Updated: May 14, 2016 (Initial publication: Nov. 7, 2015)


Au coeur du droit, du cinéma et de la famille : la vie ("At the heart of Law, Cinema and Family: Life")

by Marie-Anne Frison-Roche

This working paper served as a basis for the preface of the book: Magalie Flores-Lonjou and Estelle Épinoux (ed.),  La famille au cinéma. Regards juridiques et esthétiques ("Family in Cinema. Legal and Aesthetic Perspectives")pref. Marie-Anne Frison-Roche, coll. "Droit et Cinéma", Éditions Mare et Martin, 2016.

Since the transmission of the text, this working paper has been updated many times. 

It contains links towards approximatively 90 movies which appears relevant to me for this topic. 


The world is so beautiful, rich and varied, days are so short as the knowledge we are asked to acquire in Law swells and blackens the stacked books on our desks. The time we spend watching movies is like diverted from study, wasted, just pleasure that legal seriousness will forgive the wise child who will quickly return to his Codes and collections of jurisprudence.

Venial sin.

Because finally one will say, does not the spirit of measure lead to the assumption that we may be a lawyer, we have the right like everyone else to distract ourselves, to go to the movies, to laugh, to shed a tear over the eternal kid watched by the eternal Charlot, to covet the ideal widower, even the ideal orphan, that is James Bond, to observe that The bride Wore black, before returning to his work ! You can claim to be a conscientious and diligent lawyer, but you still have the right to go to the movies, since it is everyone's art.

We then stop being this particular character who is "the lawyer" to be like everyone else, because we all see films or have seen them. There is admittedly a bit of a bad conscience sometimes, traces of which can be found in straightforward posts on social media. "Tonight I should have corrected copies, but I watched Star Wars, I like R2D2 too much ..."; “Come on, damn, I have to prepare my TD, but Kramer vs Kramer goes back to D8, it's a bit messy but I'm tempted…” and two hours later “And there you are, I succumbed, I watched , and now I have to get to work because on Tuesday I have to explain the 1985 Law ”. Law is so slow, professors believe they are exposing positive Law, while students hear a lesson in the history of Law, of dead law, since it bears dates prior to their birth. However, if we all went to the cinema, Law would be revived. But now, the cinema is for the lawyer only a delicious sin, going from Haribo to Saint-Honoré, if one evokes the melancholy contentment of following Sissi, now dressed all in black in Ludwig.

Law and arts are often the subject of scholarly comparisons, but the cinema is not targeted very much. Undoubtedly, it lacks nobility, the art of young peoples and adolescents, a distraction from people who are said to be “uneducated” since an academy has not yet adorned itself with it. How many times have we relayed the astonishment of seeing Cary Grant leave Yale Law School to star in motion pictures?

There would therefore be like communicating vessels: all the time we spend in the cinema would be wasted for our deepening of Law, just good at providing one or two sentences of embellishment in an introductory exercise because it is also in good taste to show that we are not “just a lawyer”. That we do not "just work". That we only think of “Law”. As proof, we have seen a recently released film. Phew, we can therefore escape the sad reputation of scribe that weighs on any lawyer who, in front of the appalled guests, reveals his profession.

But what if we stopped this quartering?




Carbonnier writes that we perceive what Law is when we see the cap of a gendarme!footnote-388. This is also true of the golden helmet of the mounted guard, which hums while expressing republican order. Carbonnier, who described the authority of the judiciary through the donkey carrying relics!footnote-390 would no doubt see with interest the release of the film L'Hermine which does not describe the manners of a pretty rodent in the countryside but the anguished life of 'a president of cour d'assise (French judicial court), the costume thus being equivalent to Title, in the full sense of the term.

Should the student who takes away his revision time to go see Fabrice Luchini in this role be criticized, or can he maintain that he is following the advice of a University which explains learnedly that Law should not not only learned in books but also in “real life”, how this student could have learned classical theater by going to see Alceste à bicyclette? He had loved so much as a child La belle équipe between Michel Polnareff and Victor Hugo.

Because, as Jean-Louis Trintignant affirmed with force, calm and passion, cinema is life. He told in Cannes about the film Amour, a title that only Haneke had the guts to take to offer it to this actor, just as Truffaut stole Trenet's kisses to drop them at Langlois's feet. Jean-Luc Godard explained that cinema is all about that: the love of life. Love, the only true law, which explains the title of an article in Carbonnier To each family, its right. Going to the movies means living several lives, with an eternity of 1h20. It is by looking at a painting of a Woman in gold, finding her aunt there through inheritance Law, facing museums before the Supreme Court of the United States. It is through the Big Eyes of the silent child at the table that the libel lawsuit between two spouses drawn up against each other takes place. It is not surprising that Deleuze liked everything at the same time, and Bergson in his restitution of movement!footnote-393 and of duration, and Leibniz, jurist, conceiving moments of eternity by the intensity of these, and the cinema, while saying that he would have liked to exercise the function of being a judge, not to strike but to, on a case-by-case basis, to know several lives, those that the parties, actors of the situations, would have told him.

We have long been told with many distinguished and precious theories that art is little, if at all, a reflection of nature, but cinema is life. It is opposed to “live shows”, such as theater or dance, in that it lacks the dialogue of emotion with those who watch. But in the same way that Law could one day take life as a raw object - in a revival of classical natural Law!footnote-391, as Economic Law did when, distinguishing itself from Business Law, it took economic life as direct object, as Family Law did when it came out of Carbonnier's pen, life is the direct object of cinema. Thus, before Guillaume was summoned to the cinema to sit down at the table with the boys, he did so many times at the theater. Genre cinema, could we point out.

Let us come back to life and come out of the classification rather like it. For example the living earth and that the cinema offers. This is why documentaries on the sea, again the sea, still the sea, the cinema going round in circles, we still need more: what's new? The sea, new than Molière. The seasons (Les saisons), what a beautiful subject for a film. The family, what banality and what a beautiful subject. We rarely talk about it in cinema. Thus, when Chantal Ackerman made a film about the "housewife", a film of little success but of reference for filmmakers, it was presented by her actress Delphine Seyrig as a "new film", because its subject was not had never been treated before.

Let us take again the couple, mysterious and favorite subject of Patrice Chéreau, who understood Gabrielle, took her out of Conrad's book and thus told the interior of families regulated by social conventions, who also told Intimacy, adorning the most beautiful blues of the executives that one would hasten to qualify as "sordid, who spoke of Son frère. Here again, through him the whole of society begins to live, no longer the history of Italy, but the drama of AIDS in France. Life is what cinema shows, it is in societies plagued by death, sadness and the spirit of seriousness, which can bring us together Cinema, a target of detestation by terrorists.

This is undoubtedly why the books which tell so little that they give a direct view of life, such as those by Flaubert, Céline or Proust, have only given rise to mediocre films, because certainly there also as in Law “seizure on seizure is not valid”. These prodigious authors are so exhausting, the writer has "tanned his skin on the table" so well!footnote-392 to put life even in the paper, a wonderful form of what the lawyer would call a "bearer title", that this cinema can no longer find anything to vampirize in order to make a film of it.

So let's see L’Hermine and if the Professor asks us if the judicial institutions and criminal procedure program has been well revised, let's answer without lying: Yes. Because we will have seen L'Hermine, A fish called Wanda, The verdict, Les prisoners de Satan, Section Spéciale, Witness for the Prosecution, La vérité, Devil's advocate, Class Action, A few good men, Une belle fille comme moi, Judgment at Nuremberg, Damages, Music Box, Presumed Innocent, The Caine Mutiny, The Paradine Case, Mutiny on the Bounty, Engrenage, Anatomy of a Murder, Au nom du Peuple Italien, L'inconnu dans la maison, To Kill a Mockingbird , Omar Killed Me, The Rite, Mississippi Burning, The Wrong Man, Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc, For Ellen, L'affaire Dominici, and all the others.




Lawyers, we have everything to learn from cinema. 

The genius of cinema is its wonderful porosity to everything. Let's not be difficult and let's dive in the brewing that cinema make with everything, including in Law. Méliès was not stop by anything and sent without hesitation rockets in the eyes of stars. An art without limits take everything and is fed with everything, Law will not be an exception. Tarantino elaborates masterpieces that everyone likes, the one who wants to spot hundreds of references in every sequence, knowledge accumulated when the director lived in the tapes rental shop that he had to rewind, like the one who want to relax and get out a life that we would find a routine life. 

Let's put aside the perspective of using cinema to promote some legal principles that we would like to be solid and shared, educative function, and let's rather think about our own education. 

If Law takes more and more care of concrete life and especially of the one of people living into society, in a more sociological conception of Law, and if cinema, without this necessarily being its goal, restore the society and bring us into a thousand of lives, then lawyers have something to learn there. 




If we especially study Family Law, can such words still be said?

Indeed, even if movies are special artworks, which tell special stories with special characters in a given setting and time, because an entire day when a woman is neglected is a Journée particulière, they are however apodictic, reproducing a type of situation, which does not escape to this Law of the story, shared with literature, making cinema and literature participate to the abstraction. Thus, when the movie states that Mon frère est fils uniqueit is about the entire Italian society that it talk. The French cinema does not escape neither to the abstraction, describing daily life  and Les choses de la vie between the wife and the mistress, thus going towards the documentary as Agnès Vardo does it very well glancing from there some res nullius and res derelictae, Agnès Varda who watching a so beautiful Jane that others love also, does it going until Law by Black Panthers, while Raymond Depardon reconstituted the daily life of expeditious justice. In the same way, the authors of Papa ou Maman wanted to show that in the so called "modern" couples where everyone want to "success", no one wants the "garde" of children, but we especially note that in cinema as in life we continue to say "garde" (that we can translate by custody), for children as for things and this despite the willingness of the Legislator to change customs by the expression "résidence principale" (that we can translate by "principal residence"). Every film is related to documentary type. This remind this sociological law according to which we do not reform customs by decree. 

Indeed, as Carbonnier showed it "à chacun sa famille, à chacun son droit ("to each its own family, to each its Law" our translation). But it is without any doubt for this that cinema cannot do anything except being clumsy because the way each family builds its Law, we do not know much. As long as the family is an harmonious group, that it works with an organization centered around only one (the father and its "powerfulness") or around the couple (the spouses and their "parental authority") in a  (ascending and descending) vertical system, or as a kind of an adjustment knot between individuals, there is little Law. The obligation is truly natural, because the affection is the motionless motor of the working and Law do not search the heart any more than the kidneys. A man linked by Amour to a woman does not need that Law tells him that he must help her. Their aged bodies still find themselves to do it. The law of love. When it is about transforming this in civil obligation, the smell of scorching is so present that the fire is already in the house, contentious has embraced the family, the family story is told to a judge, it is become a story of money, succession Law entering the scene. It is by the tilting in trial Law that family Law is perceivable at cinema, translating a reality: the legalized family is a family which most often  is not well, this legalization having taken the path of the juzridictionnalization of the family.  

It is so family Law in the state of war of which we will find traces in cinema. Towards which cinema should we go to find back family Law at rest? In Divorzio all'italianae, we measure the tension of a society in which the interdiction of divorce leads burlesque characters to scaffold the murder of its spouse escaping then to emprisonnent by the application of Criminal Law itself. To a peaceful family, would there be no Law? To the torments of the heart, no Law? To the one who look at him in the mirror when he has family problems repeating Antoine Doisnel, Antoine Doisnel, Antoine Doisnel, no Law, because Law has for him the only shape of jailhouse, while the adultery take the shape of a Japanese woman, even if Geneviève Tabard states that she is not an appearance, that she belongs to real life. We who admire the Fée Lilas so much, who did not refer to Legislators to explain the prohibition of incest that to convince better the princess to not thinking about her father anymore to keep for herself, as Antoine, we still doubt that these women like this are something else in life than appearances. 

Cinema can only restitute time. This could be the Law of past families, the one of the family of a Guépard who accompanied a society which change by the mariage of its hungry nephew with the so beautiful prey that he chose, or the one of the present families, for which the separation is as a wedding effect, composition and recomposition on a strategic mode built with some intolerable cruelty, even with Law of future families where the ideal spouse which furnish the perfectly appropriate affective service would be the sweet heart mechanical: Her, the contract with the machines being a question frequently studied in financial Law. The cinema describe us the financialization of family Law, because it is now possible to buy marriages and filiations.     

Family Law undergoes what was described as L’obsolescence de l’homme!footnote-434 (The obsolescence of Humankind). The ideal child becomes a robot, the one showed by Artificial Intelligence under the shape of the child who repeats Mother, I love you while Earth has long been swallowed up, the child who still loves  because he is just mechanical, the child being conceived only to satisfy the adult right to be loved by this small charming reproduction that is called "my child to me", the child alone, technology uniting with production factories to swallow family is a selfishness being Law, while the ideal spouse changes of hair color at the demand of the partner because he or she is itself juste a robot. It is true that in this movie the spouse is a prostitute, a marketed person, transforming itself to comply to the desire that we have of it. The so special love which shapes each family would be replaced by an interchangeable and industrialized movement of the other's personal desire, whose the scene of the Casanova of Fellini, dancing with a mechanical doll for mistress gave us atteste of it. But this is only cinema. Let's stop dispersing us, the practice of surrogacy is not spread, we do not make children to order, prostitution is not encouraged by pragmatic legislators, people are not reduced to be some human material for richer people. Let's return to our lawyer's work. 

We are always told that, to console lawyers to be so boring that Law is the school of imagination, as cinema is, place where everything is possible, where common Law is set by the true master of the place that is The cats returns, where the child Hugo Cabret goes back in time to celebrate this Uncle Georges, this so kind toys' seller which take part of our family and to which cinema owes so many things. Jacques Perrin described the powerfulness of family links in Le peuple singeIt is also him who loves a young lady which does not exist; but open your eyes, Maxence! she is already in the street next to you because she goes to look for her little brother Boubou, she hurries because she has to rehearse with her twin sister, who sneaks among the gendarmes who inquire about the murder of a so called Lola (Lola?, no that doesn't mean anything to me, by the way I'm off in Nantes) and help her mother who sells chips because she did not want to to bear a ridiculous surname: Madame Dame? Oh no, it was better to refuse to marry Michel Piccoli! Yet who would not have married him? Perhaps the law on common names between spouses should have been amended. Why not, after all ... It was in 1967. The law on the names of spouses will come later. Does not matter, the magic of love in cinema had triumphed well before that the competency meteriae loci of the new legislator swooped down on Rochefort.

In the cinema's imaginary, we find the powerfulness of family love. Thus, La vie est belle in concentration camps, yes because we can still protect the child in it. Family is like a film: a bubble where air can still be perfectly pure, even when it is fetid all around. Especially when it is. Uncle Fester is not the most loving of uncles, the beloved brother, the one who understand better Wednesday? When loved children are sent in summer camps where they have to do sport, eat healthy and watch Snow White, is it not the autonomy of the way to organize its family according to its Values, without letting society imposing its conception which is told to us? Because finally, as Morticia said face to the nurse: « épouser Fétide dans le dessein de le trucider et lui dérober ses biens, oui excellente initiative, mais mettre ces plantes vertes dans l’entrée, oh non, quelle déception … » ("marrying Fester in order to kill him and rob him its goods, yes excellent initiative, but put its plants in the entry, oh no, what a disappointment..." (our translation)).  

In the cinema imaginary, realities we are all the more assaulted as we are in true lie: the mother and the father save the child from the system of La servante écarlate (The Handmaid's Tale) through which the fertile young lady is kidnapped from her family to procreate for an infertile couple which has a good place in the society and to give them a child which it will be assumed that it is not her but the one of the ordering couple. It is just a film of science-fiction from 1990, a story to make people afraid, nothing serious. Let's return to our lawyer's work. 

To each film, its Law. To each film, its family. It is up to each of us to have fun, to admire, to applaud, to jump into the light, splendid and fragile bubble, to think for a moment.

Gentlemen Lawyers, go to the cinema!




Carbonnier, J., Préface of Gridel, J.-P., Le signe et le droit,


Carbonnier, J., Preface of Garapon, A., Essai sur le rituel judiciaire,


Deleuze, G., L'image-mouvement , Les Éditions de Minuit, 1983 ;  L'image-temps, les Éditions de Minuit, 1985. See also for example, about Jean-Luc Godard, 1976.


Baranès, W., in La justice, L’obligation impossible, series "Morales", Éditions Autrement, 1994 ; republication at Seuil, collection « Point », 1999 ; republication at Éditions Autrement in 2002 and 2009.


Definition by Céline of what is writing. 


Anders, G., L'obsolescence de l'homme.

your comment