Well, after an unexpectedly long hiatus, the kamera.co.uk special issues are back, bringing our readers new perspectives on the state of national cinemas across the globe.

After our successful features on Japanese and Hong Kong cinema, our first special issue of 2005 travels to the land that gave us film noir, the nouvelle vague and the auteur theory – a place where Gauloises-smoking gangsters rub shoulders with femmes fatales and belles dames, and there’s enough artful inscrutability and existential angst on display to keep you on the psychiatrist’s couch till Doomsday.

We’re talking, of course, about France – a country where cinema continues to be a national obsession and a highly-respected artform. The contrast with the current commercially-driven state of British cinema is drastic and depressing, but the French have always had one major advantage when it comes to domestic cinema – no-one else (apart from the Canadians) makes French-language films, meaning that French directors have a ready-made audience already receptive to their work.

Having said that, France – like Britain and most other European nations – has an ongoing fascination with Hollywood filmmaking. It was the seminal French film journal, Cahiers du Cinéma, which first championed American directors as "auteurs", and the influence of American cinema on the direction of French filmmaking remains profound. Domestic critics have long lamented the death of French cinema, but despite difficulties with international release and government funding, the country is still producing directors and filmmakers of considerable talent – Cédric Kahn (Roberto Succo), Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine, Gothika), Gaspar Noé (Seul Contre Tous, Irréversible), Nicholas Philibert (Etre et Avoir), and Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), to name but a few.

In contrast to the largely male-dominated spheres of American, British and Asian cinema, a new generation of female French directors is also emerging – Agnès Jaoui (Le Goût des Autres), Marion Vernoux (Rien à faire). Laetitia Masson (A Vendre, Pourquoi (pas) le Brésil) are names to look out for, and the veteran Catherine Breillat (A ma soeur, Sex Is Comedy) is still producing new and provocative work. Like their male counterparts, French women filmmakers often choose to confront difficult, explicit and violent themes – Marina de Van’s recent Dans Ma Peau explored self-mutilation, while Claire Dénis’ graphic vampire film Trouble Every Day and Virginie Despentes’ hugely-controversial Baise-Moi prompted heated debate.

In our special issue this moth, we’ve got a highly subjective introduction to French cinema, retrospectives of notable French directors Luc Besson and Jean-Pierre Melville, and specially commissioned pieces on French animation and the theme of the occupation of France during WW2. As always, there’s too much to cover in one issue – but we hope there’s enough material here to keep you going for a few weeks to come.

Vive le cinéma français…