As the birthplace of cinema, film has played a major role in the culture of France, and many of the most important and influential motion pictures have been French films. Many of the most enduring images of the silent era come from French films, be it the pioneering work of the Brothers Lumière (audiences ducked at the sight of a train coming towards the screen) or the playful trickery of Georges Méliès (the moon getting shot in the eye).
Although a lack of funds hampered the French Film Industry after WWI, directors soon adapted to the medium of sound, and three of the undisputed greatest films ever made were completed by the end of WWII - La Grande Illusion, La Règle du jeu (both Renoir) and Les Enfant du Paradis (Carné).
In the 1950s the ingenious comedies of Jacques Tati, often shot with a minimum of dialogues, proved massively popular worldwide, before the French New Wave broke at the very end of the decade, with a number of bright, young auteurs, many of whom wrote for the iconic magazine Cahiers du cinéma, playing with the boundaries of cinema to create fresh, innovative works, with French films again setting the artistic agenda.
On an international stage French films flourished in the 1980s, with the slick, trendy cinema du look attracted younger audiences disenchanted with the decade of greed, with Diva, Betty Blue and Subway proving breakout hits. Period dramas also won widespread acclaim, with Cyrano de Bergerac and The Horseman on the Roof making Gerard Depardieu and Juliette Binoche household names. Many foreign filmmakers chose to make their films in France to take advantage of the artistic freedom the industry promotes - notable examples include the Argentinian Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) and the Polish Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose Three Colours Trilogy was declared the best film of all time in a recent MovieMail list.
France's cinema continues to push boundaries - some of the most controversial works of recent years - Baise-Moi, Trouble Every Day, the work of Catherine Breillat - have been made by French filmmakers, entering cinema's second century as one of the richest and most diverse in the world. Vive le cinéma francais!