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Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema

Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema: A Beauvoirian Perspective

Jean-Pierre Boulé
Ursula Tidd
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 198
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  • Book Info
    Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema
    Book Description:

    Simone de Beauvoir's work has not often been associated with film studies, which appears paradoxical when it is recognized that she was the first feminist thinker to inaugurate the concept of the gendered 'othering' gaze. This book is an attempt to redress this balance and reopen the dialogue between Beauvoir's writings and film studies. The authors analyse a range of films, from directors including Claire Denis, Michael Haneke, Lucille Hadzihalilovic, Sam Mendes, and Sally Potter, by drawing from Beauvoir's key works such asThe Second Sex(1949),The Ethics of Ambiguity(1947) andOld Age(1970).

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-730-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Jean-Pierre Boulé and Ursula Tidd

    InExistentialism and Contemporary Cinema: A Beauvoirian Perspectivewe aim to re-open a dialogue between Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophy and film studies which she herself inaugurated. In so doing, we offer a range of new Beauvoirian perspectives on the study of contemporary cinema and demonstrate the relevance of her thought to cinematic culture. In the chapters that follow this Introduction, key Beauvoirian themes and ideas will thus be brought into sharper focus through their application in a variety of ways to the analyses of films and their stars.

    Simone de Beauvoir (1908–86) is most well known as the author...

  5. 1 Beauvoir’s Children: Girlhood in Innocence
    (pp. 17-32)
    Emma Wilson

    Ursula Tidd has argued that ‘Beauvoir’s philosophical interest in the experience of childhood is a feature that distinguishes her work from Sartre’s prior to 1950’ (Tidd 1999: 25).¹ I suggest that Beauvoir offers invaluable resources for contemplating the child as subject and the specificity of subjectivity in childhood; for thinking about that subjectivity as at once embodied, gendered and acculturated; and for thinking about the meanings which attach to child hood once we leave it behind, meanings invoking questions about innocence and loss. These questions are the basis for Beauvoir’s thinking about how one becomes a woman and assumes a...

  6. 2 ‘Devenir Mère’: Trajectories of the Maternal Bond in Recent Films starring Isabelle Huppert
    (pp. 33-52)
    Ursula Tidd

    Isabelle Huppert has long occupied iconic status as one of France’s major film actresses. Playing complex and transgressive roles which frequently combine masochism, sadism and exhibitionism, Huppert incarnates the existential ambiguity of women’s situation in post-war western patriarchy as a twisting path between freedom and responsibility, transgression and convention. Huppert’s star persona combines a cerebral detachment with an edgy yet melancholic vulnerability which can provoke strong reactions of disquiet and fascination in her audience. Director Michael Haneke observes: ‘[Huppert] has such professionalism, the way she is able to represent suffering. At one end you have the extreme of her suffering...

  7. 3 Claire Denis’s Chocolat and the Politics of Desire
    (pp. 53-66)
    Jean-Pierre Boulé

    Chocolatby Claire Denis is the story of France (Cécile Ducasse) who, as a young adult (Mireille Perrier), goes back to Cameroon post-independence in the 1980s in search of her past. Most of the film is a flashback to her childhood in the 1950s. As France accepts a lift from Mungo Park (Emmet Judson Williamson), the main part of the film starts with a tracking shot of the passing countryside which transports France right back to her childhood. The countryside is often filmed in long sweeping panoramic shots with close-ups of a mountain called ‘Mindif’s Tooth’ in order to take...

  8. 4 Revolutionary Road and The Second Sex
    (pp. 67-80)
    Constance Mui and Julien Murphy

    Revolutionary Road, a 2008 film directed by Sam Mendes, brings to the screen Richard Yates’s 1961 novel of the same title. It is a realist novel about a young couple, Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), who are frustrated by the trappings of life in the suburbs in post-war America. Because of its stark portrayal of the Wheelers’ mundane existence, it is easy to viewRevolutionary Roadas an existentialist commentary on the plight of human existence, especially women’s existence, even though Yates was neither an existentialist nor a feminist, and there is no evidence, whether from...

  9. 5 Simone de Beauvoir, Melodrama and the Ethics of Transcendence
    (pp. 81-96)
    Linnell Secomb

    Todd Haynes’s 2002 film,Far From Heaven, opens with a descending crane shot moving from a transcendent, god’s-eye-view perspective to the level of the mundane and quotidian. Panning past the treetops outside Hartford train station the camera slides toward the street where it follows the main protagonist Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) as she drives to collect her daughter from her ballet class before tracking her as she passes along suburban streets toward the family home. This opening sequence iterates Douglas Sirk’s 1955 film,All That Heaven Allows, in which the opening credits roll over a similar scene of a clock...

  10. 6 La Petite Jérusalem: Freedom and Ambiguity in the Paris banlieues
    (pp. 97-108)
    Claire Humphrey

    InThe Ethics of Ambiguity, Beauvoir argues that our existence is characterised by different forms of subjective and temporal ambiguity. They shape how the world is seen and experienced by each individual, and can cause a number of behaviours as responses to the tensions and uncertainties they bring. This chapter will consider how ambiguity is related to freedom in a discussion of a French film entitledLa Petite Jérusalem(Albou 2005). Set in an Orthodox Jewish suburb of Paris, it follows the evolving self-deceptions of Laura (Fanny Valette), an adolescent girl trying to achieve an objective form of freedom by...

  11. 7 ‘How Am I Not Myself?’: Engaging Ambiguity in David O.Russell’s I ♥ Huckabees
    (pp. 109-122)
    Bradley Stephens

    IHuckabees(2004),¹ directed and co-written by David O. Russell, wants to engage its audience with the dilemmas of contingent being that Beauvoir herself explored over half a century earlier in her essayThe Ethics of Ambiguity(1947). The film’s reflections on the isolating and bewildering effects of modern living mirror Beauvoir’s own insights into how we are alone in the world and exist without guarantees. A comparative reading of Russell’s film and Beauvoir’s essay reminds us of the ongoing relevance of Beauvoir’s ethical thinking towards how we relate to ourselves and to our world, especially following the ‘big...

  12. 8 Encounters with the ‘Third Age’: Benguigui’s Inch’ Allah dimanche and Beauvoir’s Old Age
    (pp. 123-134)
    Michelle Royer

    The topic of old age receives considerable attention from Simone de Beauvoir in her theoretical texts and in her autobiographies. She devotes a chapter ofThe Second Sexto maturity and old age, and an entire book,Old Age(La Vieillesse) to the question. Described as ‘a fascinating work for readers familiar withThe Second Sex’(Deutscher 2003: 289)Old Agerevisits many of Beauvoir’s themes from her earlier study and is similarly structured. Part I analyses old age from ‘without’ by focusing on biological, ethnological, historical and social perspectives. Part II is devoted to ‘The being-in-the world’ and deals...

  13. 9 Eastwood Reading Beauvoir Reading Eastwood: Ageing and Combative Self-Assertion in Gran Torino and Old Age
    (pp. 135-148)
    Oliver Davis

    ‘Extraordinary events culminate in what may seem to be an anticlimax.’¹ Sat on his front porch with his decrepit dog Daisy by his side, on a lonely birthday shortly after the death of his wife, Korea veteran and retired car-worker Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) reads aloud his horoscope. But he could just as well be reading Beauvoir’s despairingly anticlimactic account of the ageing subject in her unjustly neglected essay,Old Age, or listening attentively in her autobiography to the curious backwash of depressive anxiety from the extraordinary events of her intellectual and semi-private life.

    The discussion which follows is adamantly...

  14. 10 Les Belles Images? Mid-Life Crisis and Old Age in Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages
    (pp. 149-160)
    Susan Bainbrigge

    The subjects of mid-life crisis and old age abound in the fictional and non-fictional writings of Simone de Beauvoir: these include the personal accounts of the deaths of her mother and Sartre inA Very Easy DeathandAdieux: A Farewell to Sartre, her essay on ageing entitledOld Age, the fictional heroines in crisis in the three stories that make upThe Woman Destroyed, as well as the generational ‘crises’ presented inLes Belles Images. With these, and the existentialist perspectives ofThe Second Sexin mind, Beauvoir’s various insights and analyses offer potentially fruitful frameworks for analysis of...

  15. 11 Feminist Phenomenology and the Films of Sally Potter
    (pp. 161-174)
    Kate Ince

    Sally Potter’s place in British cinema is uncontested, as a recent retrospective organised by the British Film Institute shows.¹ Since her debut with the half-hourThrillerin 1979, she has carved out a place for herself as one of our leading independent filmmakers, but success has often not come easily: the highly crafted experimentalism ofThrillermet with acclaim, but her similarly styled first featureThe Gold Diggers(1983) failed to find much appreciation, and she struggled for nine years to be able to completeOrlando(1992), her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928Orlando: A Biography.² WithOrlandoPotter was...

  16. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 175-178)
  17. Index
    (pp. 179-188)