Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Film Studies

First Advisor

Ungar, Steven

First Committee Member

Amad, Paula

Second Committee Member

Creekmur, Corey

Third Committee Member

Racevskis, Roland

Fourth Committee Member

Scullion, Rosemarie


This dissertation engages French-language films in the 'moraliste' tradition. The French word 'moraliste' has no exact English equivalent. It does not evoke the didactic sense of “moralist;” rather a 'moraliste' is someone who explores the inner workings of the mind, rather than the outer actions of a character. Beginning with the publication of Montaigne’s Essays in 1580, 'moralistes' including Descartes, La Rochefoucauld, Pascal, and La Bruyère created moral literature – literature concerned with personal reflections and the feelings of an individual over the dogma of good society. The emergence of film in the late nineteenth century provided a new medium for raising questions in the 'moraliste' tradition. Éric Rohmer, for example, described his Six Moral Tales as “films in which a particular feeling is analyzed and where even the characters themselves analyze their feelings and are very introspective. That’s what 'conte moral' (moral tale) means.”

I argue that the films of Bresson, Rohmer, and the Dardennes are narratively, thematically, and stylistically interrelated in their connection to the specifically French 'moraliste' tradition. I contend that these films surfaced in post-World War II France – growing out of the deep ambiguities that existed in French society in the aftermath of occupation and liberation – and continue to appear in the increasingly transnational landscape of contemporary European cinema. This new approach to film history offers a counterweight to the narrative of French New Wave cinema, which privileges the work of more explicitly political and experimental filmmakers such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard.


French Cinema, French Literature, Montaigne, Moralism and Ethics, Postwar France


xv, 329 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 323-329).


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Copyright © 2017 Leah Vonderheide