Electric Sheep founder Virginie Sélavy traces the development of Le Cinéma fantastique in a talk to introduce the forthcoming BFI film season ‘Fantastique: The Dream Worlds of French Cinema‘.
“What pleases is what is terrible, gentle, and poetic”
From the very first films by the Lumière brothers, French cinema has been perceived as tending towards the real; but there’s an alternative tradition that also stretches back to the dawn of cinema – that of the fantastique. It incorporates elements of fantasy, horror and science fiction into bizarre, atmospheric tales in which the unexplained and the supernatural intrude into reality. From the magical illusions of Georges Méliès, the fantastique flourished again during the German occupation, reached poetic heights in the films of Jean Cocteau and Georges Franju, found parallel expressions in Belgium, and was revitalised in the post-New Wave 1970s and beyond.
Taking in fairy tales, horror and science fiction, the marvellous and the strange, the dreamlike and the uncanny, Le Cinéma fantastique is a French filmic tradition ripe for rediscovery. In this talk, Virginie Sélavy will trace its development from Georges Méliès to Lucile Hadžihalilović, looking at the influence of Surrealism, the wartime golden age and the experiments of the 1970s, up to the present day.
Virginie Sélavy is the founder and editor of Electric Sheep, the online magazine for transgressive cinema. She was the co-director of the London branch of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies from January 2015 to December 2017. She has edited the collection of essays The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology, and has written about Jean Rollin, Michael Powell and Victorian London on film. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Sight & Sound, Cineaste and Monstrum. She regularly gives talks and runs courses on topics ranging from women exploitation directors to Surrealism and May 68. She is currently working on a book on Sado-Masochism in cinema.