It was in France that the Lumière brothers invented cinematography, showing the first film on 28 December 1895. The movie industry in France was considered the most prominent in the world at the end of the 19th century and in the early part of the 20th century. This first film was called ‘L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat’.
There were four companies in France during this time that were making movies. The first was the Pathé Frères, who were competing with Gaumont Film Company, the Georges Méliës company and the aforementioned Lumière brothers. A number of top producers from this time went on to work in Hollywood. In 1907, the Gaumont studio was the world’s biggest movie studio.
In the wake of World War I the movie industry suffered in France because there was not a lot of investment in film. It was the same story throughout Europe and this allowed the studios in Hollywood to grow dramatically. In France a quota was introduced to try to curb the influence of American cinema in Europe and to boost French movie production. For every seven foreign movies released in France, one French movie had to be released also.
It was in 1931 that Marcel Pagnol produced the first film of his famous trilogy. ‘Marius’ was followed by ‘Fanny’ and ‘César’. His works are still being produced as movies today. Another famous French addition to the movie landscape was ‘La Grande Illusion’, made in 1937 by Jean Renoir, son of the even more famous French impressionist painter Pierre-August Renoir. He followed this in 1939 with La Règle du Jeu. Critics today still consider this to be one of the best films ever made thanks to the innovative techniques used but in a survey to find the best French film of the 20th century it was beaten by ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’ made by Marcel Carné. It was filmed with difficulty during WWII and finally released in 1945.