Oscar Movies: Monsieur Vincent (1948): Religious Biopic from France

In the entire history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, only a few foreign‑language movies have been nominated for the Best Picture.  Jean Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece, Grand Illusion competed for the 1937 top award, but that was before the creation of a distinct category for the Best Foreign-Language Picture.

In Monsieur Vincent, directed by Maurice Cloche, Pierre Fresnay stars as Vincent de Paul, a man who devoted himself to helping the poor in 17th century France and was later canonized.

This religious biopic is marked by a brilliant scenario from playwright Jean Anouilh and sharp cinematography from Claude Renoir.

Officially, the first winner in this category was La Strada in 1956, which helped established Federico Fellini as one of the most important European director.  Anthony Quinn, as Zampano, an itinerant strong man, and Giulietta Masina, as the young woman he buys and abuses as his clown and servant, gave memorable performances in a film that was also nominated for its Original Screenpplay (by Fellini and Tullio Pinelli).


Prior to the creation of a separate, legitimate category, the Academy recognized several foreign films with an Honorary Oscar, beginning with Vittorio De Sica’s neo-realistic movie Shoeshine, in 1947.


Academy leaderand board member Jean Hersholt held that “an international award, if properly and carefully administered, would promote a closer relationship between American film craftsmen and those of other countries.”  The citation for De Sica’s Shoeshine read: “The high quality of this motion picture, brought to eloquent life in a country scarred by war, is proof to the world that the creative spirit can triumph over adversity.”


The following pictures were singled out for Special Award before the foreign-language category was created:


1947                 Shoeshine (Italy)

1948                 Monsieur Vincent (France)

1949                 The Bicycle Thief (Italy)

1950                 The Walls of Malapaga (France-Italy)

1951                 Rashomon (Japan)

1952                 Forbidden Games (France)

1953                 No citation

1954                 Gate of Hell (Japan)

1955                 The Seven Samurai (Japan)


Most o of the honored films had received theatrical distribution in the U.S. and came from established national cinemas, such as the French, the Italian and the Japanese.  Some of them were nominated for and won Oscars in other fields, such as costume design (Gate of Hell).


More importantly, all the movies singled out by the Academy were directed by name filmmakers, such as Italian De Sica (Shoeshine and Bicycle Thief), Japanese Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, The Seven Samurai), fellow-Japanese Teinosuke Kinugasa (Gate of Hell), and French Rene Clement (Forbidden Games).