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Published November 10, 2021 | public
Journal Article

French cinema vs the bomb: Atomic science and a war of images circa 1950


This article examines the struggle over the meaning of atomic science and nuclear power in mid-century French film culture, including popular and art cinema, newsreels, television, and industrial films produced by the French atomic energy commission. It considers the nuclear as a representational problem, rooted in the enduring iconicity of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the difficulty of making atomic science's value visible. Building on recent criticism of France's 'Trente glorieuses,' it focuses on the less-than-glorious image of nuclear power that filled French screens during the 1940s and 1950s, especially in two films released in 1950: René Clair's popular but largely forgotten, La beauté du diable, a Faust adaptation-cum-nuclear allegory, and Nicole Védrès's seldom-seen (but recently restored and re-released) La vie commence demain (the follow-up to her better-known Paris 1900 (1947)), which uses a who's who of French arts and letters—including Sartre, Gide, Prévert, Picasso, Le Corbusier and Jean Rostand, among others—to denounce nuclear weapons while imagining a future enlightened by peaceful atomic science.

Additional Information

© 2021 Taylor & Francis. Published online: 10 Nov 2021. The author wishes to thank Tom Rice and the anonymous reviewers for their generous feedback. No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Additional details

August 22, 2023
October 23, 2023