De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté, Sur mes lèvres and De rouille et d’os
The body, and the boundaries that can be transgressed by and within it, are essential to the cinema of Jacques Audiard. His cinematographic focus on bodies is inherently connected with the experience of sensation, the expression of sexuality, the articulation of gender and the negotiation of disability. This chapter analyses the films De battre mon cœur s’est arrêté (2005), Sur mes lèvres (2001) and De rouille et d’os (2012). In each of these case studies, the primacy of the body extends from the cinematography to the narrative, with storylines centred on disability, creation, violence and sensation that place the physical body at the forefront of plot and aesthetics. The chapter begins with De battre, reading its masculinist portrayal of the body through the motif of the hands. It then analyses Sur mes lèvres, in which the protagonist’s deafness and lip-reading skills radically foreground her desiring gaze and reorient our own sensory perceptions. It concludes with De rouille et d’os, Audiard’s second film to feature a physically disabled female protagonist, in which double amputation becomes the unexpected site of sexual agency and transformation.
At its heart, Audiard’s cinema is defined by border-crossing in myriad forms: by the building of physical and symbolic walls, and the process of climbing – or dismantling – them. Audiard’s protagonists transgress geographic borders, physical limitations, social norms and class lines. Simultaneously violent yet intimate, dark yet hopeful, French yet ‘foreign’, grounded in an established film tradition and continually shrugging it off, these films are both informed by the heritage of French national cinemas and transcendent of it. This brief conclusion homes in on a key passage from Les Frères Sisters to reveal how Audiard and his films both occupy the metropolitan French cinematic space, and stretch far beyond it.
Bridget Jones’s journey from the ‘edge of reason’ to marriage and motherhood
Chapter 3 focuses on Bridget Jones’s ongoing search for ‘Mr Right’ as examined in three films released between 2001 and 2016: Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones’s Baby. This series of romantic comedies reveal how Bridget tries to find a sense of direction and meaning in her romantic/sexual life and careers in publishing and television. Bridget has uneasy relationships with serious (but trustworthy) Mark Darcy, charming (but unreliable) Daniel Cleaver and sincere (but slightly underwhelming) Jack Quant. The films therefore explore from a woman’s point of view how complicated and sometimes farcical a woman’s search for a suitable and satisfying partner might turn out to be. The movies engage with important issues around selfhood, dating conventions and achieving sexual fulfilment and job satisfaction in the modern age. The varied narrative strategies deployed in the films also find ways of alluding to dictatorships, creativity and criticism in British culture, same sex relationships and international diplomacy from comic perspectives. The impressive international success of the trilogy demonstrates that British singleton Bridget’s (mis)adventures (as enacted, somewhat ironically, by American star Renée Zellweger) have made an emotional connection with audiences around the world, making them fascinating and worthy subjects for sustained critical analysis and exploration.
Writers in British society and tales of their private lives and personal affairs
Chapter 2 explores the cycle of British biographical pictures from the 2000s which examined the creative writing lives and personal relationships of a varied set of authors By focusing on three films centring on the extreme (but not necessarily exceptional) situations experienced by Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), Sylvia Plath (1932–1963) and Iris Murdoch (1919–1999), I will consider how these authors are depicted living a life in exile after imprisonment for homosexual offences; seeking to be creative while coping with a partner’s adulterous behaviour and facing losing their memory and powers of reason after being struck down by a terrible illness (Alzheimer’s disease). The films offer powerful portrayals of individuals seeking love, sexual fulfilment and success in their chosen careers over a period in British social history spanning the 1890s to the 1990s, while having to deal with situations which lead to despair, debilitation and eventually death.
The notion of ‘French cinema’ as an inseparable, French-language product of ‘France’ is a powerful one, connected as much with the practical realities of French film production as with the influence of the cultural imaginary. This chapter reveals the challenge to such ideas posed by Audiard’s most recent films, the Tamil-language Dheepan (2015) and English-language Les Frères Sisters (2018). It begins with an analysis of Dheepan’s multilingual, transcultural portrayal of the Sri Lankan war zone and the Parisian banlieue as sites of eternal border-crossing and border contestation. It then moves on to the book’s final film analysis, Les Frères Sisters, in which the reinvention of the Western genre tradition collides with the reworking of the slippery notions of the national versus the transnational that define Audiard’s work.
The introduction lays out how this book, much as Audiard’s cinema itself, focuses on the motifs of the border and the body that crosses it. It covers some of the broader themes of Audiard’s border-crossing filmmaking, and his history of reworking the conventions of auteur and genre cinemas. It provides an overview of his career trajectory, and his screenwriting, editing, production and finally directing roles, as well as his collaborative working practices. The introduction situates Audiard at the intersection of a French cinematic heritage and international filmmaking contexts, before moving on to a presentation of the analysis chapters. These are entitled ‘Body’, ‘Society’ and ‘Globe’, and delve deeper into how Audiard’s eternal border-crossing manifests in, and defines, his films themselves.
Relationships and intimacy in British films of the 2000s
The introduction reflects on what it might mean to say ‘I love you’ to someone and on how love, desire and sex are linked in important ways, but are also quite separate in particular situations (as will be explored in the films discussed in the book). The concept of the ‘unlikely couple’ is introduced, alongside a felt need by some cultural commentators for new kinds of narratives about romance, courtship rituals and long-term relationships in British film-making, an area in which some observers have claimed British cinema in the past has not excelled. The chapter proceeds to offer a detailed breakdown and summary of the various chapters in the book and their particular areas of concern. The introduction highlights important questions about the films’ treatments of love, desire and sexuality, which will be subjected to detailed analysis and consideration in subsequent chapters.
This is the first book dedicated to the career and films of Jacques Audiard. It argues that the work of this prominent French director both reinforces and undermines the traditional concept of the auteur. The book traces Audiard’s career from his early screenwriting projects in the 1970s to his eight directed feature films. From a prison outside Paris to a war zone in Sri Lanka, from a marine park on the Côte d’Azur to the goldfields of the American Wild West, these films revolve around the movement of bodies. Fragile yet powerful, macho yet transgressive, each of these films portrays disabled, marginalised or otherwise non-normative bodies in constant states of crisis and transformation. This book uses the motif of border-crossing – both physical and symbolic – to explore how Audiard’s films construct and transcend boundaries of many forms. Its chapters focus on his films’ representation of the physical body, French society and broader transnational contexts. Located somewhere between the arthouse and the B movie, the French and the transnational, the feminist and the patriarchal, the familiar and the new, this book reveals how Jacques Audiard’s characters and films reflect his own eternally shifting position, both within and beyond the imaginary of French cinema.
Chapter 4 primarily focuses on a number of British films from the 2000s which emphasised the life of the body rather than the mind, privileging the sexual over the cerebral and favouring explicitness over implicitness. These were films continuing some of the ‘low comedy’ traditions developed in the Carry On series and sexploitation films of the 1970s (which will be discussed in the opening section of the chapter). Films with titles such as Sex Lives of the Potato Men and Dogging – a Love Story were clearly meant to be provocative and controversial in certain ways, and the chapter will consider how they use comedic strategies to present characters’ sexual desires in a new and occasionally lurid light. Michael Winterbottom’s The Look of Love sought to investigate how Paul Raymond helped to bring about significant changes in the sexual culture of post-war Britain, particularly around the ‘male gaze’ of female nudity. 9 Songs aimed to continue that process by featuring a male and female actor having real sex on screen in a feature-length narrative aimed at general exhibition in cinemas. This latter film is compared and contrasted with On Chesil Beach, which details how a couple’s sexual inexperience and incompatibility leads to their separating for ever after their first night as husband and wife. The films in this chapter therefore offer a unique and stimulating look at sexual matters in a British cultural and cinematic context from distinctive and imaginative viewpoints.