The great American film critic Manny Farber memorably declared space to be the most dramatic stylistic entity in the visual arts. He posited three primary types of space in fiction cinema: the field of the screen, the psychological space of the actor, and the area of experience and geography that the film covers. This book brings together five French directors who have established themselves as among the most exciting and significant working today: Bruno Dumont, Robert Guediguian, Laurent Cantet, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Claire Denis. It proposes that people think about cinematographic space in its many different forms simultaneously (screenspace, landscape, narrative space, soundscape, spectatorial space). Through a series of close and original readings of selected films, it posits a new 'space of the cinematic subject'. Dumont's attraction to real settings and locality suggests a commitment to realism. New forms and surfaces of spectatorship provoke new sensations and engender new kinds of perception, as well as new ways of understanding and feeling space. The book interrogates Guediguian's obsessive portrayal of one particular city, Marseilles. Entering into the spaces of work and non-work in Cantet's films, it asks what constitutes space and place within the contemporary field of social relations. The book also engages with cultural space as the site of social integration and metissage in the work of Kechiche, his dialogues with diasporic communities and highly contested urban locales. Denis's film work contains continually shifting points of passage between inside and outside, objective and subjective, in the restless flux.
Jean Cocteau, the first French writer to take cinema seriously, was as old and young as cinema itself; he made his first film in 1925 and completed his last film when he was 70. This book first deals with the issue of the type of film maker that Cocteau was: as a auteur, as a collaborator, as an experimenter, and as a theorist. It takes the pulse of Cocteau's cinema by examining in detail his ground-breaking first film Le Sang d'un poète', and argues that the film offers a vision of the potential of film for Cocteau. The book traces the evolution of realism and fantasy in Cocteau's work by introducing a main element, theatre, and assesses the full gamut of Cocteau's formal inclinations: from the legend and fantasy of L'Eternel retour to the spectacular fairytale of La Belle et la bête; from the 'film théâtral' of L'Aigle à deux têtes to the domestic melodrama Les Parents terribles which 'detheatricalises' his original play. In Le Testament d'Orphée, all the various formal tendencies of Cocteau's cinema come together but with the additional element of time conceived of as history, and the book re-evaluates the general claim of Cocteau's apparently missed encounter with history. The book considers whether the real homosexual element of Cocteau's cinema surfaces more at the most immediate level of sound and image by concentrating on the specifics of Cocteau's filmic style, in particular camera angle, framing and reverse-motion photography.
This chapter provides an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book establishes what makes each director's strategies of negotiating cinematic space powerful, progressive and unique. It considers the spaces of work and non-work in Laurent Cantet's films and asks what constitutes space and place within the contemporary field of social relations. The book engages with cultural space as the site of social integration and metissage in the work of Abdellatif Kechiche who operates from within the context of France's marginal and diasporic communities while always in dialogue with the white mainstream in recognisable, highly contested urban locales. It examines the continually shifting points of passage between inside and outside, objective and subjective, in the restless flux of Claire Denis's film work that crosses a continually expanding spectrum of physical and formal spaces, from remote natural landscapes to intimate passages of intertextual 'grafting'.
Space, sensation, and spectatorship in the films of Bruno Dumont
James S. Williams
This chapter examines Bruno Dumont's films in chronological order, starting with La Vie de Jesus and Lhumanite which establish the principles of his spatial practice. It explores in detail their key climactic scenes, paying particular attention to the use of reverse-field shot and the relations between external space, point-of-view, and montage. The chapter shows how the different kinds of space put into play in his work: external, filmic, spectatorial, aesthetic, all come down to the essential question of man's relationship with nature. It argues that if his first two films serve as templates for the films that follow, Twentynine Palms, which even his most well-disposed critics have regarded as a major aberration on account of its final descent into hard-core gore. Those films actually mark a progressive move away from a syndrome of relentless interiorisation.
The symbolics of space in the cinema of Robert Guédiguian
James S. Williams
No other contemporary filmmaker in France has been so identified with one particular city as Robert Guediguian with Marseilles, and it has inspired most of his sixteen films. Guediguian's work is inspired to varying degrees by the engaged materialist aesthetics of Bertholt Brecht, the political commitment of Pier Paolo Pasolini, and his own advanced studies in sociology. This chapter establishes whether space can withstand the powerful political and symbolic currents driving Guediguian's work, and ultimately whether it can ever operate simply as 'space'. To do that, the chapter compares the visual strategies of La Ville est tranquille with the key elements of spatial representation in his other major films of the last twenty years. There is, in fact, a profound formal disconnect at work in Guediguian: characters are effectively alienated, exiled and ejected by Marseilles in the detached, often ironic way it is framed.
Framing space and social exclusion in the films of Laurent Cantet
James S. Williams
Laurent Cantet is one of the most rigorous and acute exponents of social space working in French cinema today. This chapter establishes the principal spatial dynamics of Cantet's four main features. Through analysis of his complex framing strategies in three key sequences, it shows that Entre les murs renders powerfully present those who are habitually cast to the margins or excluded from the social frame. By comparing equivalent moments in Cantet's other films, the chapter suggests that by reconceiving the cinematic frame as a mobile form and receptive vehicle for embracing sound. Entre les murs ultimately proposes an ethical form of both cinematic and social space in new, surprising and potentially fertile ways. The chapter analyses Cantet's framing strategies is to determine how far the film is able to dislodge the ideological frame, and ultimately how successful it is in liberating filmic space.
Abdellatif Kechiche and the politics of reappropriation and renewal
James S. Williams
Abdellatif Kechiche's new form of francophone postcolonial cinema presents itself directly as 'French', all the better to rearticulate and displace the 'national' of French cinema. This chapter explores how politically significant is Kechiche's practice of cultural reappropriation and cultural metissage, and where material space is always already textual. It considers Kechiche's films in chronological order and examines in close detail their treatment of both external and cinematic space. The chapter traces the particular social and cultural frame constructed by each film, one that actively draws on the symbolic framework of State and Nation, and then establishes the cinematic processes by which it is actively 'deframed'. It shows the exact nature and function of Kechichian space and determines how it performs both culturally and politically. The chapter also shows how his films establish new, contingent, social sub-spaces and groupings beyond the officially sanctioned limits of 'intégration'.
Grafting space and human relations in the trans-cinema of Claire Denis
James S. Williams
The freewheeling, nomadic intensities of Claire Denis's films are among the marvels of contemporary cinema. She explores in concrete detail the different ways people inhere in the world: the forms and patterns of human movement, the gestures of the human figure in space. This chapter focuses on Beau Travail and L'Intrus, Denis's most complete and perfectly realised experiments in cinematic being through and across form. It examines some of the pivotal moments of spatial 'translation' and reframing of otherness in her subsequent work up to and including White Material. The chapter suggests that interior intertextual space is not simply a conceptual sphere of her cinema, but also a uniquely performative and sensuous, trans-aesthetic space that operates in the cinematic present as a generative cell. This interior intertextual space is for the negotiation and potential 'resolution' of external space and otherness.
The symbolic and political demands of Robert Guediguian are so absolute that Marseilles, and all his heavily mapped and circumscribed urban landscapes, invariably become the same empty, abyssal space to pass through eyes wide shut. The cinema of Abdellatif Kechiche constructs a social and cultural frame that actively draws on the symbolic framework of State and Nation which is then purposively deframed. A transformative performance of cinematic legacy in Jacques Nolot's work raises a potential new avenue of enquiry into filmic space. Critical opinion on the general impact of digital technology on cinema remains, of course, extremely varied. According to Stephen Barber, digital imagery is much like its analogue predecessor in that it possesses a dual, allied vulnerability to the forces of memory and oblivion, and to the arbitrariness of corporate culture.
Orphée refers back to Jean Cocteau's play of the same name, a play 'in one act and one interval', first staged at the Theatre des Arts in Paris in June 1926. The original play Orphée was a kind of tragi-farce that diverted myth towards boulevard comedy and yet also parodied the detective thriller genre. Orphée the film bears a directly personal stamp and may even be viewed as a self-portrait, that of the artist in crisis and harbouring deep resentment. Of all Cocteau's films Orphée offers the viewer the largest possible scope for interpretation, yet Cocteau also intervenes directly in the film at regular intervals with authorial voice-overs that arrive even in the middle of spoken dialogues. Orphée was awarded a special prize after a referendum of mass audiences and cinema managers, and the film went on to win the International Critics Award at the 1950 Venice Film Festival.