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This book aims to provoke increased interest in the work of the four directors: Dominique Cabrera, Noémie Lvovsky, Laetitia Masson and Marion Vernoux, although some of their early works have become more difficult to access, most of their films remain commercially available through French distributors. The four directors are not new arrivals and began making films in the early 1990s, yet they have received scant critical attention in both popular and academic film criticism. They share similar profiles in terms of box office success, number of films made and generational affinities and, shorts and feature films in France. They make films that straddle boundaries of categorisation and therefore escape the quickly established and self-perpetuating groupings that serve as powerful frameworks for popular access via DVD distribution, critical canonisation and academic curricula. Whilst Cabrera attests her sanguine awareness of the discriminatory treatment of women in all areas of the film industry she rejects the suggestion that the process of her filmmaking is determined by sexual difference or a gendered creative identity, asserting provocatively. The book discusses Masson's use of romance and detective narratives to debunk the former and subvert the later. The career path of Lvovsky remains distinctive from that of other directors. Vernoux's oeuvre maintains a coherent focus on the modes of transgression present within the generic conventions of comedy and romance in films which exploit the common narrative device of the encounter to propel narratives and characters across social boundaries within a dominant generic focus on romantic comedy.
This chapter constitutes a set of serial negotiations between shared contexts (discourses of auteurism, gender, genre and the political) and focuses on the individual specificities of the respective oeuvres of Dominique Cabrera, Noémie Lvovsky, Laetitia Masson and Marion Vernoux. The auteurist approach, which has long enjoyed a privileged position in Film Studies generally, and in the history of French cinema in particular, asserts the director, as auteur, as the 'unifying principle in the production, interpretation and reception of an artwork'. The evocation of patterns based on repetition, recognition and innovation immediately recalls the function of cinematic genre and its central role in configurations both of the auteur and of gendered cultural production and reception. The conventional distinction between auteur and genre-led production is embedded in the projected opposition between popular cinema and auteur cinema.
This chapter begins with a discussion of Dominique Cabrera's first short film L'Air d'aimer, made in 1985. The central cumulative elements of Cabrera's documentary film making reach a self-reflexive peak in her autobiographical film made in 1997. Demain et encore demain continues a search for a notion of collective happiness, interrogates the links between the personal and the political and explores further the ethics of the documentary process through the adoption of the first-person form. Documentary aesthetics and a continuing interest in the relationship between place and identity inform Cabrera's first feature-length fiction film L'Autre côté de la mer. A series of films that she made on the impact of changes to the physical urban environment provide further evidence of the centrality in all her work of an insistence upon the recognition of the social as personal to all and the importance of a projected bonheur collectif or collective happiness.
This chapter suggests that although Noémie Lvovsky's films seem to develop from early social engagement to a focus on mainstream comedy these later films should, nonetheless, be read in relation to wider socio-political discourses. The main characteristics of Lvovsky's first feature film are clearly anticipated in her short Dis-moi oui, dis-moi non, which formed part of her FEMIS graduation work and was released, to critical success, in 1989. Lvovsky's first feature film, Oublie-moi returns to these central preoccupations, in which the paralysing fear of decision articulated in Dis-moi oui, dis-moi non through the static camera, long takes and close framing continues. The box office success of Les Sentiments triggered a marked change in Lvovsky's profile that can be linked to the film's clear generic framework (dramatic comedy), an (over)familiar narrative and stellar ensemble cast.
Having established its presence through a series of critically acclaimed short films, Laetitia Masson's work has been characterised by the complexity of its narratives and characters and the provision of outstanding roles for Sandrine Kiberlain in En avoir (ou pas) , A vendre and Love Me. Je suis venue te dire offers an autofictional twist as a close-up of Kiberlain reading is accompanied by the voiceover recounting the couple's shared dream of finding someone who could incarnate the characters of their stories and mentions 'the giraffe', an image that Alice uses to describe herself in En avoir (ou pas) . This tentative construction of links between interdiegetic and extra-textual identities is pursued in Masson's next film through its extended engagement with star identity as a mode that entails the blurring of such categories.
Marion Vernoux's family background triggered a fascination with performance and mise en scène that was not dependent initially on the medium of film. The performative nature of identity and desire and a decisively pernicious mismatch between fantasy and reality are expanded in Vernoux's film which provides a re-examination of a classic trope of romantic discourse, that of the couple who overcome socio-cultural barriers or taboos to be together. Rien à faire centres on a couple from different socio-economic backgrounds who meet and embark on an affair as an indirect consequence of their shared joblessness. From the emphatic sisterhood of the end of Personne ne m'aime to the hesitant neighbourliness and class solidarity of the closing scene of Rien à faire, these films use popular genre to explore the precariousness of relationships between the individual and the collective, between self and other.
Jacques Audiard's work reflects several of the dominant preoccupations of contemporary French cinema, such as an engagement with realism (the phenomenon of the 'new new wave') and the interrogation of the construction of (cultural) memory. This chapter discusses four Audiard's films which were some of the most engaging and enduring films of the late 1990s and early 2000s in France. His Regarde les hommes tomber, Un héros très discret and Sur mes lèvres, received critical recognition, yet he is often absent from canon-forming lists of contemporary French directors. This will change to reflect the critical and popular acclaim afforded to his most recent work to date, De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté. The chapter discusses the question of filiation as one which concerns the thematic focus of Audiard's films, narrative choices, generic adoptions and subversions. Yet his films may appear realist in style, subject matter and mise en scène yet.