɔne], "The Drum [container]"; also known as The Swindle or The Swindlers) is a 1955 Italian film directed by Federico Fellini. It features Broderick Crawford, Richard Basehart and Giulietta Masina.

Released one year after the director's internationally successful La Strada, Il bidone continues with many of the same socially conscious, neorealist-inspired themes while minimizing the poetic realism and extravagant vitality, that is today known as "felliniesque", in favor of a more pointed political stance.

It Always Rains on Sunday

It Always Rains on Sunday is a 1947 British film adaptation of Arthur La Bern's novel by the same name, directed by Robert Hamer. The film has been compared with the poetic realism movement in the French cinema of a few years earlier by the British writers Robert Murphy, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and Graham Fuller.

Jacques Feyder

Jacques Feyder (French: [fɛ.dɛʁ]; 21 July 1885 – 24 May 1948) was a Belgian actor, screenwriter and film director who worked principally in France, but also in the US, Britain and Germany. He was a director of silent films during the 1920s, and in the 1930s he became associated with the style of poetic realism in French cinema. He adopted French nationality in 1928.

Jean Vigo

Jean Vigo (French: [vigo]; 26 April 1905 – 5 October 1934) was a French film director who helped establish poetic realism in film in the 1930s. His work influenced French New Wave cinema of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Johnsen Schmaling Architects is an architecture firm located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States, where it was founded in 2003 by Brian Johnsen and Sebastian Schmaling. The office is located in a former shoe factory in the Brady Street district of Milwaukee. The principals have described their design philosophy as "poetic realism". Johnsen and Schmaling are on the faculty of the School of Architecture & Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

Julien Duvivier filmography

Julien Duvivier (8 October 1896, in Lille – 29 October 1967, in Paris) was a French film director. He rose to prominence in French cinema in the silent era, and directed some of the most notable films of the poetic realism in the 1930s, such as La belle équipe and Pépé le Moko. During World War II he worked in the United States. He returned to France with Panique in 1946 and continued to work in Europe for the rest of his career. He had a big commercial success with The Little World of Don Camillo which had 12.8 million admissions in 1952. His last film was Diabolically Yours from 1967.

La Bandera (film)

La Bandera (released in the United States as Escape from Yesterday) is a 1935 French drama film directed by Julien Duvivier and starring Annabella, Jean Gabin and Robert Le Vigan. It was based on the 1931 novel La Bandera by Pierre Mac Orlan. After committing a brutal murder in Paris, a Frenchman flees to Barcelona where he enlists in the Spanish Foreign Legion. He is sent to fight in Morocco where he unexpectedly bonds with his comrades and marries a local woman before his past begins to catch up with him. Like Duvivier's other works of the period, the film is infused with poetic realism.

The film was made at the Joinville Studios in Paris with sets designed by the art director Jacques Krauss. Location shooting took place in Barcelona and at barracks in Tetuán in Spanish Morocco.

Le Grand Jeu (1934 film)

Le Grand Jeu is a 1934 French film directed by Jacques Feyder. It is a romantic drama set against the background of the French Foreign Legion, and the film was an example of poetic realism in the French cinema. The title Le Grand Jeu refers to the practice of reading the cards. Blanche asks whether her client wants the 'full works', the whole story: "Alors... je te fais le grand jeu?"

Le Jour Se Lève

Le jour se lève ([lə ʒuʁ sə lɛv], "The day rises"; also known as Daybreak) is a 1939 French film directed by Marcel Carné and written by Jacques Prévert, based on a story by Jacques Viot. It is considered one of the principal examples of the French film movement known as poetic realism.

In 1952, it was included in the first Sight and Sound top ten greatest films list.

Léon Poirier

Léon Poirier (August 25, 1884 – June 27, 1968) was a French film director, screenwriter and film producer best known for his silent films from 1913 onwards. He directed some 25 films between 1913 and 1949 .His most famous film today is Verdun: Visions of History, a drama-documentary depicting the World War I Battle of Verdun. His later films adopted a form of poetic realism influenced by pictorialist photography.

Marcel Carné

Marcel Carné (French: [kaʁne]; 18 August 1906 – 31 October 1996) was a French film director. A key figure in the poetic realism movement, Carné's best known films include Port of Shadows (1938), Le Jour Se Lève (1939), The Devil's Envoys (1942) and Children of Paradise (1945), the last of which has been cited as one of the greatest films of all time.

Paul Mercier (playwright)

Paul Mercier (born 1958 in Dublin) is an Irish playwright screenwriter, film and theatre director. Born in Dublin and living in An Cheathru Rua he was the founder member and Artistic Director of the Passion Machine Theatre Company and of film production company An Pointe Productions. His work is famous for its gritty poetic realism and examination of ordinary, contemporary Irish life.

Port of Shadows

Port of Shadows (French: Le Quai des brumes) is a 1938 French film directed by Marcel Carné. It stars Jean Gabin, Michel Simon and Michèle Morgan. The screenplay was written by Jacques Prévert based on a novel by Pierre Mac Orlan. The music score was by Maurice Jaubert. It is a notable example of the poetic realism genre. The film was the 1939 winner of France's top cinematic prize, the Prix Louis-Delluc.

According to Charles O'Brien, the film would be one of the first to be called "film noir" by critics (1939, France).

Pépé le Moko

Pépé le Moko [pe.pe lə mo.ko] is a 1937 French film directed by Julien Duvivier and starring Jean Gabin.

The film depicts a gangster nicknamed Pépé le Moko. Moko is slang for a man from Toulon, derived from the Occitan amb aquò ("with that"), a term which punctuates sentences in Provence and which, in Toulon, is pronounced em'oquò.

The film is based on Henri La Barthe's novel of the same name, and La Barthe contributed to the screenplay under the pseudonym "Détective Ashelbé". Pépé le Moko is an example of the 1930s French movement known as poetic realism, which combines realism with occasional flashes of unusual cinematic tricks. The film's sets were designed by the art director Jacques Krauss. The film is often considered an early predecessor of film noir. This film inspired the Algiers (film).

Steve Whitehead

Steve Whitehead is a British painter, born in Coventry, England in 1960.

He studied at the Aberystwyth University, with David Tinker, graduating with an MA in Fine Art in the mid-1980s, before continuing his studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

Whitehead is predominantly a landscape painter, although he also produces figure compositions. His art is sometimes described as a form of Photorealism, although according to the art critic Michael Paraskos it is more like a Poetic Realism, as Whitehead does not simply reproduce photographs in paint, but creates composite images, drawing on many photographs and historic art images. In particular, Whitehead's art is influenced by the landscape traditions of northern European romantics, such as Caspar David Friedrich, and the realism of the Biedermeier realist painters.

He has twice won the Wales Open and has also been a prizewinner in Manchester Academy and Hunting Art Prizes exhibitions. His paintings are held in the permanent collection of the Contemporary Art Society of Wales. He previously taught Fine Art at the University of Hull and is a regular visiting artist at the Cyprus College of Art. He is represented by the Plus One Gallery in London, and the Modern Artists Gallery in Berkshire.

Whitehead is the subject of a book by the art critic Michael Paraskos published in 2008.

The Lower Depths (1936 film)

The Lower Depths (French: Les Bas-fonds) is a 1936 French drama film directed by Jean Renoir, based on the play of the same title by Maxim Gorky. Its scenes contrast the life of the upper and lower classes to comedic effect.

The film is an example of the poetic realism. It received the first Louis Delluc Prize in 1937. The National Board of Review in the United States considered it a Top Ten Foreign Film for 1937.

Theodor Sparkuhl

Theodor Sparkuhl (October 7, 1894, Hannover, Germany – June 13, 1946, Los Angeles, California) was a German-born cinematographer with over 100 movies to his credit.

Sparkuhl began his career as a projectionist in 1911. He was trained as a newsreel cameraman at the German subsidiary of the French film production company Gaumont in 1912. During World War I he chronicled battles in the Middle East and in Russia. In 1916 he became a lighting director of entertainment films, remaining in German films until 1928 (including many pictures under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch until Lubitsch's emigration to Hollywood in 1922).

From 1928 to 1930 Sparkuhl worked for British International Pictures in London. He relocated to France in 1930 where he worked with Jean Renoir and Marc Allégret. In December 1931 he and his family finally emigrated to Hollywood. He soon signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and worked for them until 1945.

Sparkuhl's most famous films include Renoir's La Chienne (1931), the classic adventure film Beau Geste (1939) and the seminal film noir The Glass Key (1942). The distinctive low-key photography in the latter film and his two other early film noirs Among the Living (1941) and Street of Chance (1942) is a remarkable change from the traditional flat lighting of the typical Hollywood crime films of the 1930s (like the 1935 film version of The Glass Key). Film historians consider Sparkuhl's work in these three films to be a significant contribution to the development of the archetypical noir style and an indication of its debt to German Expressionism and French Poetic realism.

Under the Bridges

Under the Bridges (German: Unter den Brücken) is a 1946 German drama film directed by Helmut Käutner and starring Hannelore Schroth, Carl Raddatz and Gustav Knuth. The film was shot in Berlin during the summer of 1944, but was not released until after the defeat of Nazi Germany. It premiered in Locarno in September 1946, and wasn't released in Germany until 1950 when it was picked up for distribution by Gloria Film.The film uses poetic realism to portray the everyday lives and romances of two Havel boatmen.

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