Gaumont, founded in France in 1895 by Leon Gaumont, is the oldest surviving movie company, not only producing, exhibiting, and distributing films but preserving its own motion picture heritage as well. One genre that has been a constant over the company’s 110-year history is comedy—hardly surprising for a nation that has given the world both Molière and Voltaire. Throughout the years Gaumont has shaped the comedic genre by partnering with gifted writer-directors, giving them a platform to create substantial bodies of work that bring laughter to audience worldwide.
MoMA’s salute to French comedy à la Gaumont includes short works by pioneers such as Alice Guy Blaché, Émile Cohl, Jean Durand, and Louis Feuillade, and features by legendary directors like René Clair, Sacha Guitry, Yves Robert, and Francis Veber. Single works by such notable filmmakers as Jean-Jacques Annaud, Claude Autant-Lara, Michel Blanc, Jean-Luc Godard, Marcel Hazanavicius, Georges Lautner, Isabelle Mergault, Gérard Oury, Jean Vigo, and the American expatriate John Berry are also featured, running the gamut of comic expression. Many of the postwar films on view were produced by Alain Poiré, whose son, Jean-Marie, went on to make one of the most popular French comedies ever, Les Visiteurs. Since men tend to behave more foolishly than women in these films, the exhibition is rich with male comic performances, including standout turns by Daniel Auteuil, Bourvil, Bernard Blier, Gérard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere, Jean Dujardin, Louis de Funès, Jean Gabin, Pierre Richard, Jean Rochefort, Michel Simon, Lino Ventura, Jacques Villeret, and most surprisingly, the renowned singer Jacques Brel. All films are in French with English subtitles or intertitles, unless otherwise indicated.
French Comedy, Gaumont Style is organized by Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator of Film, and is made possible with the cooperation of Nicolas Seydoux, Chairman, Gaumont; Sidonie Dumas, Chief Executive Officer, Gaumont; Martine Offroy, President, Gaumont Archives; Manuela Padoan, Director General, Gaumont Archives; Agnes Bertola, head of Gaumont Silent Cinema; and Rosine Handelman, Vice-President, Gaumont. The Department of Film is grateful for loans made by The Criterion Collection, Miramax Films, and Music Box Films, and by the Archive du Film du Centre national de la cinematographie in France. Grateful acknowledgement to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.