This dissertation provides an analysis of the politics of French cinema in the 1950s and 1960s from the socio-historical perspective of the Franco-Algerian War. By combining close visual analysis of the Left Bank Group’s cinema, discourse analysis of contemporaneous film theoretical debates, and archival research of images from the popular press, I demonstrate how the Franco-Algerian War played a key role in shaping the cinematic representation of French modernization. Although it has been widely assumed that France’s “police operation” in Algeria between 1954 and 1962 was absent from French
screens due to severe censorship restrictions, I explore how filmmakers including Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, and Chris Marker mobilize imagery and discourses unique to the war in order to critique the disciplinary nature of their own modern society. My dissertation challenges the dominant narrative of this influential period in film history as a monolithic New Wave movement reducible to the films of an inner-circle of auteurs and their writings in Cahiers du cinéma. I return to Positif’s under-theorized criticism to illuminate how film culture in France functioned as a heterogeneous field of
debate, in which political divisions were largely determined in relation to the question of colonialism’s relationship to modernization. The 1950s mark the flourishing of Les Trente Glorieuses in France, a period of economic acceleration, which contemporary media representation often cast in the ambience of science fiction. As the specificities of France’s “dirty war” in Algeria permeated the mainland, however, the frontier dividing the two became increasingly precarious. By placing the mise-en-scènes of the modern world – its museums, its department stores, its cultures of objects – in a
dialectical tension with images of policing, torture, and concentration camps, the Left Bank Group demonstrate how the horrors of the counter-insurgency in Algeria permeated everyday life in the metropole.