- Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema: A Beauvoirian Perspectiveed. by Jean-Pierre Boulé and Ursula Tidd
This volume emerges at a time of reinvigorated interest both in the work of Simone de Beauvoir and in its implications for screen studies and film philosophy. Following similar principles to those of the previously published companion collection on Sartre (see French Studies67.1 (2013), 122–23), editors Jean-Pierre Boulé and Ursula Tidd state that ‘in opening a dialogue between Beauvoirian philosophy and contemporary film [. . .] we foreground [. . .] the continuing relevance of her thought to the liberatory potential of cinema’ (p. 13). Many chapters achieve this admirable goal, establishing how a range of contemporary international films deepen or rewrite concepts that underpin Beauvoir’s writing: lived experience, gendered acculturation, phenomenological engagement with the world, dominance and slavery, moral being, age and Otherness, and emotional life. The strongest essays maintain scholarly emphasis on the conceptual exposition of Beauvoir’s works, alongside close engagement with the formal, aesthetic, political, and cultural impulses that encourage dialogues between the films and feminist existential philosophy. Emma Wilson’s discerning examination of Beauvoirian concepts pertaining to ‘little girlhood’ is equally attentive to the cinematic qualities of Innocence(dir. by Lucile Hadžihalilović, 2004) aligned with embodied ways of seeing, both as a girl in the present and a woman-in-the-making. Tidd’s chapter, grounded in recent cinematic performances by Isabelle Huppert, turns to Kleinian psychoanalytic theory to forge a connection between female masochism and the bonds of motherhood. Linnell Secomb’s considered reappraisal of theories of melodrama examines the ethics of lived experience in relation to two interrelated films: All that Heaven Allows(dir. by Douglas Sirk, 1955) and Todd Haynes’s adaptation Far from Heaven(2008). Secomb’s analyses, like those of Claire Humphrey on La Petite Jérusalem(dir. by Karin Albou, 2005), and Michelle Royer on Inch’Allah dimanche(dir. by Yamina Benguigui, 2001), suggest that camera movement and constructions of cinematic space make manifest notions of transcendence and immanence. Moving beyond concerns of narrative or character, the links made here between film’s aesthetic qualities and the creative elaboration of lived ethics offer a more fulsome account of cinema’s capacity to think from, and indeed move beyond, a Beauvoirian philosophical perspective. Bradley Stephens’s chapter, for instance, brings to light tensions between the cinematic ethics of absurdity and ambiguity in David O. Russell’s film I Heart Huckabees(2004). As Oliver Davis notes, ‘refusing to “apply” Beauvoir’s thought to [. . .] film endeavours to avoid repeating a subordinating move now so commonly decried, even if still so often repeated [. . .] in the history of the relationship between art and thought in philosophical aesthetics’ (p. 135). Consequently, as Kate [End Page 283]Ince’s brilliant final chapter on Sally Potter and feminist phenomenology also suggests, it is not the retrospective reading of Beauvoir’s texts into contemporary films, nor the re-attunement of contemporary cinema’s ideological challenges to Beauvoir’s political and philosophical concepts, that validates her ongoing relevance to film studies. Rather, the revitalization of Beauvoir’s thought comes from the capacity of the films themselves to stage, choreograph, and reframe the complex possibilities of feminine and, by extension, human experience. This book aptly stages such an encouraging philosophical aspiration.