Film, le septième art, has long held a high status within French culture. It is worth incorporating in an A-level course for several reasons. First, it is one way of becoming more closely acquainted with French-speaking culture. Second, films are an excellent source of authentic listening material. Thirdly, students who are going on to study modern languages at university will feel better prepared for the study of film at that level. Finally, watching a film, although less intellectually daunting than reading a novel or play, can be a stimulating challenge.
A number of factors should be kept in mind when selecting films or directors to watch.
- Is the language of an appropriate level of challenge? Is the soundtrack clearly audible?
- Is the content appropriate for the age range of the students?
- Is the content of the film stimulating and worth studying?
- Are there support materials to help with the study of the film e.g. study notes from books or online?
- Is the teacher enthusiastic about the film?
- Is the film known to have worked successfully with other teachers and classes?
- Does the film allow for enough discussion of characters, themes and techniques?
Here are some examples of films and directors which have been successfully studied in recent years:
Berri: Jean de Florette, Manon des sources, Germinal, Lucie Aubrac
Truffaut: Les 400 coups, Jules et Jim, Le dernier métro, La nuit américaine
Barratier: Les choristes
Malle: Au revoir les enfants
Jeunet: Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Un long dimanche de fiançailles
Philibert: Etre et avoir
Cantet: Entre les murs
Polanski: Le pianiste
Carné: Le jour se lève
Clouzot: Les gages de la peur
Dahan: La vie en rose
How to teach the film(s)
In preparation for study the teacher may wish to take detailed notes including timings, scene changes, soundtrack themes and which characters are on screen. This will be invaluable for the students later on, since, unlike with a book, they cannot instantly locate a scene from the film.
I would advocate watching the film in its entirety with subtitles. At A-level most students find a film without subtitles too difficult to follow, therefore enjoyment is lost.
During the second watch in short sections there is a range of activities possible.
- Use still images as a basis for oral description and try to predict storyline
- Show the first scene - what came before?
- Video without sound or just listen with no visual.
- Tick boxes to check comprehension in target language while watching film.
- Play soundtrack & have a tick list for moods: joyeux/terrifiant/angoissant
- True/false comprehension tasks.
- Cut off final few frames for prediction.
- Re-ordering the plot for jigsaw reading.
- Who said what? – match the characters and the quotations. Also, who could have said what?
- Open dialogues – imagine the other character (e.g. dialogue on the telephone) or imagine what the people in the scene are thinking.
- Rewrite a scene from the film – how else could it have started or ended?
- Perform or write an imaginary interview with the director.
- Students do research on the director for a presentation or essay
- Watch interviews with the director and actors from Youtube, Dailymotion or the INA archive.
- Do listening gap fill tasks on sections of dialogue
- Do written gap fills on characters and themes
- Write a film review
- Find film reviews in French and produce worksheets with matching tasks
- Where relevant, students learn about the characteristics of the film school being studied (e.g. new wave)
- Students are provided with a cinema vocabulary glossary and explanation of film terms (e.g. close-up, freeze frame, dissolve, iris, long shot, zoom, panning, dolly)
- Encourage students to buy their own copy and other films by the same director
Preparing for assessment
For some examination boards at A-level assessment of film is an integral part of the examination. For AQA, for example, the most popular board for languages, the oral includes ten minutes devoted to discussion of two cultural topics, one of which may be the work of a film director. Questions are of a general nature and focus on the candidate’s personal reaction to the film, rather than a detailed knowledge of the film’s content.
The AQA A2 examination includes an essay which may be on the work of a director. Candidates are invited to write at least 250 words on questions of a general nature to do with characters, themes, film-making techniques, the director himself or herself and personal reactions. Subject content cannot be assessed, but marks are awarded for answering relevantly, coherently, developing content points, showing a good level of personal evaluation and using complex language accurately.
The WJEC board offers a prescribed list of directors under the rubric The World of Cinema with a choice of questions of a general nature, usually relating to characters and general themes.
The Edexcel board allows candidates to prepare a “research-based essay”. Titles in the examination are along the lines Examinez l’importance d’un personnage dans un film que vous avez étudié. There is no oral assessment of the film study.
The OCR examination board does not assess film in its written paper, but it is possible to present cinema for part of the oral examination. Teachers who wish to teach films in detail may choose to avoid the OCR.
The SQA (Scottish Higher) examination allows for “extended viewing” and suggests devoting up to 40 hours on this, with the ultimate aim to develop language skills generally. Any film studied is not formally assessed, however.
Students need plenty of practice for their written essays, so the teacher needs to instruct them on effective essay technique and how to play to the mark scheme. It is a good idea to do timed essays, either in class, or at home.
Students are undaunted by watching films and positively enjoy the process as film is such a commonplace part of their cultural life. The challenge for the teacher is to get them to watch critically, want to watch more French films and to enhance their future viewing of all films.