If you’re a Francophile, or if you know a lover of French Cinema, picking up a copy of Le Cinema Francais this holiday season is a must. Le Cinema Francais is An Illustrated Guide to the Best of French Cinema and features 40 of the most beloved films from the 1950’s, the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) and modern day. The book is written and illustrated by the amazing illustrator Anne Keenan Higgins who I had the opportunity to interview back in 2017 and again following the publication of her latest book.
While I’ve only watched a few French films (despite my love of all things French), I was excited to explore the world of French cinema the moment I read the description of the first film in the book, Les Diaboliques. Higgins has not only illustrated scenes out of each of the 40 films described in the book, but also illustrated other elements from the films.
(For Les Diaboliques, Higgins illustrated different elements used in the supposed murder that takes place in the film.)
When were you first inspired to create a book dedicated to French Cinema?
The idea of a book dedicated to French Cinema was actually the concept of my publisher. Because of the style of my artwork they thought it would be a perfect fit and I agreed. I have always adored French Cinema and couldn’t wait to dive in.
Out of all the films you illustrated for the book, which film is your favorite?
Of course, it’s difficult to choose just one, so I’ll give you my top three: Elevator To The Gallows, Mon Oncle and Amélie. The first film is a fantastic thriller and the last two are delightful and very funny. Amélie is probably the most recognized film in the book and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t enjoyed it.
As you were creating the illustrations for the book, did you find yourself re-watching some of the films as you sketched?
I had already seen about half of the films in the book but when I started the project, I watched all of them at least twice. I would take screen shots of specific scenes, take notes and create very quick sketches. A few of the films took a bit more work to find key elements to highlight so there were several I had to watch about three times.
If you had to choose a particular character in a French film the most similar to yourself who would it be?
It’s difficult for me to find a character I’m most similar to but I would have loved to have been the precocious Zazie (Zazie in the Metro) when I was ten-years-old. The actress, Catherine Demongeot, who played Zazie must have had the time of her life.
What French director or actor/actress would you love to have a conversation with?
François Truffaut, who directed The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim, The Soft Skin and Stolen Kisses. He was one of the founders of the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) and published the French film magazine, Cahiers du Cinéma. I recommend all his films, especially The 400 Blows that is considered one the best French films of all time.
The 400 Blows
How did you decide which scene and/or characters to illustrate from each of the films in the book?
I created my initial list and watch each film chronologically. I would view the film all the way through, watch it again and take notes. After seeing the movie for the second time, certain key elements became obvious along with specific supporting actors.
Have you been to any of the locations where the films are set?
I have visited Paris so of course I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower and walked along the Champs-Élysées. After watching all the films in the book, it reminded me it’s been way too long since I’ve been to France.
For those who are new to the world of French Cinema, what would you say is the quintessential French film that they should start off with?
As I said earlier, The 400 Blows is an essential French New Wave film and as I write in the book, it remains fresh after almost 60 years and is a true treasure.
How do you feel is the best way to enjoy a French film? (ex. In a theater, with friends, curled up on the couch at home)
In my opinion, a theater is always the best way to enjoy a film but these days, it’s difficult to find French films in current movie theaters. I watched the majority of the films via Film Struck (streaming service) who are now in limbo but with fingers crossed, Criterion Collection will pick up where Film Struck left off and start a new streaming service next spring.
Elevator to the Gallows
Do you watch the films with English subtitles or in the original French language?
You’d think after watching over 40 films, I’d be fluent in French! However, I had to watch all of them with English subtitles. After a while, I did start to recognize several phrases and discovered funny mannerisms that I’ve only seen in French films.
I’ve so enjoyed both Fictionally Fabulous and now Le Cinema Francais. Do you have another book in the works?
Thank you so much. Both books were a labor of love and I am beyond thrilled to be a published illustrator/author. However, I’m putting potential books projects on hold to pursue other illustration opportunities. I just landed a fabric client and will have a new collection of designs out next fall.
All images included in this post were provided by Anne Keenan Higgins.