The 20th century was the most extreme in history in creation and destruction, but also in profound sociological and cultural upheavals. And the cinema has often shown these key moments in images. First period: 1890-1914.

Lost Films / L’Atelier Distribution

The idea is significantly different from the Top recommendations regularly posted online during confinement and beyond. Here, the selection of films also aims to develop a little historical perspective specific to the backdrop unfolded in the work, or even on its subject. What contextualize a little more films that deserve to be discovered, and which are, in some cases, authentic masterpieces.

We have divided our 20th century theme into several chapters. This first part concerns the period 1890-1914; one that could be called “La Belle Epoque”. An expression born elsewhere after that of the Great War of 14-18, to qualify an idealized period afterwards and carefree, in contrast to the butchery of the First World War. Even though often violent clashes, prejudices, racism, and even wars, were also present and the ordinary of many people …

Heroes or bastards (1980)

At the end of the second Boer War (1899-1902), which opposed the British Empire to the Boer republics (the Orange Free State and the South African Republic of the Transvaal), three Australian officers members of the unit Bushveldt riflemen (mounted infantry) are brought to court martial. When the captain of their unit is ambushed and killed by the Boers, these three soldiers, led by Lt. Harry “Breaker” Morant, seek revenge. Capturing a boer wearing the jacket of the deceased captain, he was immediately armed with reprisals. This murder and the disappearance of a German missionary led to the arrest of the three soldiers. Lord Kitchener, who commanded British troops in this war, hoped to end the Second Boer War with a peace conference. He therefore uses the trial of Lieutenant Morant and the other two to show his will to try his own soldiers firmly, having exceeded the rules of war. But the case is complicated because it is an indictment of murder by soldiers on active duty. And we only give one day to defense lawyer, Major Thompson, to prepare to save the lives of his clients …

Australia has revealed very great directors, like Peter Weir or George Miller, to name only the best known. In 1980, it was necessary to count on Bruce Beresford, with his extraordinary film Héros ou filopards. Because this work is one of the very rare, if not the only one, to be entirely devoted to the episode of the Boer War (a Dutch word which means “peasants”); a terrible war which remains largely unknown by the general public. Worn in particular by the formidable and late British comedian Edward Woodward in the guise of Lieutenant Morant, with a cast remaining 100% Australian, and a sumptuous photograph signed by the famous op ‘chief Donald McAlpine, this authentic story is considered to be one of the most unfair cases in the annals of the history of military justice. Today, Harry Morant has become a popular figure in Australia.

The film was cited at the Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1981. Actor Jack Thompson, who plays the lawyer, won the Best Actor Award in a supporting role at the Cannes festival in 1980, while the film competed for the Palme d’Or. The film also received 10 awards fromAustralian Film Institute, including that of Best Director for Bruce Beresford, that of Best Film and Best Screenplay. Heroes or bastards is a real rarity, moreover: to our knowledge, it has never been released on DVD (except in DVD zone 1) or even in Blu-ray with us. A very large film, historically fascinating moreover. The Boers were indeed the real inventors of guerrilla tactics in a conflict. Just as it is an opportunity to put an end to an idea received by the general public: the first concentration camps were not built by the Nazis, but by the British, to intern the Boer and indigenous civil populations.

Ragtime (1982)

At the beginning of the 20th century, a black man became a jazz pianist. He thus earns a good living and aspires to found a family. But shortly before his marriage, he was the victim of an injustice on the part of white men who did not accept to see him driving behind the wheel of his new car. Everyone around him urges him not to escalate the situation. But he cannot accept to have his rights violated and has a deep aspiration to have his rights recognized. After the death of his fiancée, a gear sets in motion …

If Milos Forman’s film is often criticized because it is considered too impersonal, Ragtime remains one of the most formidable films describing American society at the turn of the 20th century, notably by its acuity on the question of racial and class segregation. . While also evoking in filigree the birth of “Ragtime”, a musical genre born in the USA between 1890/1895, which became a major source of influence of Jazz. Adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s bestseller, Ragtime is a work powerfully staged by its director, who takes a lucid and sometimes cruel look at his new adopted country. A film which, more than once, looks like a monumental fresco, with the airs of It was once in America, which will however be two years later; up to the actress Elizabeth McGovern for that matter, which we find precisely in the two films. Bearer of an emotional charge capable of splitting the stones in two, thanks in particular to an overwhelming Howard E. Rollins Jr in the title role (and died at 46 years in 1996 …), Ragtime is also the ultimate contribution to the 7th art of an immense actor, James Cagney. We could hardly make a more beautiful epitaph. Painful commercial failure at its release, the film has fortunately been largely re-evaluated since. If you have never seen it, you know what you have to do.

Fantômas (1913-1914)

No, it will not be a question here of evoking the stainless (although …) saga multi-rebroadcast on TV led by the tandem Louis de Funès and Jean Marais. But the one created several decades ago; the work of Louis Feuillade. Despised in its time by the Letters and aesthetes of the 1920s, rehabilitated by the Surrealists in 1929, rediscovered and adopted by current generations of film buffs, Louis Feuillade (1873-1925) embodies popular cinema in its most noble essence of the term . First obscure screenwriter, discovered by Alice Guy and promoted, thanks to her, director of all Gaumont production, he illustrated with brilliance all cinematographic genres. And to deliver with Fantômas a police masterpiece.

Born under the pen of Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain in 1911, the criminal Fantômas gave the thrill at one time for 32 months, according to publications. The success of the draw is such that the duo even boasts of selling more books than the Bible. Underground haunts in hidden passages without forgetting its secret castles, Fantômas is under the eye of Louis Feuillade’s camera a magnificent criminal. Filled with moments of bravery, macabre poetry, a tremendous sense of rhythm and staging, this five-episode saga released between May 1913 and March 1914 is one of the crown jewels of the Gaumont firm. And still constitutes to this day one of the very rare – therefore precious – and exceptional historical testimonies of the Paris of the fortifications, from its suburbs to the prosecutions turned on the roofs of its Haussmanian buildings. True demystification of the order established at the time, which provoked the fury of censorship, the series of Phantoms nevertheless had an immense success in room. Very superior even to that of the serial novel. Fantômas, or the dreamed crossover between the marvelous popular and everyday realism.

The Tiger Brigades (2006)

We keep a certain consistency by staying in the Paris of the Belle Epoque with Les Brigades du Tigre by Jérôme Cornuau. The Tiger Brigades is none other than the adaptation of the famous series which was born in 1974 on Antenne 2. Created by Claude Desailly, this soap opera was a fascinating journey through time, in France at the beginning of the XXth century, through investigations inspectors Valentin (Jean-Claude Bouillon), Terrasson (Pierre Maguelon) and Pujol (Jean-Paul Tribout). If the series has been part of the French television heritage since its cessation in 1983, the music of its credits has also gone into posterity thanks to the theme of the piano composed by Claude Bolling.

In the feature film, it is Clovis Cornillac, Edouard Baer and Olivier Gourmet who lead the dance of these famous and authentic brigades, created by the Minister of the Interior Clemenceau, known as “Le Tigre”, in 1907. Twelve regional brigades of mobile police were set up. The stakes were high: to counter the violence and banditry that were bleeding France into its countryside. The mobilards had to be the elite and the pride of a national police force which adapted to its time. They were trained accordingly and received the most demanding training: mastery of different combat techniques, pistol shooting, savate, cane handling, nothing should escape them. They also benefited from the latest technologies in their methods of investigation and could count on the beginnings of forensic science. The results were commensurate with the resources allocated: at the beginning of 1909, the “Tiger Brigades” recorded 2,500 arrests on French territory, including the dismantling of the famous anarchist gang known as “Bonnot gang”, embodied by Jacques Gamblin in the film . Cornuau’s film is certainly not a masterpiece, but it is a completely entertaining and neat film, with a beating plot, ultimately respectful of the spirit of the original series. Very recommendable therefore.

Maurice (1987)

Maurice and Clive love each other with a chaste but passionate love. However, after the arrest for insulting the customs of their friend Risley, who was openly gay, Clive feared being compromised in good London society. He then renounces his forbidden love, and marries Anne … After the worldwide success of Chambre avec vue, James Ivory, the most British of American directors, again adapts a novel by the great writer E.M. Forster, Maurice. A novel that was only published posthumously, because of its scandalous subject.

Worn by a formidable Hugh Grant, years before the latter appeared in the eyes of the general public in the cult comedy Four marriages and a funeral, and who would also receive the prize for male interpretation at the Venice Festival in 1987; supported by a no less formidable James Wilby, this brilliant film by the future director of Howards End and the Vestiges of the day recounts the difficulty of living his homosexuality in the conformist, narrow and suffocating world of Edwardian England. The story takes place in a country and at a time when homosexuality was an offense punishable by prison, in virtue of a law of 1885. Oscar Wilde made it bitter experience in 1895 … It will take wait until 1967 and the Sexual Offenses Act so that homosexuality between men is partially decriminalized. And again, under very specific criteria, and only in England and Wales. “Maurice arrived at the right time. The film was released when the AIDS crisis exploded. And it could have been otherwise” remembers, years later, its director. “If he had left five years earlier, he would have been attacked. But people did not dare to do so in 1987. AIDS was too big a problem for many. The people who criticized him had to temper their “They were able to attack him on a moral level, but with restraint and discretion. We had a lot of supporters, and it was a relief for many people.” 33 years old, already, after its release, the strength of the film is still there, intact.

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