This essay traces the preponderance of French disaster films in the 1920s to a number of distinct but interconnected phenomena. First, the scenes of desolation featured in these films are examined in the context of the apocalyptic imagination pervading French culture in the wake of the First World War. Then, images of appropriation of Parisian city-streets and monuments (in particular, the Eiffel Tower) are shown to invoke a nostalgia for a pre-industrial era. Finally, these films are shown to exhibit a self-referential preoccupation with the decline of the French film industry after the war, their aesthetics of destruction functioning as a marker of prestige rather than of economic pre-eminence, whose loss was in some ways perceived as the greatest disaster of all.
On the eve of World War II and after the defeat of France, keepers of order, no matter what their ideological bent, were convinced of a connection between Marcel Carn's 1938 adaptation of Pierre Mac Orlan's Quai des brumes (1927) and the mood of the times. The unsavoury spectrum of masculinities made visible on-screen served dramatically to confirm national self-doubt. Attentive to the nexus of masculinity and national identity, critics then and now have overlooked the troubling transformation of the novel's female character, a prostitute, into an orphan in Carn's film and the shared feminine fate of survival. This article compares the female survivor of Mac Orlan's fantastique social to her counterpart as rendered by Carn in the hazy cinematic language of poetic realism. Ostensibly a refuge, femininity in Carn's film rather must be understood through the overt political charge of Mac Orlan's prior invention.
L'Homme du Niger/The Man from Niger (Jacques de Baroncelli, 1939) is one of the rare French films to situate the colonial theme in black Africa. As such it creates a link between the cinema's imaginary and anthropological history to establish an original reading of the colonial moment and its ideological effects during the 1930s. Colonialism and the colonialist project were designed and justified discursively through the opposition between the value of the white man's civilization (administration, technology, science and religion) and the inferiority of the diverse aboriginal communities and the black African who were incapable of reasonable behaviour or possessing an idea worth considering. In this process, their culture and history were denied or erased, their political and administrative structures judged inexistent, their behaviour simplistic and superstitious. The appropriation of space is one of the most effective forms of this colonialist construction. And in this film this is made most apparent by the way the images are organized in favour of representations of the construction of the dam, which is at the heart of the narrative and drives the characterization, and which is destined to concretize and give a lasting permanence to the colonizing practice.
Coeur de Lilas/Lilac (Litvak, 1932) exemplifies how film-music techniques familiar to the period's export cinema were reworked for the very different thematic demands of a crime film made for the French market. Coeur de Lilas exhibits the tight music-image synch familiar to German-made operettas, likewise generates a large part of its music track out of three or four songs, and it serves to market songs distributed also through radio, gramophone, sheet music, and public performance. As a home-market crime film, however, Coeur de Lilas differs in style and technique from the operetta in two ways: firstly, the presence of the figure of the realist chanteuse, whose relation with her audience typically entails a relatively static staging of the performance; and secondly, the anempathic treatment of pop music. These factors distinguish the music of Coeur de Lilas from the period's export cinema, notwithstanding the shared song-image synch and showcasing of commercial songs.
This article offers a fabric-centric reading of the Constructivist costumes created by Georges Annenkov for Max Ophls's 1950 film, La Ronde. Annenkov's signature garment is the corset, a paradoxical piece of apparel that invites a multiplicity of readings. As such, the corseted female body will be the focus of this analysis, in which the relationship between fabric, body and film will be unstitched in order to reveal the (gender) political significance of Annenkov's costume design.
In this article I want to examine two films starring Simone Signoret. My interest in them is twofold. First, the radical shifts from the original texts raise interesting questions in relation to the process of adaptation. In Thérèse Raquin the original Zola text is virtually reversed in meaning; in Les Diaboliques, the queerness seeps out despite a heterosexualizing of the original lesbian text. Second, this article will examine the interface between the star body and literary adaptations - how the star persona influences or, conversely, is straightjacketed by the deviation from the original literary text.
Godard's films of the 1960s actively engage with and challenge the tenets of realism theories put forward by Siegfried Kracauer and Andr Bazin. Montage, camera movements, staginess, playfully subversive soundtracks and disjointed narratives are used to problematize Kracauer and Bazin's concept of realism in film. Godard's films show that the long take can be as abstract as a montage sequence, that realistic locations do not enhance realism, that the idea that film is the result of a purely mechanical process is questionable at best, and that a spatial continuum is not essential to the filmic representation of events.
The Deleuzian reading of L'Anne dernire Marienbad proposed here draws less on what has become a virtually canonical concept in film studies Deleuze's time-image than on a much earlier work by the same author, Masochism, which treats sadism and masochism as qualitatively different symbolic universes. Resnais's film, with its deployment of mirrors and statuary and its suggestion of a contract between the characters A and X, presents striking resemblances to the world of masochism as described by Deleuze (drawing on the work of Theodor Reik). At the same time, the role of the third protagonist, M, like that of Robbe-Grillet who wrote the screenplay, has Sadean overtones, suggesting that it might be possible to read the film with its diegetic ambiguities as a Mbius strip linking the sadistic and the masochistic world not only with each other, but with the crystalline universe of the time-image.
This article starts by outlining the common co-ordinates of the identities constructed for Africa and Africans by French colonial imagery. It then goes on to explore the significance of key features of Sembne Ousmane's film La Noire de.../Black Girl (1966) in relation to identity formation. Thus the use of voice-over, interior locations, geometric relations, and the framing of shots are considered for the insights they give to the economics of identity formation in the post-Independence period. The article concludes by suggesting that La Noire de... attempts a dual critique which aims both to lay bare central structures of colonialism and to depict strategies of identity formation for the colonised which would allow black to evade domination and determination by white.
Two films made in 1970, Peau d'âne/Donkey Skin (Demy, 1970) and Tristana (Buñuel, 1970), illustrate the double star persona of Catherine Deneuve, both `soft' and `hard', and capable of adapting both to genre cinema and auteur cinema. They mark the end of Deneuve's rapid rise to stardom in the 1960s, and raise the issue of how her persona might develop at a time when sophisticated stars were less in favour. The article considers these issues in the context of her double persona, `soft' in Demy's film, and `hard' in Buñuel's.
This article examines the career of Jean-Pierre Melville, and argues that his impact upon French cinema has been neglected. First, it outlines the institutional and (non-) professional contexts of Melville's work in film, as an independent producer-director. Next, it considers the difficulties that Melville has presented to scholars and critics alike, in terms of his idiosyncratic historical placement within accounts of French cinema. Finally, the essay addresses Melville as a stylist, analysing not only the key aesthetic qualities of his films, but also how they relate to certain of his film-making contemporaries, in particular Robert Bresson. Working primarily from Melville's last completed film, Un Flic/Dirty Money (1972), this section traces out the director's ascetic approach to film style, focusing on Melville's use of colour, sound and performance.
The article proposes a rereading of Yves Boisset's Dupont Lajoie (1974), a film which although enjoying considerable commercial success, was largely rejected by critics as failing to fully explore the issues of French anti-Arab racism that lie at the heart of the narrative. The film will be analysed in the context of 1970s civic cinema (of which it forms a part) but also in relation to the emerging militant immigrant cinema of the same period. It will be argued that Boisset's treatment of racism is, in fact, more complex than has previously been acknowledged, particularly in relation to the function of stereotypes within the film.
It is well known that issues of playfulness, form and philosophy represent central concerns - even obsessions - within the oeuvre of Jean-Luc Godard. However, what remains to be fully appreciated in Godard's later work is the extremely dense and engaging way in which these questions interconnect within specific moments of text. Based on a general desire to further critical understanding of Godard's collaborations with Anne-Marie Miéville, this article aims to open up new approaches to their 1975 work Numéro deux via the notion of formal play. To do this, the article begins with a reading of the wordplay that opens Numéro deux; analysis is then conducted on the film's playful treatment of the filmic frame, which is variously bordered, transgressed and made mobile. This close reading is extended by reference to theoretical work on the filmic screen as frame/window by André Bazin, Jean Mitry and Jacques Aumont. The final section of the article goes on to argue that the `ludo-formal' aspects of Numéro deux - a potentially crucial point of reference for much of Godard's late work - raise an extremely rich set of philosophical ideas about what it is to be human in the spatial universe.
Isabelle Huppert's career has yet to be critically examined. This article begins an investigation of Huppert's work, and considers her performance in La Dentellière (Goretta, 1977) and La Pianiste (Haneke, 2001). The terms nude and Metteuse-en-Scène are used as an analytical framework. They reveal that in her earlier films, such as La Dentellière, Huppert became associated with passivity. The article suggests that in more recent films Huppert moves away from this passivity towards a more controlled performance. The article argues that in La Pianiste, the containing frame of Huppert's body is traversed, and that the hermeneutic seal of the nude is broken. Finally, the article questions to what extent Huppert's challenge to the objectification of the female body is successful and whether La Pianiste correlates with contemporaneous developments in the representation of female desire in French cinema.
Over the last two decades, French cinema has produced four outstanding female actors - Émmanuelle Béart, Juliette Binoche, Sandrine Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert - who all share common characteristics. In many of their performances they are neither conventional heroines nor, morally speaking, fallen women who redeem themselves, but figures in a quasi-genre that can be called the `free-fall movie'. This form of narrative stresses ontological descent and nausea and is close to Julie Kristeva's vision of abjection, which she elaborates in Powers of Horror. The form can be found in many other films of the period, but in the career trajectory of these four actors it creates a consistent pattern that enables us to speak of a perverse stardom in contemporary French film. The free-fall narrative is as indicative of their acting as it is of directorial vision, so that theories of authorship or genre are deficient in explaining the phenomenon. This essay tries to answer questions about the genesis of this narrative form and its prime focus, to which stardom is more central than authorship.
This essay examines one of the rare films made by a French director about French Guiana. Alain Maline's Jean Galmot aventurier (1990) provides an interesting example of a work of cinematography created in a post-colonial era about a colonial one, and of the possible tensions inherent in such a venture. The analysis of the film follows the apparent structure of the director's tripartite representation of Guiana as a clich-ridden colony, as a woman, and finally as a fragmented fetishized body. The film, in its portrayal of a French historical figure from a colonial era, highlights issues of post-colonial representation, an especially complicated matter, given today's status of Guiana as a French DOM-TOM.
This paper will consider recent developments in depictions of homosexuality in mainstream French cinema of the second half of the 1990s against, and as both reaction to and reflection of, a rapidly evolving social and political backdrop. Alongside contemporary political debates on gay rights, anti-discrimination laws and the PaCS, on-screen visibility of the gay community in France has developed from an apparent concentration on sexuality and sexual activity to a wider, more accessible consideration and depiction of gay issues within mainstream French culture and society. Focusing on four films (Josiane Balasko's Gazon maudit, Alain Berliner's Ma vie en rose, Valrie Lemercier's Le Derrire and Gabriel Aghion's Belle Maman), this article will examine, on the one hand, representation of such gay interest issues as gay parenting, the PaCS and questions of transgender and, on the other hand, the emergence of an apparent trend in recent French mainstream comedies to highlight, whether explicitly or implicitly, questions related to gender construction and gender identity.
This paper looks in detail at the representation of sexuality in the family in three films of the mid to late 1990s, Balasko's Gazon maudit, Berliner's Ma Vie en rose, and Giusti's Pourquoi pas moi? Its double focus is the changing structure of the French family at the end of the twentieth century, considered against key political developments such as the pacte civil de solidarit (PaCS) of November 1999, and the cinematic fantasies in which these structural changes are envisioned. Fable, fantasy or anti-realism mark the endings of Gazon maudit and Pourquoi pas moi?, while sequences of childhood fantasy punctuate the entire length of Ma Vie en rose. No particular theoretical approach to fantasy is preferred, but the conclusion of the paper is that cinema may be a privileged cultural vehicle for politically enabling fantasy, and that the three films discussed demonstrate this where the French family is concerned.
The interweaving of flesh and fabric are the focus of this article, which will explore the relationships between body, film and fashion in Jean-Paul Gaultier's costume design for Luc Besson's action/fantasy film Le Cinquime lment (1997). Gaultier's designs structure the text as a catwalk show, following fashion's hierarchy of the showpiece, haute couture and prt--porter. This article will consider Gaultier's showpieces, modelled by the characters Zorg (Gary Oldman) and Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), who function as techno-erotic and queer bodies respectively. Applying theoretical debates on abjection and drag initiated by Kristeva and Butler, an analysis of the interplay between body and clothing (particularly fabric and sexuality) will materialize. The impact of costume as an independent producer of meaning and its ensuing effects on how we sense the star bodies of Oldman and Tucker are then be [ad]dressed to illustrate how Gaultier unpicks the fabric of hegemony.
Claire Denis is one of the few major French contemporary filmmakers whose films to date represent an attempt to forefront the effects of colonialism and post-colonialism on the psyche of both the colonised and coloniser. Her films reflect the complexities of addressing these effects not least because there is no essential colonial or post-colonial body. Rather, in her work, she reveals the multiplicities of the colonial and post-colonial body. More precisely, it is through the colonial/post-colonial body that she explores the transcultural affair that colonialism was and still is. This article will first examine this notion of multiplicity and transculturalism. It will then proceed to analyse Denis' exploration, in its many different forms, of the ravages on the post-colonial-body-as-the-after-effects-of-colonialism. In this context the article will show how a major after effect - the erasure of memory - seems almost insurmountable and how the post-colonial body, therefore, seems ineluctably trapped within Western economies of desire and as such is closely aligned with death.
Agns Varda's Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000) was made by a film-maker with a history of engagement with political issues and a powerful aesthetic fascination. Reading the film in both the context of Varda's oeuvre and of its production during a period of political reawakening in France, this article suggests that despite its apparent disorder, Les Glaneurs is rigorously structured according to a principle of digression and return. This dialectic is mediated through the theme of gleaning, which serves as a bridge between the film's principal concerns: the requirements of survival and of artistic expression. Varda's technique recalls her previous films such as La Pointe Courte (1956) and Sans toit ni loi (1985) and it is in fact the autobiographical dimension of Les Glaneurs that constitutes its greatest digression from the project of social documentary. Crucially, Varda's visual curiosity allows the film to avoid didacticism or utopianism; it tacitly raises political questions but offers few answers. Les Glaneurs operates within the context of a new political cinema dissatisfied with the post-1968 narrative; however, it is not limited to a single discourse. Les Glaneurs is a plurivocal and broadly humanitarian subjective documentary and its over-riding principle is Varda herself.
La Captive (2000), Chantal Akerman's recent adaptation of Proust, is the last in a series of attempts to transfer Proust's notoriously intricate and complex fictional universe to the screen. Akerman chose to focus the most inward-looking of Proust's volumes: La Prisonnire's highly disturbing tale of obsessive love. The article examines the director's provocative approach to the adaptation of classic literature. Established in an uncertain present, and drawing on earlier cinematic models, the film sets a complex interplay of perceptions and feelings: gaze and image, absence and presence, object and desire, difference and possession. With La Captive, Proust's study of pathological jealousy and unfulfilled desire thus finds a specific resonance generated by the elusive nature of the cinematic image.
Franois Ozon's third full-length feature film, Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brlantes/Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000), was based on a text written by the German film-maker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, well known for his interest in melodrama in the films of the Hollywood director Douglas Sirk. Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brlantes also imitated Fassbinder's filmic style and borrowed from his visual motifs. This article argues that, far from being merely a post-modern exercise in style, Ozon's film makes an important contribution to current debates in contemporary French film-making concerning the role of genre in film-making. It traces the ways in which Ozon's film is linked to Fassbinder's subversive project and argues the case that Ozon's own film can be seen as an ethical intervention.
An ironic tension between nostalgia and digital technology permeates Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse and Les Triplettes de Belleville. Both films are political and critical: Varda denounces excess, waste and frivolous behaviour in the contemporary world, while Chomet expresses dissatisfaction with modernity in France. They both recall the past, but acknowledge the impossibility of indulging in nostalgia. Digital technology is foregrounded in both films, and allows Varda and Chomet to offer reflective manifestos, respectively for documentaries and cartoons, in which they highlight a reflection on the world order, on the medium of film, and on specific genres of films.
One of the main goals of Haneke's cinema is to explore the creative and interpretative potential of image, which requires dynamic interaction on the part of the spectator. The specific aspect of the image that is analysed in La Pianiste/The Pianist is its mnemonic power in relation to film genre. In this movie, the image preserves a hollow memory of film genre as a point of reference in order to hold back from its conventions, to invert them or turn its formal and semantic properties on end. The aim of this article is to show that the locus for provocation resides in those subversive connections the film shares with the genres of pornography and horror. The ambiguity conveyed by the image of the feminine figure of Erika acts as a destabilizing element in the spectator's reading of these genres. In her performance of sexual contestation, not only does she shed new light on images symptomatic of pornography and horror, but she also asserts her personal liberation from social norms.
A ma soeur - the title is a dedication, `for my sister' - is an attempt to give cinematic expression to sovereignty, after its writer and director, Catherine Breillat, had first pursued the task through poetry and prose. As such, the film's antecedents are literary, and also painterly, rather than cinematic, even if Breillat has made previous films that pursue similar goals. In A ma soeur Breillat takes up an established theme, the ambiguity of the face and the body, particularly as it is depicted in Magritte's painting Rape, and renders it cinematically. Like that of the painting, the thesis of Breillat's film is that while the face rapes the body, the body simply effaces. Sovereignty, which exists only in the instant, is realized only through this self-effacement.
This article examines the way in which Éloge de l'amour engages with the operations of history and memory, ultimately proposing a historicism that will be shown to be both melancholic and creative. Exploring the circulation and representation of phrases, objects and monuments in the film, I will argue that the film posits the past as the ultimate lost object: it is irretrievable, yet leaves time-altered traces that function like the fragmentary litanies of the melancholic patient, engraving and re-engraving both loss and preserved traces in the memory of the spectator. These subtle tracings in the film point to the fragility of our connection with the past as individuals; but the film's interweaving of individual stories with twentieth-century historical narratives marks the creative/melancholic relation to the past as symptomatic of the generation of collective memory, and ultimately the story/stories of history. I will conclude that Éloge de l'amour foregrounds the mnemonic function of film suggesting that like human memory, film stands at an ambivalent point between preservation and loss, between recollection and creation.
This article examines the ways in which some of the key insights of Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998) regarding the relations between film, history, thought and memory are taken up and used in the director's latest feature Éloge de l'amour (2001). Criticizing the commodification of history and memory by an American-led culture industry, Godard attempts to find a new way of filming history - or approaching history on film - that will preserve the alterity of the historical object. I discuss the ways in which the form of Éloge de l'amour - both its narrative structure and the composition of individual shots - takes its cue from this historical object (the past, the memory) which can only resist appropriation and settled interpretation. I suggest further that Godard's conception of love in this film - an unfulfilled promise that nevertheless haunts our memory and transforms our life - is in turn a response to this pervasive concern with the unfinished work of history.
With more than 3.7 million tickets sold in 2002, 8 femmes is prolific director Franois Ozon's greatest commercial success by far. The film centres on a murder enquiry among eight women snowbound in a rural mansion, one of whom is suspected of having murdered Marcel, the patriarch of the house. Yet, the plot is secondary, functioning simply as a launch pad for a series of high-camp performances among its cast, which includes Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant and Isabelle Huppert. Lesbian desires surface repeatedly, culminating in a now famous embrace between Deneuve and Ardant towards the film's closure. Each actor/character performs a musical vignette which covers French pop hits, including Dalida's Pour ne pas vivre seul. Moreover, the film fuses the kitsch universe of Agatha Christie-style whodunits with the sharp cynicism of The Women (George Cukor, 1939), the hyperbole of Douglas Sirk's Hollywood melodramas, the exuberance of Vincente Minnelli's musicals, and the experimentation of Die Bitteren Trnen de Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972). Consequently, the coalition of themes, performances and cinematographic and popular cultural references indexes a transnational archive invested with queer meaning by some viewing groups. By combining detailed analysis of 8 femmes and its inter/extra-textual allusions with a small-scale qualitative investigation of audience reactions, this article seeks to evaluate the importance of this textual queerness for the film's visual pleasure. Furthermore, it compares viewer responses with the film's critical reception, and considers the extent to which its use of parody and camp questions the view that 8 femmes is one of Ozon's most misogynist films to date.
This article discusses the representation of the discourse of monstrosity in Claire Denis's 2002 film Trouble Every Day. In reference to the western world's fixation on the figure of the monstrous, Meyda Yegenoglu states that It is as if in order to proclaim its humanity, the West needed to create its others as slaves and monsters. In Trouble Every Day the discourse of postcolonialism becomes entwined in the representation and physical embodiment of monstrosity and the abject body. Using the bodies of her actors, Denis explores how the post- and neo-colonial moment renders a presentation of the body trapped in this discourse of racism and inequality as tortured and tormented cybernetic in its blending of organic and inorganic entities.
When analysing films by women directors from Tunisia, the usual theoretical toolbox at the critic's disposal contains, for instance, postcolonial, feminist or transnational cinema studies. Although useful to start investigating the work of women who are at least bilingual and bicultural steeped in a Muslim culture and trained in a western one these frameworks fail to reflect the multi-fold resistance to authoritarian discourse (on either side of the Mediterranean) in which these directors are engaged. This article argues that their dissident moves find a more plausible explanation in Marcos Novak's notion of derailments.The directors use various tactics of derailment away from the cultures to which they are affiliated, to say what their Muslim culture will not frown upon, what their public can accept. Following the multiple derailments and detours at work in Nadia El Fani's Bedwin Hacker, this article shows how this film, as a work of cinematic transvergence, takes cinema from the familiar to the alien and back along a surprising nomadic path.
Over the past 2025 years, cinematic representations of homosexualities have become more numerous and diversified than ever. Key figures of an emerging French gay cinema, Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau have developed a rich and original body of work combining an interest in contemporary social issues with non-miserabilist depictions of gay characters/experiences and a lightness of tone reminiscent of the films of Jacques Demy. This article focuses on Olivier Ducastel and Martineau's least discussed work, the second film of their gay trilogy: the fake home movie/video diary Ma vraie vie Rouen/My True Story of My Life in Rouen (2003). Particular attention will be paid to the interaction between two distinct types of language: on the one hand, the alternative film language developed by this mock amateur film and, on the other hand, the young protagonist's own language usages which are inadequate for the expression of same-sex desires. I will also discuss the ways that the film language (developed thanks to the use of an obsessive and intrusive camcorder) partly succeeds in compensating for the protagonist's linguistic limitations.
This article examines the extent to which L'Esquive, the winner of four Csars in 2005, follows the recent traditions of beur and banlieue film-making in France, which, since the mid-1980s, have traced the particular histories of immigrant and marginalized populations that have otherwise largely gone underrepresented in French cinema (Tarr 2005). These films, as Carrie Tarr would put it, reframe difference in order to highlight the ways in which France's self-conception as a nation state sometimes occludes certain identifications articulated by marginalized individuals and groups. In so doing, many of these films call into question the French model of integration by highlighting the extent to which socio-political and ideological factors have a hand in marginalizing these individuals. While one observes in L'Esquive many of the hallmarks of other banlieue films before it, this film nevertheless sets itself apart in the way it reframes the relationship between high and popular culture through its explicit and very conscious use of language. By juxtaposing the eighteenth century playwright Marivaux's play Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard and the street slang of the Parisian banlieues, L'Esquive puts into question the very divide between high and low cultures. This article explores the implications of such a juxtaposition of different registers by taking into account both the film's production values (casting, budget, etc.) and the impact of its tremendous success at the Csars, as well as the way in which the film deftly deconstructs the much propagated stereotype of a necessarily violent banlieue. Through such sensitive and nuanced portrayal of banlieue life, L'Esquive goes a long way in laying bare some of the otherwise-hidden stakes of the French model of integration.
Wild Side takes up the sexual dynamics of the current climate of social authoritarianism instigated by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, whose continuing hard-line policy on immigration and sex work has airbrushed the extremism of Le Pen into a package of reforms pleasing to much middle-class France. Situating Lifshitz in the evolving genre of French Queer Cinema, I argue that Wild Side points to precarious material lives for those excluded from neo-liberal hegemony immigrants, sex workers and transgender communities.
French film-makers have long recognized the primordial importance to the nation's imagined community of the centralized public school system, which, since the early days of the Third Republic, has been viewed as a bulwark of Republican values. In this essay, I discuss the ways in which two recent films, Abdellatif Kechiche's L'Esquive/The Dodge (2004) and Laurent Cantet's Entre les murs/The Class (2008), interrogate the role French schools play in shaping national identity. Both films focus on language as a marker of difference as well as a point of tension, performance and potential subversion, by exploring the respective contrast between the aggressive street French of the respective films' adolescent protagonists with the stultifying bureaucratic discourse of the inflexible educational system (in Entre les murs) and Marivaux's elegant eighteenth century French (in L'Esquive). Accorded significant media attention for their portrayal of the experiences of school-aged youth, both films have thus contributed to the ongoing national debate about what it means to speak, and to be, French (Doran 2007: 498).
Luc Besson's Angel-A (2005), whose seemingly incompatible characters, genres and intertextual allusions reach reconciliation only in and by virtue of the space in which they are contained, foregrounds an eclecticism characteristic of twenty-first-century French films set in Paris. Like the film's heroes, Besson seeks to make the most of Paris by turning the city into the film's chief protagonist and the bridges of Paris, particularly the pont Alexandre III, into the film's key signifiers of passage, suspension and connection. The sheer extravagance of Besson's view of the city also provides the key to the film's generic identity, which recalls the screwball comedies of the 1930s and early 1940s. The visual and structural importance of Paris in Angel-A further serves to figure the metaphorical bridge that Besson creates between his own work and a number of other films, both classical and contemporary.
Critical and theoretical accounts of cinematic space to date have habitually privileged the visible spaces on the screen over the invisible spaces which lie beyond them. Nevertheless, a handful of film theorists, including Andr Bazin, Nol Burch, Pascal Bonitzer and Gilles Deleuze, have recognized the defining importance of these hidden spaces and attempted to analyse their dimensions, properties and potentialities. This article seeks to advance their projects through a reading of Michael Haneke's Cach/Hidden (2005), a film which re-maps off-screen space in ways that disturb and implicate its viewers. Cach is preoccupied, literally and metaphorically, with troubled, distorted or blinkered vision with the mechanisms of secrecy, amnesia and denial that prevent us from taking responsibility for the past and facing the present clear-sightedly. The article argues that Haneke's images produce meaning as much through what they conceal as through what they reveal, thereby exposing some of the blind spots that structure history, memory and spectatorship.
Michael Haneke's Cach/Hidden (2005) has generated a level of critical discussion that has quickly established the film as a defining work of early twenty-first century French cinema. Noticeably absent from this wealth of analysis is an examination of how Cach's formal experimentation with surveillance technology directly informs its treatment of the political and ethical issues of postcolonialism. Drawing from the practices of 1960s surveillance art, as well as the CCTV aesthetic of reality television, this article addresses this critical gap by focusing on how Cach's filmic apparatus captures the alienation of emotion from phenomenological experience. Cach presents an alternative to Foucault's visual economy of self-regulation (panopticisme) in that its protagonist Georges internalizes the disinterested and subject-less gaze of the ever-present camera rather than the interested gaze of the prison guard. This process results in a state of emotional indifference: Georges is an unmoved witness to traumatic events as well as his own history. In Cach, Haneke shows how this indifference helps produce the stratification and paranoia of a post-colonial society.
The article seeks to show, through a detailed examination of the historical context in which Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 was made, that various images of censorship served as historical cues orientating audiences' and critics' responses to the film. It is argued that the political orientation of the film is, however, confused. Questions are raised not only about the (perceived) politics of reading and spectatorship but also about the politics of criticism as such, and about critics' investment in the notion of identification.
In his first three feature films, La Faute à Voltaire/Blame it on Voltaire (2000), L'Esquive/Games of Love and Chance (2003) and La Graine et le mulet/Couscous (2007), Franco-Tunisian film-maker Abdellatif Kechiche underscores the critical importance of language and space in the daily practices of the communities represented in his films; scenes of everyday life rather than `events' structure the diegesis. This article examines the notion of the quotidian in Kechiche's cinema, an element that is present but unidentified as such in the existing critical literature on La Faute à Voltaire, L'Esquive and La Graine et le mulet. It highlights how space interacts with language creatively and ultimately transforms the way communities are represented. Drawing on theoretical works of Marc Augé and Michel de Certeau, the article suggests that Kechiche testifies to a poetic of a twenty-first-century quotidian that, despite conforming to a tradition of social realism in Maghrebi-French cinema, presents us with something radically innovative; by transforming the representation of spaces that are commonly featured as problematic, or of marginal interest, into central places of everyday practices, he eschews the trends that characterize a number of works by his predecessors.
This article argues that Catherine Breillat's recent Anatomie de l'enfer/Anatomy of Hell (2004) should be approached as a staunchly self-reflexive, humanist work which draws upon techniques of repulsion in order to generate new ways of seeing and of conceptualizing the body. Placing the film within the context of the new cinema of transgression, the author suggests that Breillat's chief objective is an enactment of the unwatchable that serves to liberate desire from its colonization by reductive forms of visuality such as pornography and spectacle.
Much writing on Chantal Akerman's cinema concurs that her aesthetics often present a marked conflict between the literal/indexical and symbolic registers. Assuming this stance as my point of departure, I expand on it with reference to a theory of exilic/displaced film-making largely based on the psychoanalysis of Julia Kristeva. The core of this framework rests on Kristeva's interpretation of melancholia and the parallels in psychic effect and symbolic capacity she draws between this and the uncanny strangeness of encountering foreignness: both witness the denial and/or reification of the linguistic signifier, and an increased reliance on semiotic as opposed to symbolic signification. Agreeing that such signifiance is also present in the indexical signification of the photograph or film frame, I assert that cinematic indexicality provides a necessary access to the construction of meaning for the displaced/depressed to whom the symbolic signification of language has become meaningless. Yet if displacement typically results in an overinvestment in visuality, it is also problematically accompanied by a rejection of vision: pointing, in Kristevan terms, to an ultimate unwillingness to enact the matricide necessary for signification. In this sense, News from Home enacts the desire to symbolize both the encounter with an Other reality (New York City) and the archaic loss of the maternal Thing (or the home that has come to represent it), whilst asserting the ultimate unrepresentability/unsignifyability of either. 30 years later, the attempted return to Israel explored in L-bas inverts the trajectory and provides an overt formulation of what News from Home had structurally and formally implied.
André Bazin's criticism is often associated with a fixed notion of cinematic realism, but an examination of his treatment of the themes of desire and death reveals a different notion of the real. Bazin argues for the intrinsic realism of cinema on two grounds: first, the ontological reality of the photographic trace as an objective record of the real; and second, the cinematic reproduction of the phenomenological conditions of perception of the real through the use of deep-focus photography and the long take. This realism of plenitude is, however, accompanied by an acute consciousness of loss and absence. For desire and death, as emblematic moments of absence and loss, constitute the paradoxical limits of cinematic representation for Bazin - both that which cannot be shown and that which nonetheless underlies all that is shown. Cinema's attempt to capture the presence of reality in time is undermined by its own temporal dimension, which means that every image is already an image of the past and that what has been captured is also irreversibly lost. Bazin's realism is then not a realism of presence at all, but a realism of absence, made visible through the relation between desire, death and time.
During this last decade a large number of testimonial films, dedicated to the survivors of the Shoah, have been prompted by the same urge: the revisionist and negationist schemes regarding the Holocaust and the vulnerable state of the aging eyewitness. Distancing themselves from monumental enterprises - like Steven Spielberg's Visual History Foundation - these works summon the elaboration of a specific testimonial pact that provides at once a space of transference between survivor and interviewer, and implies a special quality of listening and empathy. Such are among many others, La Mmoire est-elle soluble dans leau? Is Memory soluble into Water?(Najman, 1996) the brothers Cling's Hritage (1996), as well as Emmanuel Finkiel's triptych which includes the short Madame Jacques sur la CroisetteMadame Jacques on La Croisette (1995), the feature Voyages (1999), and the document Casting (2001). However, at stake in these various works is the deliberate attempt to probe differently the limits of documentary representation, to reaffirm the unremitting power of fiction, and to celebrate the transfiguration of the real through a personal, creative vision.
Considered today as a seminal and essential figure for an understanding of the implications of our visual culture, Chris Marker and his films have only recently received widespread critical attention. However, many aspects of his work in non-fiction still remain under-studied, most notably his complex reflections on the temporal nature of cinematic images and their (in)ability to recreate past events, aspects that are essential to Marker's understanding of cinema. Focusing on what is arguably his most important non-fiction film treating this theme, Sans soleil/Sunless (1982), and drawing on the work of thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze, this article examines the film-maker's ideas on time and cinematic representation, as well as the strategies used in the film to expose the profound range of philosophical meanings we have attached to film images over the last century. Central to Sans soleil is the space Marker terms The Zone, in which are found not only many of his insights into the possibility of using film as a valid document to access a contingent past, but also an original cinematic mechanism that attempts to restore to film images their own entity.
Although Agns Varda is recognized as an early avatar of feminist film-making, her 1965 film Le Bonheur remains a misunderstood work, frequently criticized for its ostensibly anti-feminist message. This essay excavates specific sources of imagery from French women's magazines that idealized the daily drudgery of the housewife and explains how Varda applied this imagery to her characters to challenge feminine ideals. This essay shows that Le Bonheur expands visually and thematically on two influential texts: Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963). As a director making feminist films in an unreceptive climate, Varda employed a sophisticated strategy of visual irony in Le Bonheur that disputes the film's narrative and conservative notions of domestic harmony. We can thus discern new depths in post-war feminism and appreciate Varda's contribution to a complex, trans-Atlantic dialogue about the structure of domestic life.
Agns Varda's latest documentary, Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse/Gleaners and I, was presented at the fifty-third International Festival at Cannes, in May 2000. Her points of departure are a word looked up in the Larousse dictionary (glaner), the reproduction of the canonical painting that illustrates the article (Les glaneuses by Jean-Franois Millet), and more importantly, her interest in the urban gleaners who live in her neighbourhood. Varda's original concern, respect and curiosity for those (extra)ordinary people who collect fruit and vegetables abandoned on the marketplace becomes a ludic road-documentary about different examples of gleaning, different types of gleaners. Two apparently disconnected narrative trends are woven into this film. On the one hand, as is often the case, Varda's poetic rverie on the pleasure and violence of gleaning is accompanied by a serious exploration of the resemblance between filming and her subject matter: this is a portrait of the artist as glaneuse. On the other hand, another visual story keeps proposing to the viewer a self-portrait of the artist as an old lady. I propose to explore the curious counterpoint between the two layers of self-portraits in order to verify the validity and the limits of Varda's self-reflexive cinematographic theories as they are tested by the documentary's internal interpretative grids.
This article presents an analysis of two films that take place almost entirely in an airport: Philippe Lioret's Tombs du ciel (1993) and Roch Stphanik's Stand-by (2000). Both films present us with characters who become semi-permanent inhabitants of this space rather than passengers transiting through it. This situation, it is argued, requires them to attempt to build an anthropological relationship to this space, an enterprise doomed to fail since the airport is one of those supermodern spaces that, according to Aug, supersede anthropological place and proliferate non-places. The analysis pays particular attention to these films' soundtracks, and interrogates this critical move in order to examine the link between sound and image in the cinema. Just as the films' protagonists are unable to bind themselves to the spaces in which they move, it is suggested, after Altman, that cinema sound cannot be unproblematically grafted on to the image to form a coherent whole. If the endeavours of the protagonists in these films result in pathologies, then, critical approaches that consider the soundtrack and image track as a unified audiovisual space may produce only critical pathologies.
In this article I examine two films by Patrice Leconte which, although they are very different in style and atmosphere, have much in common in the way they create fantasy worlds and put into question stereotypes about love, gender and sex. Under a light-hearted surface Leconte presents characters with deep subconscious motivations who illustrate a reversal of the traditional feminine and masculine roles and widen the range of heterosexual behaviours shown on the screen.
Commissioned by the American Office of War Information in both English- and French-language versions, A Salute to France/Salut la France (1944) are traditionally considered minor works of tangential importance to Renoir's career. Yet a close reading of the films' form and ideological content in relation to the director's wartime correspondence suggests that they deserve to be remembered for their clever blend of acted sequences with newsreel clips, as a turning point in the cross-cultural identity crisis that Renoir worked through while in Hollywood, and as a quintessential expression of his politically engaged, international humanism.