Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

February 1980


Published in The French Review, 53:3 (February 1980), 359-368. Copyright 1980 American Association of Teachers of French.
Used by permission.
The French Review is online at JSTOR:


Of the many forms of realia at the disposal of the French teacher, the feature film can be the most engaging and rewarding. Nothing holds students' attention quite like a movie or gives them as vivid an experience of France, short of going abroad. Moreover, movies can furnish glimpses of milieus and personalities the average tourist or student rarely encounters. Instructors have been quick to make use of this potential in the classroom. In literature courses the movie version of a play or novel is compared with the original text. In civilization classes films are used along with supplemental readings as historical documents. Recently French departments have added to the traditional literature sequence courses devoted entirely to film.

I will concentrate here on the wealth of information about French culture found in many feature movies, defining culture anthropologically as "the total way of life of a people, the social legacy the individual acquires from his group." The range of cultural data which can be implicit in a film, assuming it is set in contemporary times and handled in a more or less realistic fashion, can be divided into at least three levels. Consider first of all the facts about routine features of life which form a kind of background to the action-how people dress, what kind of housing they have, how they greet each other, etc. Secondly, a great deal of information about the functioning of social roles and institutions is equally apparent. Finally, the culture's value system will be brought into play as characters make choices and decide what kinds of behavior and feelings are appropriate in various circumstances.