The history of such a country as France is of special difficulty in this respect as far as this country has a specific history which closely related to the social changes and cultural development in the whole world. Thus, to understand better the peculiarities of the formation of the modern France it is necessary to trace the development of its history from the earliest time till today. To do it as precise as possible, this paper will focus on the cultural developments that accompanied historical development of France and use the motion picture “Vatel” by Roland Joffe as one of the most reliable visual sources for this purpose.
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Thus, to begin with it is necessary to state that “Vatel” is the movie describing the events in France during the reign of Louis XIV who was the embodiment of the absolute monarchy for over 70 years in the 17th and 18th centuries. This period was one of the most glorious in the history of France due to the impulse it gave to arts and culture and to the particular customs and traditions that ruled the society during it, including the supreme and absolute power of the king and his ability to do everything without any control or fear of punishment, interest of the society in the material wealth and pleasure, etc. Louis XIV was the most powerful monarch that France ever seen and the film by Roland Joffe attempts to render the realities of his epoch as precise as possible (Vatel, 2000).
Thus, the film by Roland Joffe is a rather valuable source of information about the historical development of France and about one of its stages in particular. Consequently, almost every episode of this film is the reflection of the historical reality of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. However, the most impressive episode of the movie is the one depicting the arrival of the King to the estate of the Prince de Conde who went broke but was eager to make the King’s staying in his house unforgettable. Conde’s master of entertainment named Vatel is in charge of it and he does his work perfectly and the King leaves Conde’s estate impressed and willing to have Vatel as his own steward. In this episode of the movie it can be seen that the customs of the time were quite different from what modern France has nowadays. First of all, the monarchy is in the past and absolutism is the obsolete phenomenon for the French society.
Moreover, the clear traces of the transitions that France had to go through during its development can be seen in this episode of Joffe’s film. First of all, the absolute monarchy was not always typical of France, and there were times, for example in the Medieval period when kings of France, like Phillip II August, had less land in their possession than the most powerful nobles and barons. Furthermore, the French society, for example in the period of the Celtic rule was not as hedonistic as under Louis XIV. At the same time, the signs of the future transitions that France would have to face after Louis XIV are also seen in the film as people are already concerned with the unlimited power of a single person and first evidence of the coming Revolution can be observed in the thoughts and words by the film characters and Vatel in particular. Thus, the transition of the French society from one historical epoch to another one is evident in the film by Roland Joffe (Vatel, 2000).
However, there is a necessity to consider the earlier stages of the development of France. The first forms of statehood were established in France during the Celtic period when the Gauls rule this land until the appearance of Roman troops there. The Roman conquest of the territory of modern France was one of the most important stages in its history because it brought development to political, social and cultural life of the country. The arts, for instance, developed under Romans rather actively leaving huge amounts of literary works, masterpieces of visual arts and architecture belonging to the ancient style. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, barbarian tribes conquered France and the kingdom of Franks was established for the next four centuries during which, especially under the reign of Charles the Great, education and arts were on their rise (Ravise, 1994).
Nevertheless, the Medieval period did not bring much to France with its Gothic style in arts and severe religious traditions and customs imposed on the whole society. The first actually fruitful period of the French history was the Renaissance that lasted from 14th till the late 16th century. During this period the historical development of France was accompanied by the activities of such artists as Leonardo da Vinci invited to France by Francis I, Peter Paul Rubens, the protégé of Maria de Medici, and many others. This period was substituted by Baroque and Classicism (17th century) that were the reflections of the absolutism and power of France in the international arena. Architects Louis Le Vau and Charles Le Brun shaped the face of this epoch in France. Rococo and Neoclassicism were the next stages in the development of French culture and they, again, coincided with the historical epochs of transition from feudalism to the modern society. This epoch is represented by such painters as Antoine Watteau, Nicolas Lancret and François Boucher (Ravise, 1994).
Thus, then transition of the French society from the Ancien Régime to the modern state of its existence was demonstrated by the cultural changes in this country, but now it is necessary to consider the political side of the matter. To start with, Ancien Régime is the way of ruling established in France in the 15th century that lasted until the French Revolution brought drastic changes to it. The apparatus of state control was huge and was fed at the expense of ordinary citizens of the country. Moreover, the General States, French parliament of the time, was rather ineffective in domestic and foreign affairs because it consisted only of rich people who pursued their own interests while adopting or rejecting laws. The modern France on the contrary is a democratic republic concerned with the needs of its citizens at the first hand. This change can be explained by the love for freedom that the French people have always expressed. It was embodied in the Revolution of the late 18th century. Modern France is a powerful country in the political sense as well, but contrasted to the France of Ancien Régime it bases its power not on the military forces but on the international authority of its social and economic policies in regard of domestic and foreign problems (Knecht, 1996).
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To make a conclusion of the present essay, it is necessary to say that French history is a rather specific topic of consideration. Transitions of the French history from one epoch to another are reflected in the political and cultural changes that accompanied them. These changes, coinciding with the stages of the development of arts are rather important for the understanding of the roots and origins of the France of today. The film by Roland Joffe “Vatel” is a valuable source of information about one of the epochs in the French history and its usage allowed this paper to be more specific and focused on the topic, i. e. on the French history.
Ravise, Suzanne. Tableaux Culturels de la France. National Textbook Co., 3d edition, 1994.
Knecht, R.J. The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France. London: Fontana Press, 1996.
Vatel. Dir. Roland Joffe. With Gerard Depardieu, Umah Tuhrman. Miramax, 2000.