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TitleCinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression
ISBN 139780748629176
CategoryArts - Film
Author
LanguageEnglish
File Size906.9 KB
Total Pages201
Document Text Contents
Page 1

Edinburgh
ISBN 978 0 7486 2042 5

Edinburgh University Press
22 George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LF
www.eup.ed.ac.uk

Cover image: Leçons de Ténèbres (1999),
Vincent Dieutre © Pierre Grise Distribution/
Vincent Dieutre
Jacket design: Barrie Tullett

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Cinema and Sensation
French Film and the Art of
Transgression
Martine Beugnet

This book looks at a much-debated
phenomenon in contemporary cinema: the
re-emergence of filmmaking practices (and,
by extension, of theoretical approaches)
that give precedence to cinema as the
medium of the senses.

France offers an intriguing case in point
here. A specific sense of momentum comes
from the release, in close succession,
of a series of films that exemplify a
characteristic awareness of cinema’s
sensory impact and transgressive nature:
Adieu; A ma soeur; Baise-moi; Beau Travail;
La Blessure; La Captive; Dans ma peau;
Demonlover; L’Humanité; Flandres; L’Intrus;
Les Invisibles; Lady Chatterley; Leçons de
ténèbres; Romance; Sombre; Tiresia; Trouble
Every Day; Twentynine Palms; Vendredi soir;
La Vie nouvelle; Wild Side; Zidane, un portrait
du XXIème siècle. These films, amongst
others, typify a willingness to explore
cinema’s unique capacity to move us both
viscerally and intellectually.

Martine Beugnet focuses on the crucial
and fertile overlaps that occur between
experimental and mainstream cinema. Her
book draws on the writings of the likes
of Deleuze, Merleau-Ponty and Bataille,
but first and foremost, she develops her
arguments from the films themselves, from
the comprehensive description of specific
sequences, techniques and motifs which
allows us to engage with the works as
material events and as thinking processes.
In turn, she demonstrates how the films,
envisaged as forms of embodied thought,
offer alternative ways of approaching those
questions that are at the heart of today’s
most burning socio-cultural debates: from
the growing supremacy of technology, to
globalisation, exile and exclusion, these are
the issues that appear embedded here in
the very texture of images and sounds.

Cinema and Sensation
French Film and the Art of Transgression

Martine Beugnet

‘Cinema and Sensation is a powerful account of the cinema of our time, a
time in which thought, and hope, can only arise from a compassionate and
unflinching immersion in reality. With an exquisite attention to important
new works of French cinema, this book restores cinema’s qualities of being,

and becoming, in the world.’
Laura U. Marks, School for the Contemporary Arts,

Simon Fraser University

‘Starting with a fascinating list of recent Francophone films, Beugnet
brings Deleuzian and other French theory, along with references to recent

Anglophone analyses of sensation, to bear on how this cinema creates
“deeply sensual, synaesthetic effect[s] of the film image and sound-track”.

This book provides a useful approach to this group of films, as well as a
skilful summation of a trend in recent theory.’

Maureen Turim, Professor of English and Film and Media Studies,
University of Florida

Martine Beugnet is Reader in Film Studies
at the University of Edinburgh, where she
heads the Film Studies Section.

Page 2

Cinema and Sensation

Page 100

by the cinema screen,22 this endows it with a force of interpellation; the
close-up insists, calls on and directs the attention of the viewer. As such, it
(forcibly) brings the eye where it would not normally look. Destroying the
customary effects of unifying perspective, erasing the elements of localisa-
tion provided by the wider context, it places the viewer, in André Gardies
and Jean Bessalel’s words, en position de proximité absolue.23 The close-up
thus creates uncanny intimacies and shows us the body as we rarely dare
look at it – as an organic mass bearing the marks of a process of decompo-
sition that is barely visible to the naked eye. Ultimately, the extreme close-
up brings us beyond the point of recognition, where the body becomes
matter and falls into the realm of the unnameable.

The close-up derives its unsettling effect from an ability to call on the
most powerful of drives: scopophilia, curiosity, the endless desire to see and
to know. The repulsive/compulsive paradox is no better illustrated than in
the experience of being presented with the relentless reality of the abject24

in close-up – the magnified image of the body deformed or metamorphos-
ing that suddenly fills one’s field of vision, or the vertigo of the gaping hole
that appears to draw the gaze of the camera towards the void, recalling
Bonitzer’s remark: ‘In the cinema, the hole is always dramatic. It is a well, a
wound, a key-hole for the sly gaze of the voyeur. . . . it is a black hole, an anus,
an open sex, a gaping belly, an abyss’ (Bonitzer 1999: 31, translation mine).

Bonitzer does not mention sound, yet the close-up is sonorous as much
as visual; as exemplified in the extract from Les Invisibles discussed earlier,
physical closeness can be evoked by sound in the absence of images. In the
films discussed here, sound plays an essential role in the construction of a
haptic space. Synchronous or asynchronous, precise and hyper-detailed or
inchoate, the audio close-up pulls the viewer in and envelops him or her
with a sensuous or uncanny sense of intimacy or gives full power to the feel-
ings of repulsion brought forth by excessively close contact with the abject
(and, where the image does not show, the sound’s synaesthetic presence
feeds into the viewer’s imagination and gives materiality to the invisible).25

    91

22 And this is where the impact of interpellation of the film image, projected on a large cinema
screen, exceeds that of the televised image, for instance. See John Ellis (1993), ‘Broadcast TV
as Sound and Image’, in Visible Fictions, London: Routledge, pp. 127–44.

23 André Gardies Jean Bessalel (1992), 200 mots clefs de la théorie du cinéma, Paris: Éditions du
Cerf, p. 100.

24 In Kristeva’s now classic definition, the abject is that which dissolves the ‘I’, or ‘pulverises the
subject’, an ‘ever present’ that ‘repels but beseeches’, that which disrupts identity, systems,
order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules’ (Kristeva 1982: 4).

25 As Ann Powell remarks, sound remains an under-studied dimension of the cinema and
Deleuze only mentions in passing the possibility of considering ‘the sound image for itself ’
(Powell 2005: 206).

Page 101

Strategies of containment

Although filmmakers from the early avant-garde movements had explored
different effects of the close-up in conjunction with the fragmentary
nature of film, the device was developed primarily as part of cinema’s
classical continuity system. Dramatisation and narrative organisation,
shot/counter-shot and cause-and-effect links, all worked towards suturing
the gaps opened by the close-up, re-establishing the illusory impression of
unified bodies and identities, promoting character identification and the
spectator as omniscient observer. Whereas in its poetic effect of disruption,
a close-up of a head or part of the body is a monstrous apparition or a fan-
tastic landscape, in mainstream practices, the close-up image draws its
meaning only in connection with the full shot of the body in action. It
functions as one element in a totality that forms a finished narrative. The
head stands for the whole body (the rational in control of the physical), the
face is a signifier of subjecthood and individuality, and the expression is an
element of a narrative logic, to be explicated by the counter-shot that pro-
vides an image of its cause or effect.26

Bonitzer stresses how, ultimately, the ‘terror of the close-up’, as he
describes it, is appropriated and contained within the boundaries of
genre conventions, as in the horror film and the thriller (Bonitzer
1999: 22). But pornographic films as well as scientific and medical docu-
mentaries are equally relevant in this context.27 Indeed, the device’s
various effects of fragmentation are commonly cited as central stylistic
features of porn, gore and horror films,28 and arguably, by virtue of the

92   

26 In synecdochal mode, the cause-and-effect system and strategies for creating suspense in par-
ticular take their full force thanks to series of connections where facial expressions – horror,
surprise, delight – are isolated by the close-up and preceded or followed by an image of their
cause (delays and inversions – effect before cause – helping to build the suspense). In his
description of the ‘affect’ image, however, Deleuze, in agreement with Eisenstein and Balázs,
insists on the importance of the close-up as an entity in itself, resulting in the suspension of
such links (Deleuze 1986: 100–1).

27 On the connection between scientific and pornographic discourses, see, for instance, Hansen,
Christian, Catherine Needham, Bill Nichols (1991), ‘Pornography, ethnography and the dis-
courses of power’, in Bill Nichols (ed.), Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in
Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), pp. 201–29.

28 In its common format, the pornographic film characteristically multiplies close-ups and does
away, as much as possible, with the narrative dimension, which is only reintroduced when the
film fails to ‘deliver’, recommencing endlessly the same minimal story with small variations.
Partly in opposition to such uses of the close-up in relation to the female body in particular,
long shots dominated in many of the 1970s non-action-driven films of feminist filmmakers.
The section entitled ‘Body-landscape’, however, describes alternative approaches, developed
in recent cinema, that revisit the link between narrative stasis and close-up.

Page 200

décadrage, 44
Deleuze, Gilles

the cliché, 169n
critique of psychoanalytical theories, 70–2
darkness and the organic, 121
Deleuze and Film Theory, 6, 9, 10, 15,

17–18, 30
Figure, 63–5
Film and/as thought, 23, 29–30, 60, 108,

177
from ‘action-image’ to ‘time-image’, 40,

58–9
gaseous perception, 3
hapticity, 66, 90
immanence, 68, 117
see also ‘any-space-whatever’, becoming,

‘body-without-organs’, ‘faceity’, fold,
‘originary world’, ‘seer’

Demonlover, 14, 16, 32, 34, 46, 54, 55–6, 125,
126n, 128, 140, 144, 149, 158, 162–70

Les Destinées sentimentales, 162n
difference and différance, 93, 96–100, 125,

129, 138
disease, 41–2, 45, 83n, 149,168
Dulac, Germaine, 22

Les Égarés, 96n
Eisenstein, Sergei, 23, 29, 90
Elle est des nôtres, 153–4, 155–6
embodiment, 18, 52, 59, 61, 97–8, 107, 125–6

corporate (dis)embodiment, 149–50, 162
L’Emploi du temps, 16, 150–3
En avoir (ou pas), 96, 101
Epstein, Jean, 17, 22, 29, 116
Étant-donnés, 116
Evil eye, 108, 109, 111
‘excess’ (cinema/genres of), 8, 9, 24, 25,

33–4, 36–8, 125, 127; see also Williams
exile, 13, 83–5, 87, 98, 109–10, 117, 120,

148,
Experimental cinema, 8, 9, 23–4, 25–6, 29,

64, 67, 114, 171
Expressionism, 42, 88, 121

face, 98–101
‘faceification’, 105–7, 109
figure, 17, 22, 30n, 51, 63, 64–7, 69, 111, 115,

146, 149
figural, 22, 64n, 111, 114, 119, 135, 170
figuration, 63–5, 66, 68
figure of flight, 76, 132
see also formlessness

Flandres, 14, 32, 59, 101
‘flesh’, the world as, 71, 71n, 80, 104; see also

Merleau-Ponty
fold, 43–4, 62, 62n

formlessness and formless (informe), 16, 17,
32, 42, 51, 64–6, 68–70, 88, 102, 107,
111, 116, 117, 128, 138, 174

and becoming, 147
see also stain

Foster, Hal, 58, 64, 68–70, 118, 170
Foucault, Michel, 10, 159
Fussball wie noch nie, 171n

Game, Jérôme, 10, 17, 31
genre, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18, 28, 33, 34, 36,

38–41, 48, 50, 61, 74, 92, 125–7, 143,
149

Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse, 32, 95, 102, 111,
156

globalisation, 18, 58, 125, 139, 150–1, 156
gore see ‘excess’ (cinema/genres of)
Griffith, David, 90
Guattari, Félix see ‘becoming’
Guiana, 41, 45

hapticity, haptic, 3, 13, 18, 44, 63, 65–9, 72,
74, 77, 79, 83, 89n, 89–93, 95, 98, 103,
108, 111, 134, 173, 177, 178

horror see ‘excess’ (cinema/genres of) and
genre

L’Humanité, 15, 32, 104–5

identification, primary and secondary level
of, 6, 7n, 68, 106

Informe see formlessness
L’Intrus, 15, 80, 82, 85–8, 112, 122, 131, 143,

144–5, 149, 168
Les Invisibles, 15, 32, 75–8, 81, 82, 91, 155
Irma Vep, 140, 166
Irréversible, 36n, 55, 56

Jacquot de Nantes, 95

Kennedy, Barbara, 9, 18, 130, 149, 175
Kristeva, Julia, 91n, 106, 139

Lacan, Jacques, 69, 70, 101, 106, 150
Lady Chatterley, 15, 32, 112, 177–8
Leçons de ténèbres, 1–9, 15, 32, 103, 122–4,

178
Leone, Sergio, 174
Liminality, liminal, 54, 56, 113, 120–1

Marks, Laura U., 3, 9, 12, 13, 51, 52, 65, 66,
67, 68, 70, 74, 76, 77, 84, 90, 109, 134

Melville, Herman, 145
memory, 12, 74, 76, 82, 95, 109, 133, 149
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 3–4, 10, 68, 70–1,

73–4, 80, 104, 108
migrant, 83, 142, 144; see also exile

 191

Page 201

mimesis, 5, 74
modernity, modernist, 17, 43, 56, 141, 156

and globalisation, 159, 162
and transgression, 33, 34, 35, 126

‘molarity’ and ‘molecularity’, 6, 8, 14, 44, 48,
59, 98, 130, 131, 140

Motus, 96n

Nancy, Jean-Luc, 61, 82, 83, 86, 175
Nénette et Boni, 32, 78–80, 82, 95
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 130

objects
gaze of the inanimate, 111–13, 152, 162
objects and memory, 109–11
see also ‘faceification’

Opéra Mouffe, 102
‘originary world’, 113, 117, 128–9, 147, 155
O’Shaughnessy, Martin, 142, 150, 154

Peter and the Wolf, 75
Pli see fold
Pola X, 119, 143, 146, 147, 149
Le Pornographe, 102
Pornography, 38, 39, 47, 48, 52, 54, 56, 92n,

165; see also ‘excess’ (cinema/genres of)
postmodern, 10, 13, 156

fiction, 99n
parody and reflexivity, 35, 50, 126–7

Powell, Anne, 6, 8, 9, 14, 18, 40, 131
Pretty Woman, 57n
Proust, Marcel, 132, 134, 135, 136
psychoanalytic film theory, 9n, 29, 68, 70, 108
‘pure cinema’, 22

Les Quatre Cents coups, 1

Riegl, Aloïs, 3n3, 65, 66
Romance, 15, 47–9, 51, 94, 102
Ross, Kristin, 45, 46
Rouge profound, 9

Sade, 34, 36, 164
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 73n, 104, 178
‘seer’, 81, 84, 87, 109, 148; see also ‘third eye’
Seul contre tous, 50
Sex Traffic, 57n
Shaviro, Steven, 9, 11, 12, 27, 29, 70, 135
Simulacres, 9
Sobchack, Vivian, 9, 27, 58, 70, 71, 73, 74,

104, 109, 113, 114, 124
Sombre, 1–8, 14, 16, 31, 32, 46, 54, 55, 56,

115–19, 127, 128, 131, 143, 147
Sonic Youth, 166
sovereignty, 49; see also Bataille

split screen, 158, 159
stain (human figure as), 70, 101, 112, 134,

167; see also Lacan, objects, gaze of the
inanimate

super-8, 132–7
Surrealism, 34, 37, 68
Synaesthesia, 2, 18, 63, 67, 72–86, 88, 91,

106, 109, 111, 122, 133, 177

‘third eye’, 87, 113, 117
This Obscure Object of Desire, 99n
Tindersticks, 32, 107
Tiresia, 15, 21, 32, 97, 99–100, 111, 112, 128,

131
Trafic, 9
transnational, 11, 85, 139, 140, 142, 144, 148
Trouble Every Day, 15, 32, 33–4, 39–47, 49,

54, 79, 82, 105, 107, 112, 126, 127, 128,
131, 143

Twentynine Palms, 15, 32, 94, 101, 105, 112,
131

vampire, vampiric, 1, 44, 139, 140–9, 150,
151, 170; see also ‘becoming’

Vega, Alan, 116
Vendredi soir, 15, 32, 76, 78, 80–2, 94, 95,

101, 111
Vertov, Dziga, 67, 170, 171
video, digital video, 13, 25, 165

and hapticity, 3, 53–4, 102, 103, 123–4,
166

video games, 165, 166
La Vie nouvelle, 15, 31, 32, 46, 55, 56, 57, 63,

87, 88–9, 109, 112, 113–19, 120, 128,
131, 143, 147, 149, 178

Violence des échanges en milieu tempéré, 153,
159

virus see disease
‘visagéification’ see ‘faceification’
vision

blurredness, 2, 63, 11, 113, 115–16, 120
critique of, 16, 18, 44, 65–8
high-density photography, 113
variation in ratio and graininess, 51, 67,

119
see also hapticity, figuration, formlessness,

liminal, synaesthesia, video

Wild Side, 15, 79, 96–8, 99, 112, 131
Williams, Linda, 9, 24, 38, 125; see also

‘excess’ (cinema/genres of)
Worringer, 88, 117, 121

Zidane, un portrait du XXIème siècle, 15, 112,
170–6

192   

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