themes

Poetic Realism

Poetic Realism

Poetic realism was a cinematic style that emerged in France during the 1930s, the peak of that nation’s classic period of filmmaking. With its roots in realist literature, this movement combined working-class milieus and downbeat story lines with moody, proto-noir art direction and lighting to stylishly represent contemporary social conditions. Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko, with the iconic Jean Gabin as the titular antihero, is generally regarded as the start of this melancholic, often fatalistic brand of cinema, which in part reflected the ominous atmosphere of prewar France but also lent itself to the individual sensibilities of a wide range of brilliant directors, such as Jean Renoir (Grand Illusion, La bête humaine) and Marcel Carné (Le jour se lève), and set designers like Alexandre Trauner. Poetic realism is thought to have greatly influenced such later film movements as Italian neorealism, which was equally sympathetic to the proletariat, and the French new wave, which looked to these great masters who had retained their artistic freedom while working in the French film industry.