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Maurice Pialat and the New French Realism

October-December 2019

A two-part exploration of an uncompromising director and the impact he’s made on recent French cinema and its actors.

Maurice Pialat Season

Maurice Pialat (Part 1)

Often linked stylistically to Ken Loach and John Cassavetes, Maurice Pialat (1925-2003) made films that are direct and totally unsentimental. Every scene he shot contains an emotional truth that grips the viewer. Though in person Pialat was famously cantankerous and difficult, his films are deeply tender and extremely moving. The miracle is that he frequently worked with major stars – Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Dutronc, and his great personal discovery, Sandrine Bonnaire – and appealed to a wide audience while refusing to make any concessions to the box office. And his special brand of realism was a huge influence on a subsequent generation of French directors, such as Cédric Kahn and Cyril Collard. This is the first complete Pialat retrospective ever held in Britain, and will include a rare screening of his once ‘lost’ masterwork, La Maison des bois.

David Thompson

  • Pialat Shorts 2

    Pialat Shorts 2

    Pialat’s painterly documentaries explore Istanbul and the south of France.

  • L’Enfance nue

    L’Enfance nue

    Pialat’s moving first feature, about an orphan child searching for a family.

  • La Maison des bois

    La Maison des bois (Parts 1-3)

    A rare opportunity for you to enjoy this remarkable TV series by Pialat, about French rural life during WWI.

  • La Maison des bois

    La Maison des bois (Parts 4 & 5)

    A rare opportunity for you to enjoy this remarkable TV series by Pialat, about French rural life during WWI.

  • La Maison des bois

    La Maison des bois (Parts 6 & 7)

    A rare opportunity for you to enjoy this remarkable TV series by Pialat, about French rural life during WWI.

  • Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble

    Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble

    An emotional, autobiographical drama from Pialat about a tempestuous love affair.

  • La Gueule ouverte

    La Gueule ouverte

    Pialat’s uncompromising and unforgettable film about a death in a family.

  • Passe ton bac d’abord

    Passe ton bac d’abord

    Pialat’s tender and droll look at teenagers becoming adults in provincial France.

  • Loulou


    Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert star as unlikely lovers in this powerful drama.

  • À Nos amours

    À Nos amours

    Don’t miss Sandrine Bonnaire’s stunning debut as a promiscuous teenager in one of Pialat’s greatest films.

Maurice Pialat (Part 2)

Following the success of Loulou and À nos amours, Pialat received bigger budgets to direct four films on a grander scale, and was rewarded with major prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. Three of them starred the imposing figure of Gérard Depardieu, who was then at his peak and, in his unique combination of physical bulk and emotional tenderness, a kind of alter ego for the director. But even while Pialat appeared to make a police thriller, a literary adaptation and a biopic, all of these followed the uncompromising line of his earlier work, with a focus on emotional truth and a refusal to make the audience ever feel comfortable. His last film, with its fond portrayal of a little boy at the mercy of adult insecurities, harked back to his first (L’enfance nue) and brought the extraordinary career of one of France’s finest and most influential directors full circle.

David Thompson

  • Police


    Catherine Breillat provides an uncompromising screenplay for Pialat’s hard-edged crime thriller.

  • Sous le soleil de Satan

    Sous le soleil de Satan

    Gérard Depardieu joins Pialat again for an austere portrait of a priest seeking redemption for a murderess.

  • Van Gogh

    Van Gogh

    Regarded by many as the best cinematic portrait of the troubled artist, Pialat’s drama is dominated by an astonishing Jacques Dutronc.

  • Le Garçu

    Le Garçu

    Gérard Depardieu plays a wayward father seeking love in Pialat’s final film.

Sight & Sound Deep Focus: The New French Realism (Part 1)

The 1990s saw a new generation of young French filmmakers – accompanied by some older figures caught by the energy of the moment – kick against the dominant heritage cinema, and seize the artistic mantle back from the Cinéma du look filmmakers of the 80s to restore something of the personal, energised spirit of the New Wave. Their key influence, however, wasn’t Godard or Truffaut, but Pialat, whose pugnacious, raw realism chimed with the times. The new French realism also introduced exciting new actors such as Virginie Ledoyen, Mathieu Amalric and Élodie Bouchez, who helped make the time a vital one for French cinema.

James Bell

  • C’est la vie: Pialat’s legacy and the New French Realism

    C’est la vie: Pialat’s legacy and the New French Realism

    Pialat’s work inspired so many French directors and actors who broke through in the 1990s – join us to explore why.

  • No Fear, No Die

    No Fear, No Die

    Claire Denis sets her moody second feature amid the subterranean world of cockfighting.

  • Savage Nights

    Savage Nights

    A promiscuous bisexual man wrestles with the burden of living with HIV in this touching, autobiographical film.

  • Wild Reeds

    Wild Reeds

    In the summer of 1962 we follow a group of schoolfriends as they learn about love at the brink of adulthood.

  • Cold Water

    Cold Water

    Olivier Assayas’s 1970s-set breakthrough captures the heady emotions and passions of youth.

  • A Single Girl

    A Single Girl

    We follow 19-year-old Valérie during her shift in a luxury hotel as she’s at a turning point in her life.

  • My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument

    My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument

    Desplechin’s bravura ensemble drama is an intimate epic about the intertwined relationships of a group of 20-30-somethings.

  • La Vie de Jésus

    La Vie de Jésus

    Don’t miss this stark, exhilarating and bracing portrait of marginalised youth.

  • À la Place du coeur

    À la Place du coeur

    A 1998 French adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

Sight & Sound Deep Focus: The New French Realism (Part 2)

This second part of our season celebrating the exciting new talents who made the 1990s such vital years for French cinema spotlights three films in which the hard truths of life are laid bare, and it features breakout performances from a handful of actors who have gone on to become staples of French cinema, including Roschdy Zem, Grégoire Colin and Elodie Bouchez.

James Bell

  • The Dreamlife of Angels

    The Dreamlife of Angels

    Eric Zonca’s unvarnished portrait of street life has lost none of its edge.

  • Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die

    Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die

    Xavier Beauvois works behind and in front of the camera with his account of a man tumbling headfirst into a world of chaos.

  • Ponette


    An extraordinary study in loss, featuring a spellbinding turn by four-year-old Victoire Thivisol.

Read related Sight & Sound features:
Deep focus: Maurice Pialat – the man who changed French cinema
After Pialat: the young realists of 1990s French cinema

Want more?

See our Big Screen Classics screenings.

The French Film Festival is back from 7 to 15 November at Ciné Lumière, presenting the best and newest of French Cinema.

Institut Francais

With special thanks to:

Afridiziak Theatre


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