- The Heritage film is the name given to a type of film encouraged by Minister of Culture Jack Lang that began in the 1980s and stretched into following decades. In some measure a return to the tradition de qualité, heritage films are characterized by high production values, by their foregrounding of French heritage properties and landscapes, and by their focus on privileged periods of French history. Many heritage films also feature great works of art or classical music or are adaptations of France's literary classics. Some critics consider the heritage film to be an extension or revision of earlier genres such as the period genre or film historique. What distinguishes heritage films from the other similar types of films, however, is that they are often inherently nostalgic. The past they create is often simultaneously glorified and mourned. Even in those cases where the presentation of the past is less straightforwardly nostalgic, there tends to be a glorification of the history of France, and the complications in presentation typically serve less to interrogate the past than to critique the present.The term was first used in English to describe a similar type of British film from approximately the same period. However, it was quickly applied to French film, where the terms cinéma de patrimoine or sometimes cinéma de terroirs is used. In both cases the source of anxiety about the past seen to provoke the heritage wave is the loss of empire and with it the sense of national glory that empire once conveyed.While opinions differ, Daniel Vigne's Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982) is sometimes cited as the first French heritage film. The choice is apt, since the film is based on a historical event that has passed into folklore, and the narrative deals with the return of the past into the narrative present. The heritage director par excellence is probably Claude Berri. His Jean de Florette (1986) and Manon des sources (1986), both remakes of works by Marcel Pagnol, are doubly nostalgic in their references to the classical era of French film and in their representation of France's rural past. His Gérminal (1993) is also an oft-cited example. Other heritage films include Patrice Chéreau's La Reine Margot (1994), Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Cyrano de Bergerac and Le Husard sur le toit (1995), and Edouard Molinaro's Beaumarchais, l'insolent (1996). All of these are literary adaptations or are based on the biographies of literary figures. Alain Corneau's Tous les matins du monde (1991) has been cited as the quintessential heritage film for its ability to combine costume drama, literary adaptation, and classical music into an inherently nostalgic piece.
Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins. 2007.
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