Yale French Department Hosts Conference on 'The French Fifties"

The 1950s in France were years of creative, intellectual, and political ferment. The recent past of the Nazi Occupation, the ongoing struggles for independence in Algeria and Indochina, the onset of the Cold War, and the promises and threats of Americanization created a climate which fostered vibrant intellectual and popular cultures. Brigitte Bardot was on the movie screens, while the filmmakers of the New Wave waited in the wings; Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were the reigning couple of Paris; American jazz players filled French nightclubs.

Yale University’s Department of French will explore some of the key artistic and intellectual movements of the 1950s at a conference on Friday, Sept. 12, and Saturday, Sept. 13, titled “The French Fifties: Film, Literature, History, Art History.” Unless otherwise noted, all events will take place in the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel Street. The conference is free and open to the public.

Keynote speaker will be film-maker Agnes Varda, who will give her talk on Sept. 12 at 4:30 p.m. A reception at the Yale Center for British Art will follow at 6 p.m. Called “the grandmother of the New Wave,” she made her first feature film, “La Pointe courte,” in 1954. Ms. Varda began her career as a still photographer, and her films reflect the photographer’s eye for visual detail. “Cleo de 5 a 7”, 1961, established her reputation, and “Vagabond”, 1985, earned her international critical acclaim. She wrote and directed all her films.

Highlights of Friday, Sept. 12

11 a.m. screening, “La Pointe courte,”, Agnes Varda, 1954, at the Whitney Humanities Center

1:30 p.m. Introductory Remarks, Susan Weiner

2 p.m. - 4 p.m., Questions of Periodization:

Anne Simonin, CNRS: “1815 en 1945: du bon usage de l’histoire de France”

Winifred Woodhull, UC San Diego: “Positions”

Serge Guilbaut, U British Columbia: “1955: The Year the Gaulois Fought the Cowboy”

Moderator: Vanessa Schwartz, American University

4:30 p.m., Keynote address, Agnes Varda

6:00 p.m., Reception at the Yale Center for British Art

Highlights of Saturday, Sept. 13

9:00 - 10:30 a.m., Thinking about Culture

Michael Kelly, Southampton University, UK: “Displacements: Barthes’ and Lefebvre’s Strategies of Cultural Criticism”

Michele Cone, NYU: “New Realism: Utopianism vs. Commercialism”

Tyler Stovall, UC Santa Cruz: “Algerian War Viewed by the Black American Expatriate Community”

Moderator: Ora Avni, Yale University

11:00 a.m.- 12:30 p.m., Nationalism and Decolonization

Eileen Julien, Indiana University: “Paris 1956: Cesaire, Fanon, and Wright on Culture and Decolonization”

Laurent Gervereau, Musee d’histoire contemporaine: “Montrer/Masquer la Guerre: Reflexions sur le contenu et l’impact des representations de la guerre d’Algerie”

Kristin Ross, NYU: “Whose 1950s? History, Ideology, and the Nostalgia of the Social Scientist”

Moderator: Christopher Miller, Yale University

2:00 - 4:00 p.m., France/USA

Richard Kuisel, SUNY Stony Brook: “Cinematic Rivals: France and America in the 1950s”

Ginette Vincendeau, University of Warwick: “Cinema”

Romy Golan, Yale University: “L’Eternel decoratif: Feminizing French Art in the 50s”

Moderator: Lynne Huffer, Yale University

Organized by Susan Weiner, assistant professor of French, the conference is made possible by the generous support of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325