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The New Face of Political Cinema

The New Face of Political Cinema: Commitment in French Film since 1995

Martin O’Shaughnessy
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 206
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  • Book Info
    The New Face of Political Cinema
    Book Description:

    Since 1995 there has been a widespread return of commitment to French cinema taking it to a level unmatched since the heady days following 1968. But this new wave of political film is very different and urgently calls out for an analysis that will account for its development, its formal characteristics and its originality. This is what this book provides. It engages with leading directors such as Cantet, Tavernier, Dumont, Kassovitz, Zonca and Guediguian, takes in a range of less well known but important figures and strays across the Belgian border to engage with the seminal work of the Dardenne brothers. It shows how the works discussed are helping to reinvent political cinema by finding stylistic and narrative strategies adequate to the contemporary context.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-690-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    At the beginning of Haitian film-maker Raoul Peck’s French-funded and tellingly entitled documentaryLe Profit et rien d’autre (Profit and Nothing But)(2000), a whispering voice tells us that capital has won.¹ Capital seems to have won a definitive victory leaving no room either for radical political opposition or for a political cinema as earlier generations would have understood it. Were this the case, there would be nothing for an oppositional cinema to do but fall silent or engage in a critique that, condemned never to open onto a politics, would ultimately be sterile. Yet has capital simply won? The...

  5. 1 Contexts
    (pp. 7-20)

    This chapter provides a concise account of the current state of the French socio-political and cinematic terrains. If it is driven, above all, by a sense of the urgent need to map and understand the present situation, it is also convinced that the present can only be understood, questioned and challenged if one has a clear sense of its historical roots. The chapter’s turn to the past is both explanatory and contrastive; that is, history is used both to point to the origins of the current situation and to underline its newness. If the 1968 period is privileged in this...

  6. 2 Debates
    (pp. 21-35)

    One might say, for the sake of neatness, that there are two kinds of debate. There are those which take place at an agreed time, in a single location, with two clear sides, an explicit question and a set of rules that both agree on. There are also those that take place over time, straddle different media, lack clearly defined protagonists or rules and only loosely converge on an issue or set of questions but nonetheless have sufficient focus to indicate marked disagreement on some topic of concern to a general or more tightly defined public. French cinema is routinely...

  7. 3 A Genealogy of Contemporary Oppositional Cinema
    (pp. 36-55)

    As noted in the last chapter, the notion of a general collapse of emancipatory grand narratives is of no specific concern to this book. What it is profoundly interested in, however, is the consequences for a political cinema of the specific undoing of a leftist grand narrative of opposition. It initially turns to two classic post-1968 films, Marin Karmitz’sCoup pour coup(1971) and Jean-Luc Godard’s and Jean-Pierre Gorin’sTout va bien(1972), placing some emphasis on the contrasts between them, but concentrating above all on the totalizing socio-political dramaturgy that both are able to deploy and which is precisely what...

  8. 4 Class in Pieces
    (pp. 56-79)

    We noted in the previous chapter how a leftist, class-centred dramaturgy has been shattered and dispersed with its actors demobilized, its core sites evacuated, its language silenced and its struggles deprived of meaning. The films that we consider in this chapter and the next are obliged to recognize this cataclysmic shift, but work in their different ways to resist it by holding on to one piece or another of the shattered dramaturgy of class and putting it to productive use. Considering how unfashionable a term class has become, the relatively high number of films that are explicitly or implicitly organized...

  9. 5 Class Reassembled?
    (pp. 80-98)

    Completing the discussion of the return of class to contemporary French cinema, this chapter considers a further four subgroups of films that seek in their different ways to reinstate a polemical, class-based understanding of the socio-economic terrain. Underlining the films’ ability to reassert the centrality of struggle and the meaningfulness of critique, the chapter necessarily pursues its predecessor’s partial disagreement with those voices (Comolli 2004, Cadé 2000) that associate the cinematic return of class and the world of work with recognition of defeat. The disagreement is partial because all the films are obliged to recognize defeat even as they seek...

  10. 6 An Aesthetic of the Fragment
    (pp. 99-130)

    Referring particularly to works by Zonca, Poirier, Dumont, Vincent and the Dardenne brothers, this chapter develops the idea of the cinematic fragment introduced in chapter 2. It will be argued that the appearance of an aesthetic of the fragment signals a paradigm shift in the mode of appearance of social struggle in French cinema. Focusing on Hervé Le Roux’sRepriseand the Dardenne brothers’ early work, chapter 3 provided a genealogy of this shift by locating its main cause in the separation of social struggle from the established leftist dramaturgy that had once accompanied it. Losing its voice and its stage,...

  11. 7 Melodramatic Politics
    (pp. 131-159)

    There is a common sense understanding that realism is deeply opposed to both melodrama and theatricality. Associated to a high degree with a flat, dedramatized and documentary-like recording of the world, realism would seem irreconcilable, on the surface at least, with the heightened and contrived effects of melodrama as well as with the declamatory and apparently artificial nature of the theatrical. Working in direct opposition to this particular strand of common sense, this chapter will argue that melodrama plays a consistently vital role in the politics of the films under consideration, intervening both at the level of form, as a...

  12. 8 Elusive Capital
    (pp. 160-178)

    Completing an exploration of the new face of committed cinema in France, this chapter approaches the vital question of its treatment of space. Previous chapters have shown how the pieces of an old dramaturgy of class can still be put to work to oppose neo-liberal triumph and how essentially melodramatic strategies can be mobilized to restore a lost eloquence and transparency to social suffering and struggle. However, what they have not dealt with sufficiently is the spatial asymmetry between on-screen resistances and an increasingly globalized causality that has effectively moved out of story space. Chapter 3 provided a genealogy of...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-182)

    The cinema discussed in this volume finds itself located between the elaborated politics that was and the politics yet to come. There are undoubtedly better and worse ways to occupy this difficult position. One way is to focus exclusively and unproductively on defeat and to generate angry, nostalgic or even folkloric representations of a now dismantled working class. Another equally unproductive possibility is to passively reflect contemporary social and political disarray, locking the dominated into their subordination and silence, holding them up as objects for humanitarian contemplation or for voyeuristic delectation and disgust. But contemporary French fiction film has also...

  14. Filmography
    (pp. 183-186)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-190)
  16. Index
    (pp. 191-194)