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Whether one 'likes' his work or not, Bertrand Blier is undisputably an important and influential presence in modern French film-making. For those who would understand the nature and function of popular French culture, it has now become impossible to ignore his work. Blier's career began in 1957 as an assistant stagiaire, as it was still relatively conventional in the French film-making tradition. This book hopes to be able to start formulating some answers to the puzzle that is Blier's work. The aim is to identify strategies for finding one's way through a body of work, which has disconcerted spectators, to identify some reference points that the curious spectator can use as a map to navigate through Blier's preferred themes and stylistic techniques. One way of understanding the system of dramatic cohesion that unifies the action of Blier's films is to read it in terms of an 'absurdist' conception. The comic momentum of Blier's films relies on the elaboration of a system of images which might be termed 'festive-ludic' or 'anarchocomic'. His deliberate attempt to go beyond the conventional limits of gender representation is as important example of the many processes of narrative subversion. Discussions reveal that the key tropes around which Blier's work is structured point to an engagement with a tradition of popular discourse, translated into both content and form, which finds an echo in the wider cultural apparatus of the post-1968 period and which is all the more significant for its location in mainstream visual culture.

Paris revisited

In José Luis Garci's Ninette the political and social realities of the Franco era are reduced to a set of comic markers. Set in Paris in 1959, among a family of Republican exiles, the film wears its history lightly, using exile and censorship as the driving mechanisms of a frothy comedy of frustrated sexual desire. This chapter shows Garci's project is multiply nostalgic, first, in its reinvestigation of the critical potential of Spanish genre film in the late Franco era; second, in its harnessing of the visual and performative codes of classic theatre and cinema; and third, in its revisiting of the city of Paris as a signifier of political freedom, sexual identity and modern cosmopolitanism, as well as cinematic escapism. The collapsing of the character of Ninette and the city of Paris into a single spectacle is at the heart of the film's reworking by Garci.

in Spanish cinema 1973–2010
Deneuve as heritage icon

For all the risks that the young Catherine Deneuve took with her star image, her roles from the early 1980s constructed a new kind of maturity and coherence that chimed with both her age and her screen longevity. François Truffaut's Occupation drama, Le Dernier Metro launches this period in Deneuve's career. The principal heritage roles taken by Deneuve in a twelve-year period were as Marion Steiner with Depardieu in Truffaut's occupation drama Le Dernier Métro, and as the colonial landowner Eliane Devries, the lead part in Régis Wargnier's ambitious saga of Asian decolonisation Indochine. The chapter shows that the reading of Deneuve as national heroine that these films promote is inseparable from the actress's extra-cinematic public image in France. Deneuve was identified as the new face of Marianne in 1985, and was a popular choice for both politicians and the public.

in From perversion to purity
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The director Bertrand Blier has, over a thirty-year period, come to be acknowledged as one of the most enduring and challenging talents of French post-new wave cinema. This introduction presents the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book aims to identify strategies for finding one's way through a body of work which has disconcerted spectators, critics and academics alike, and to identify some reference points which the curious spectator can use as a map to navigate through Blier's preferred themes and stylistic techniques. It is the very unconventionality of this work that has had such an appeal to emerging film-makers and actors. The analysis reveals that the key tropes around which Blier's work is structured point to an engagement with a tradition of popular discourse. The concept of artistic subversion is absolutely central to understanding Blier's work.

in Bertrand Blier

Bertrand Blier's career began in 1957 as an assistant stagiaire, as it was still relatively conventional in the French film-making tradition. This chapter highlights that if we were to focus on the notion of thematic and stylistic tendencies that are common to the films, then it is possible to locate his cyclical nature of the narratives in three distinct categories. The first category is that of the often bawdy comedies, which rely on the easy camaraderie and sexual fraternity of duos of male characters, and which document the largely picaresque itinerary of this genre's classically ambivalent heroes. The second group of films are the less explicitly comic films with which, excepting Trop helle pour toi, Blier enjoyed only moderate commercial success. The third category of films is that of Blier's mature career what Blier himself has termed his 'seconde carrier.'.

in Bertrand Blier

The narrative structures of Bertrand Blier's films vary from the episodic, frequently picaresque, yet largely linear, to the more complex and digressive reflections. The subversive approach to the notion of the dramatic catalyst is useful to begin a detailed analysis of Blier's style. One way of understanding the system of dramatic cohesion that unifies the action of Blier's films is to read it in terms of an 'absurdist' conception. Blier first experimented with this technique in Hitler, connais pas!, in which he used the narrative mechanism of the interview to allow eleven young people to talk about themselves and their experiences. The film at first appears to have ethnographic intentions consistent with the cinema-verite mode of film-making, exploring the views and preoccupations of a representative group of individuals, allowing its subjects to locate themselves, their emotions and their attitudes to life with respect to the various conditions of their lives.

in Bertrand Blier
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The carnival as structuring motif

The comic momentum of Bertrand Blier's films relies on the elaboration of a system of images which might be termed 'festive-ludic' or 'anarchocomic'. The films are characterised by the creation of a diegetic universe in which normal orders, relations, roles and positions are routinely reversed. The comic framework of the carnival is apparent in many surface aspects of the films: the enjoyment of the libertarian and the scatological, the debasement of cultural assumptions, the focus on grotesque bodily symbolism, and attacks on social decorum. The concept of 'festive madness', where the observer looks at the world through commonplace ideas and judgements' is central to Mikhail Bakhtin's assessment of the popular carnivalesque tradition, and to a proposed carnivalesque reading of Blier's films. Blier's work it is directly related to the modern forms of this same culture in its dramatic association with the post-1968 Parisian caféthéâtre and Brechtian stage theory.

in Bertrand Blier
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in Bertrand Blier
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That Bertrand Blier is misogynistic in his film-making has increasingly come to be a given of Blier criticism and reviews. His deliberate attempt to go beyond the conventional limits of gender representation is as important example of the many processes of narrative subversion. Blier's characteristic approach, and one which has earned him this reputation of a misogynist film-maker, is to work with outwardly conventional gendered roles which define the female subject in three key ways. These are by the image she projects, by her position with regard to the male subject and, by the nature of the action executed by the female subject and the influence of this on narrative organisation and development. It is precisely through the performance of subversive bodily acts in Blier's work that female identity achieves a liberating instability, or permeability which accords with the type of representation we find in the popular tradition.

in Bertrand Blier
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Blier’s ‘second career'

At the time of the release of Un deux trois soleil in 1994, Blier announced in an interview that he had begun his second career. The dramatic and structural features of inversion and subversion established by Blier in his earlier work are crucial to the narrative construction of Merci la vie, Un deux trois soleil, and Mon home. It becomes clear very early in the trilogy that Blier is deliberately reworking character types and dramatic configurations, through a process of 'quotation' of previous characters and key images and scenes. Blier's distinctive cinematic vision of the modern urban experience would appear to have been concluded by the work of the trilogy. At a relatively late stage in his career, Blier apparently left the cinema behind and applied himself to writing for the theatre and his first play, Les Côtelettes.

in Bertrand Blier