- Gendered Frames, Embodied Cameras: Varda, Akerman, Cabrera, Calle, and Maïwenn by Cybelle H. McFadden
The argument of Cybelle McFadden’s book is that a certain number of French female filmmakers, from the New Wave precursor Agnès Varda to the twenty-first-century actor/director Maïwenn, have systematically turned their cameras towards their own bodies. She sets out to investigate the strategies implied by this literal reflexivity, starting from the hypothesis that ‘this particular subset of French filmmakers includes their cameras and bodies on-screen in order to make visible their situated ways of seeing, since women’s presence and participation in the profession have been historically overshadowed’ (p. 6; emphasis original). Thus, McFadden’s examination of these women’s filmic practices is very much bound up with issues of authorship and indeed of auteurship, with each chapter examining how, in their different ways, the subjects, by observing their bodily existence in the world, assert their influential presence both as filmmakers and as autonomous individuals in control of the significance of their own lives. The Introduction sets out the theoretical framework of the enquiry, and is particularly informed by the writings of Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir (whose relevance to feminist film studies is currently receiving belated recognition). The five case studies that follow appear in broadly chronological sequence, although the order in which they are treated also represents a developing argument. In the first part [End Page 426] of the book (Varda, Chantal Akerman, Dominique Cabrera), the films analysed are autobiographical essay-films, where narrative takes second place to self-presentation. In the second part (Sophie Calle, Maïwenn) storytelling makes its appearance, allowing the filmmakers a certain detachment from their own presence and existence; this concept of the faux, as McFadden puts it (passim), allows them to reconfigure intimate and painful areas of their lives without relinquishing possession of their personal stories. Distanciation also has a role to play in the first part, for example in Varda’s use of multiple mirrors in her autobiographical films. Through self-reflexion, McFadden argues, Varda is able to establish herself as ‘the female filmmaker’, a figure long left out of account. (I must admit, I feel that McFadden somewhat overstates Varda’s marginalization, going so far as to describe her as ‘excluded’ from the New Wave at one point.) For Akerman, on the other hand, selfrepresentation is a paradoxical process of substitution: her films will stand in for her in her televised self-portrait, but her presence as image-maker may also replace images which, according to Jewish tradition, are taboo. In the case of Cabrera’s intimate video-diaries, McFadden sees the camera as an image-making tool literally incorporated into the filmmaker’s body. With this concept of the ‘hybrid body, the biological coupled with the technological’ (p. 127), filming — specifically, self-filming — is presented as a bodily function, an immediate sensory engagement with the world, as unstaged as possible. It is here that the concept of the embodied camera takes full form. Overall, McFadden presents an original and thought-provoking overview of a particular strategy in women’s filmmaking, which will be of interest to any future researchers of this theme, in France or further afield.