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Laurent Cantet is of one France’s leading contemporary directors. He probes the evolution and fault-lines of contemporary society from the home to the workplace and from the Republican school to globalized consumption more acutely than perhaps any other French film-maker. His films always challenge his characters’ assumptions about their world. But they also make their spectators rethink their position in relation to what they see. This is what makes Cantet such an important film-maker, the book argues. It explores Cantet’s unique working ‘method,’ his use of amateur actors and attempt to develop an egalitarian authorship that allows other voices to be heard rather than subsumed. It discusses his way of constructing films at the uneasy interface of the individual, the group and the broader social context and his recourse to melodramatic strategies and moments of shame to force social tensions into view. It shows how the roots of the well-known later films can be found in his early works. It explores the major fictions from Ressources humaines to the recent Foxfire, Confessions of a Girl Gang. It combines careful close analysis with attention to broader cinematic, social and political contexts while drawing on a range of important theorists from Pierre Bourdieu to Jacques Rancière, Michael Bakhtin and Mary Ann Doane. It concludes by examining how, resolutely contemporary of the current moment, Cantet helps us rethink the possibilities and limits of political cinema in a context in which old resistances have fallen silent and new forms of protest are only emergent.

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

Introduction Laurent Cantet is one of France’s leading contemporary directors although he has only made a relatively modest number of films. If the undoubted high point of his career to date was the award of the Palme d’Or at the sixty-first Cannes film festival in 2008 to his Entre les murs (The Class), it was not his first critical success. It came on the back of the Don Quixote award given to L’Emploi du temps (Time Out) at the Venice film festival in 2001, the French César for best first film and other prizes given to Ressources humaines (Human Resources

in Laurent Cantet
Abstract only
Martin O’Shaughnessy

that he has no first-hand knowledge of environments like the factory but he is very aware of how heavily what one might call the ideology of work weighs upon his own background and attitudes. Like the father in Ressources humaines, his own father believes that leisure time needs to be put to productive use. This same attitude, he recognises, penetrates his own outlook (Mangeot and Tijou, 2000). As with other issues, the questioning that takes place in his films is also directed at himself. 58  Laurent Cantet student, as he comes to do a work placement in the

in Laurent Cantet
Martin O’Shaughnessy

-in for the United States. Applying his usual method, Cantet spent the winter months of 2010/11 going round places in Toronto where young 154  Laurent Cantet people could be found, auditioning young women and assembling his cast. Again in typical fashion, he spent about two weeks workshopping with the chosen actors, setting out situations for them, allowing them to improvise, feeding their ideas and personalities back into the script. Shooting took place in the summer of 2011 in the Ontarian town of Sault Ste. Marie, its downtown, with some judicious reworking, a

in Laurent Cantet
Martin O’Shaughnessy

Dietschy’s Cette nuit (1998) and Gilles Marchand’s short, Joyeux Noël (1994). Marchand would 4  Laurent Cantet in turn co-write Tous à la manif and Ressources humaines. This way of working with friends is nothing exceptional within French cinema: for example, Arnaud Desplechin and Matthieu Kassovitz, very different directors in many ways, are both known for doing likewise. But the way in which Cantet routinely asks long-standing acquaintances either to co-write or to comment on his work suggests that he embodies a type of authorship that is anything but narrowly

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

the school year, the film is less interested in the institution’s daily routine than in moments of interruption and conflict when authority is challenged and the classroom or the yard temporarily become spaces of democratic interaction. If the film raises questions about the power dynamics operative within the school, it also puts similar questions about the film-making process itself, giving it a greater reflexivity than any other Cantet work. The film’s François is not simply a double of the book’s author, 126 Laurent Cantet François Bégaudeau, effectively

in Laurent Cantet
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Martin O’Shaughnessy

carefully thought through, with each shot playing an important and necessary role. The use of sound was equally admirable with what Lefort described as its sonic depth of field (‘profondeur de son’), allowing the egalitarian mingling of the voices of the film’s cafe 32 Laurent Cantet owner and his son and the rebellious students who frequent their establishment. The film’s melancholic mood cut against the facile, advert-like optimism of too many other works (Lefort, 1995). One is struck by Lefort’s prescient identification of what would become key features of Cantet

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

follows Brenda and Legba there, either when they both visit the market or when the latter is there on his own. If the resort seems a safe haven, the city is a place of danger. Firstly, the Tonton Macoute, the dictatorship’s much feared paramilitary force, lurk there. Their presence brings menace to the initially peaceful scene within which Legba plays football and chats with young acquaintances. Secondly, there are other risks. A young woman (Anotte Saint Ford) to whom Legba has been close 98 Laurent Cantet but who has been forced to become the mistress of a colonel

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

characters, making us feel their shame (or refusal of it), but also forcing us to stand back and take stock of what we are seeing and our reaction to it. They all operate at the intersection of the individual, group and broader society, in what one might call a concentric organisation, as long as one immediately adds that no one level is self-enclosed and that the social is always already inside the individual. This interaction of individuals, groups and broader frames is certainly expressed in 182 Laurent Cantet dialogue but is often translated visually. In true

in Laurent Cantet
Martin O’Shaughnessy
in Laurent Cantet