Cinéma du look
- The cinéma du look is a term used to describe films that emphasize visual style—or le look, as well as image, color, and youth. Critics trace the beginnings of the cinéma du look to Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1981 film, Diva. Additional examples of films that fall into this category include Beineix's La lune dans le caniveau (1983) and 37°2 le matin (1986), Luc Besson's Subway (1981) and Le Grand Bleu (1988), and Leos Carax's Mauvais sang (1986) and Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991). One might also consider Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001) as part of this trend.The look films of Beineix and Besson were at first derided by intellectual French film critics, especially those at Cahiers du cinéma, for their alleged fetishism of the image at the expense of artistic, political, or psychological substance. Beineix and Besson both worked in advertising prior to their directing debuts, and le look was mocked as the embracement of consumer culture and advertising over intellectual depth and art. Critics argued that the characters in these films—especially those of Besson's Subway—were depicted as objects rather than complex individuals. They also objected to what they perceived as meaningless borrowings from, or recycling of, previous film images. The look's perceived reliance on spectacle, surface, the sensual, and the romantic initially repelled critics who valued character development and social commitment. Carax, who had written for Cahiers, escaped the critical establishment's denunciations. He was instead regarded as a director who worked artfully with the cinematic image, and as a cinéaste who used the visual in order to convey social meaning.Beineix countered that his films, in contrast with what he characterized as outdated, albeit beloved Nouvelle Vague or New Wave films so closely associated with Cahiers, connected with contemporary film audiences. Indeed, the majority of spectators in the early 1980s were under twenty-five, and both Diva and 37°2 le matin became cult films. Critics point out that Beineix's charge mirrors accusations by former Cahiers critics that the cinéma du papa was irrelevant for young audiences in the 1950s. The cinéma du look does have its champions. Respected scholars maintain that look directors engaged in the creation of an innovative cinematic language derived from popular culture and influenced by technological advancements. The look's play of images, seemingly detached from any clear significance, in addition to its mélange of high art with popular culture, has led to associations between the cinéma du look and the postmodern. Indeed, one of the foremost theorists of the postmodern, Frederic Jameson, selected Diva as France's first postmodern film. Regardless of one's position on the value of the cinéma du look—and the earlier critical responses have been challenged and reevaluated—it is difficult to deny that Beineix, Besson, and Carax created landmark films.
Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins. 2007.
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