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Modern European cinema and love examines the work of nine European directors working from the 1950s onwards whose films contain stories about and reflections on romantic love and marriage. The directors are: Ingmar Bergman, Alain Resnais, Michelangelo Antonioni, Agnès Varda, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer. There is also an opening chapter on Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. The book is informed by theories on love and marriage proposed by American philosopher Stanley Cavell. Two of Cavell’s main concepts, acknowledgment and remarriage, play key roles in the book. Cavell envisions, especially in his writings on cinema, a notion of marriage that is based on love and mutual equality between the members of a romantic couple. The argument of Modern European cinema and love is that some of the key filmmakers of European cinema after 1950 make themes of acknowledgment and remarriage central to their concerns. The book also engages in extended discussions of Leo Bersani’s writings on Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and others in terms of what Bersani calls connectedness. While the book is ultimately critical of Bersani’s theories, his work nevertheless allows the full scope of the material in Modern European cinema and love to achieve its aims.
This chapter focuses on Varda’s key fiction films up to Vagabond (1984): La Pointe Courte (1955), Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961), Le Bonheur (1964) and One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1978). Where Varda’s career begins with an advocacy of couples in love – in La Pointe Courte and Cléo from 5 to 7 – the conception of the couple takes an extraordinary turn in Le Bonheur: a husband betrays his wife, only to then ask her to consent to his affair. Varda’s film is not necessarily critical of the husband’s actions, but nor does it endorse those actions. Rather, a guiding ethos of Varda’s works is that of refraining from judgement. The chapter expands on distinctions, introduced in earlier chapters of the book, between what Stanley Cavell calls acknowledgment and what Leo Bersani describes as connectedness. The chapter argues that Varda’s earlier films frame acknowledgment in a positive way, but, as her career progresses, the films move more and more towards an outlook that endorses connectedness.
This chapter focuses on the films of Eric Rohmer while also staging a discussion between theories proposed by Leo Bersani, on the one hand, and Stanley Cavell, on the other. While Bersani (writing with Ulysse Dutoit) has characterised Rohmer’s films as offering modes of ‘non-discursive contact’ – what has been called, throughout this book, ‘connectedness’ – Cavell has, by contrast, offered an account of Rohmer’s A Tale of Winter (1992) from the perspective of what he calls ‘comedies of remarriage’. Cavell’s arguments demonstrate that Rohmer’s key characters pass through phases of ‘Cartesian madness’: they doubt their own existence, as well as the existence of the world and other people. These characters, also, for the most part, pass through madness and are then transformed or fulfilled in various ways; certainly this is the case for A Tale of Winter. Therefore, the chapter provides a final criticism of Bersani’s theories of ‘connectedness’ in which Bersani’s negative account of Cartesian ‘mastery’ in instead seen, from Cavell’s perspective, as a potential mode of self-fulfilment.
As was revealed in Chapter 2, Smiles of a Summer Night ends happily. Yet, such happy endings are not the case for many of Bergman’s most famous films: Summer with Monika (1953), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Persona (1966), The Passion of Anna (1970), Autumn Sonata (1978) and others. This chapter focuses closely on The Passion of Anna in order to detail some aspects of what had been described in previous chapters as ‘tragedies of remarriage’. The chapter’s arguments are guided to some degree by Stanley Cavell’s theorisations on these issues, where love is considered a ‘best case of acknowledgment’ while tragedy is considered as the consequence of a ‘failure of a best case of acknowledgment’. The chapter brings out issues pertaining to the latter in a discussion of Bergman’s film, while touching on a range of other of Bergman’s films along the way. The chapter also introduces some other reflections on love, most notably from Julia Kristeva (from her Tales of Love), Sigmund Freud, and Jacques Lacan (from his seminar on Transference).
This chapter focuses on Resnais’s Last Year in Marienbad (1961) by raising the possibility that this film can be considered a remarriage comedy. From this perspective, the woman (A) leaves her husband (M) at the end of the film in order to flee from the château with the man she met last year at Marienbad (X). The chapter offers a very close reading of the film. While this reading of the film could not be called definitive in any way, the chapter proposes it as a possible and convincing reading of the film. Besides being guided by Stanley Cavell’s notions of remarriage comedy, the chapter also discusses Marienbad in the light of Henrik Ibsen’s play, Rosmersholm, a key reference for the film. The chapter is also guided by Toril Moi’s Cavellian interpretation of Ibsen (in her book Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism).
While discussing Godard’s works in general, this chapter focuses most closely on four films: A Married Woman (1963), Passion (1982), Hail Mary (1984) and In Praise of Love (2000), while also offering some reflections on Prenom Carmen (1983). The guiding argument of the chapter is provided by the number two: love, for Godard, is a matter of ‘seeing the world as two’ rather than one. (Philosophically this idea of love comes from Alain Badiou, noting that Badiou’s reflections were to a large extent inspired by Godard’s In Praise of Love.) The chapter engages extensively with Leo Bersani’s (with Ulysse Dutoit) writings on Godard, especially on Passion. Bersani argues that Godard’s films offer what he calls a ‘new mode of relation’ based on connectedness and correspondences between humans and the world. The chapter turns Bersani’s observations in the direction of two key statements from Godard’s films of the early 1980s: ‘If I love you, that’s the end of you’ (from Prenom Carmen) and ‘One’s better as a pair’ (from Hail Mary). Ultimately, the chapter argues that Godard’s films show us a version of love that is always ‘over there’, elsewhere, just out of reach.
Fellini’s most important films make tales of love central – in I vitelloni (1953) or La strada (1954), all the way up to Ginger and Fred (1984). Fellini’s most remarkable disquisitions on love and marriage occur in the pair of films from the mid-1960s: 8½ (1963) and Juliet of the Spirits (1965). 8½ concludes, the chapter argues, on a note of reconciliation as the husband, Guido, appeals to his wife, Luisa, for forgiveness, and this married couple looks to the future with hope and positivity. The key concept that emerges in this chapter pertains to narcissism. Fellini’s male characters are typically narcissistic and controlling, especially when it comes to the women they (supposedly) love. The contours of narcissism are investigated in some detail with the conclusion that Fellini depicts the narcissism of men in love, but also that his films are critical of that narcissism. Typically, the path beyond narcissism can be found only if women are prepared to forgive men for their narcissism, as occurs most evidently, the chapter argues, in 8½.
This chapter examines a range of Antonioni’s films from the perspectives of the key female characters in those films. For these characters, the dominant conflict is between a quest for aloneness or isolation, on the one hand, and the search for love and companionship, on the other. This is typically the result of the woman’s having been treated badly by the man she loves, whether this be Claudia’s betrayal by Sandro in L’avventura, Giuliana’s difficulties with her husband, Ugo, and her lover, Corrado, in Red Desert, or – in the chapter’s key example – Lidia’s increasingly fraught relationship with her husband, Giovanni, in La notte. The chapter argues that the guiding mood of the endings of these films is positive. Antonioni’s films provide their female characters with the hope that their lives and loves will be rewarding and worthwhile, and that genuine love will be possible in this world.
This chapter examines Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film, Smiles of a Summer Night, in some detail. It is primarily guided by Stanley Cavell’s reflections on the film as made in a short essay published in 2005. Here, Cavell provides some key links between the Hollywood comedies of remarriage and a modern European film. The chapter then expands on these ideas by trying to fathom an answer to the questions what is love, and where does love come from? Broadly speaking, the answers given are that love is based on fantasy – the fantasy one person has of another – and that the origin of love is ‘deceptive’ meaning that love is not natural and cannot be proven. The chapter sets the ground for a range of issues that will subsequently be explored in the other chapters of this book.
The book’s opening chapter provides some key points of navigation. First of all, it refines distinctions between acknowledgment and connectedness, and between theories proposed by Stanley Cavell and Leo Bersani, set out in the Introduction. It then goes into more detail on comparing some aspects of the Hollywood tradition to the conditions of European cinema in the 1950s and 1960s. The chapter features a comparison between what Cavell calls a Hollywood ‘comedy of remarriage’, The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937), as well as providing a discussion of Cavell’s conception of remarriage. Alongside the Hollywood film, the chapter also examines a film by one of the European filmmakers featured later in the book, Contempt (Le mépris) (1963), directed by Jean-Luc Godard. These analyses allow the main themes of the book to be presented.