mayneWidely regarded as one of the most innovative and passionate filmmakers working in France today, Claire Denis has continued to make beautiful and challenging films since the 1988 release of her first feature, Chocolat. Judith Mayne‘s comprehensive study of these films traces Denis’s career and discusses her major feature films in rich detail.

Born in Paris but having grown up in Africa, Denis explores in her films the legacies of French colonialism and the complex relationships between sexuality, gender, and race. From the adult woman who observes her past as a child in Cameroon to the Lithuanian immigrant who arrives in Paris and watches a serial killer to the disgraced French Foreign Legionnaire attempting to make sense of his past, the subjects of Denis’s films continually revisit themes of watching, bearing witness, and making contact, as well as displacement, masculinity, and the migratory subject.

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fowlerThis survey of Sally Potter’s work documents and explores her cinematic development from the feminist reworking of Puccini’s opera La Bohème in Thriller to the provocative contemplation of romantic relationships after 9/11 in Yes. Catherine Fowler traces a clear trajectory of developing themes and preoccupations and shows how Potter uses song, dance, performance, and poetry to expand our experience of cinema beyond the audiovisual.

Potter has relentlessly struggled against predictability and safe options, and her work provides an example of the complexities of being a woman in charge. Instead of the quest to find a romantic partner that drives mainstream cinema, Potter’s films feature characters seeking answers to questions about their sexual, gendered, social, cultural, and ethnic identities. They find answers by retelling stories, investigating mysteries, traveling and interacting with people. At the heart of Potter’s work we find a concern with the ways in which narrative has circumscribed the actions of women and their ability to act, speak, look, desire, and think for themselves. Her first two films, Thriller and The Gold Diggers, largely deconstruct found stories, clichés, and images. By contrast her later films create new and original narratives that place female acts, voices, looks, desires and thoughts at their center.

Fowler’s analysis is supplemented by a detailed filmography, bibliography, and an extensive interview with the director.

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mchughIn considering Jane Campion’s early award-winning short films on through international sensation The Piano and beyond, Kathleen McHugh traces the director’s distinctive visual style as well as her commitment to consistently renovating the conventions of “women’s films.” By refusing to position her female protagonists as victims, McHugh argues, Campion scrupulously avoids the moral structures of melodrama, and though she often works with the narratives, mise-en-scene, and visual tropes typical of that genre, her films instead invite a distanced or even amused engagement.

Jane Campion concludes with four brief, revelatory interviews and a filmography. Campion spoke twice with Michel Ciment, first after the screening of her short and medium-length films at the Cannes Film Festival 1986, and three years later, after the Cannes screening of Sweetie. Judith Lewis narrates a Beverly Hills interview with Campion that followed the release of Holy Smoke, and Lizzie Francke’s interview, reprinted from Sight and Sound, centers on Campion’s film In the Cut, adapted from Susanna Moore’s novel.

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