A Certain Absence in French Cinema
A Certain Absence in French Cinema
A Certain Absence in French Cinema

“A Certain Absence in French Cinema.” Session: The Nouvelle Vague at 60: A Reassessment. Northeast Modern Language Association. Presiding: Jackie Cameron. April 30-May 3 2015. Toronto, Canada.

ABSTRACT: This study discusses the repressive double narrative of French modernization and the Algerian war as it emerges in New Wave films. The decolonization and the accelerated socio-economic modernization are not to be considered separate histories but are deeply interrelated, since the war represents a sort of monstrous political doppelganger of the country’s newly omnipresent capitalist culture. The decolonization experience is implicit in some nouvelle vagueworks of the era like Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1961), Le petit soldat (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963), and Muriel, or the Time of Return (Alain Resnais, 1963), and in an example of cinéma-vérité, Chronicle of a Summer (Jean Rouch, 1961). These films express the myths and anxieties of modernization, offering a critique of the official representations of a uniformly prosperous France surging forward into American-style patterns of consumption and mass culture. They also refer to the Algerian War, although it is dealt with either indirectly, as when Varda narrates the story of a soldier returning from the war without making any allusion to the events occurring there. Alternatively, Godard shows the Algerians as torturers and Rouch deals with the actuality of the war in a more direct way but without taking an explicit position on the issue. At a certain level, as analyzed by Kristen Ross in Fast Cars, Clean Bodies, these choices go along with the larger trend in intellectual life of the 1960s, which took refuge in structuralism and in the theorization of “the death of the man” at the very moment when liberation movements in the colonies were announcing the birth of the “new man,” Fanon’s colonized subject in revolt described in The Wretched of the Earth.

A Certain Absence in French Cinema

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