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.
In formulating a notion of filmic reality, this book offers a novel way of understanding our relationship with cinema. It argues that cinema need not be understood in terms of its capacities to refer to, reproduce or represent reality, but should be understood in terms of the kinds of realities it has the ability to create. The book investigates filmic reality by way of six key film theorists: André Bazin, Christian Metz, Stanley Cavell, Gilles Deleuze, Slavoj Žižek and Jacques Rancière. In doing so, it provides comprehensive introductions to each of these thinkers, while also debunking many myths and misconceptions about them. Along the way, a notion of filmic reality is formed that radically reconfigures our understanding of cinema.
The Introduction outlines the main themes of the book, based for the most part on notions of acknowledgment, love and remarriage taken from the philosophy of Stanley Cavell. It also discusses, at length, Leo Bersani’s theories pertaining to connectedness, and, to a large extent, the chapter is built around making a clear distinction between the notions of acknowledgment and connectedness. The Introduction is also framed by a key statement taken from French film scholar Geneviève Sellier. In her book on the French New Wave, Masculine Singular, Sellier at one point writes of Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 that ‘each person is constructed through the encounter with another’. Sellier’s statement is taken as something of a guiding thread for the 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.
This chapter proposes that Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939) offers some of the foundational themes that will later be taken up by the filmmakers discussed in the remainder of the book. The chapter especially engages with Stanley Cavell’s account of The Rules of the Game from the expanded edition of his book on The World Viewed (published in 1979). This chapter’s reading of the film especially focuses on the relationship between Christine and André, the former being the wife of Robert de la Chesnaye, and the latter being a romantic adventurer. Their relationship comes to an end when André is accidentally shot dead. This outcome, it is argued, is central to the film and exhibits what will be called, throughout the remainder of the book, a ‘tragedy of remarriage’. This is a way of making the point that, if this film had been a ‘comedy of remarriage’, Christine and André would have lived happily ever after. The Rules of the Game thus offers a key contrast with the American comedies of remarriage. Where the Hollywood film finds a happy ending, a European film finds no such thing.
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.
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).
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 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.