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Reviewed by:
  • Robert Guédiguian by Joseph Mai
  • Michael Gott
Joseph Mai. Robert Guédiguian. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2017. 158 pp.

Robert Guédiguian’s career has spanned more than three decades and his output includes twenty features. Those films have at times drawn large audiences (Marius et Jeannette) or stirred vigorous historical debate (L’Armée du crime) and consistently open at the Cannes film festival and receive significant, if not always adoring, critical attention. Guédiguian has been the most prolific—and arguably one of the most incisive—cinematic chroniclers of postindustrial France, often but not exclusively from the vantage point of L’Estaque, a small community within the city limits of Marseille. All of this makes the director’s work indispensable for French cinephiles and socio-cultural observers alike. Despite this status, Guédiguian had not been the object of a scholarly study in either English or French until Joseph Mai’s 2017 entry in the French Film Directors series from Manchester University Press. Mai redresses this critical oversight and offers a fascinating reading of the auteur’s corpus through the angle of friendship, both as a guiding principle in his cinematic practice and as a key to understanding the meaning of his work. The book analyzes Guédiguian’s cinema from the early days of committed filmmaking through his most recent and more thematically and geographically diverse output. Mai’s decision to focus on Guédiguian’s enduring cinematic preoccupation with “living with friends” not only solves the problem of how to approach such an expansive catalogue (18 films are covered in the monograph) but also results in a compelling and unique analysis of the director’s work. As Mai suggests, friendship is “less frequently cited than ideology as a subject of critical analysis in the cinema” (9). Mai uses friendship as a common thread that he follows through Guédiguian’s career. In the process he offers a convincing reading against the critical grain of what is most interesting about Guédigian’s filmmaking and as well as a of what is positive in Guédiguian’s [End Page 498] privileged themes, which tend to be either understood within the context of the decline of labor and the demise of solidarity in a postindustrial and globalized France or, on the other extreme, read as naively optimistic. Mai acknowledges the detractors who have labelled Guédiguian too simplistic or too melodramatic and the common criticism that he churns out fictions de gauche that “argue for a new world while neglecting to imagine a different cinema” (2). Mai contends, however, that such critiques overlook “the profoundly original and durable project of ‘living together’ that underpins Guédiguian’s work and that constitute a truly different cinema” (2). This togetherness is first and foremost the result of Guédiguian’s commitment to working with a core group of friends that have appeared in all of his films. They are his spouse Ariane Ascaride, his childhood friend Gérard Meylan, and Jean-Pierre Darroussin. As Mai demonstrates, though, the director’s project is both practical and discursive: “his friends are sharing a life together, but they are producing images of philia that they are proposing to viewers” (16). Mai traces the thread of friendship from Guédiguian’s debut, Dernier été (1981), to his 2014 release Au fil d’Ariane, drawing on various philosophical concepts of friendship, most notably and productively philosopher Todd May’s theorization of the relationships and interactions between consumers and entrepreneurs. May identifies these as the two primary figures of the neoliberal age. Mai argues convincingly for a reading of Guédiguian’s oeuvre as a response to the primacy of the consumer and the entrepreneur. By “making the cinema an activity for living with friends,” the director’s project stands in contrast to dominant cinema industry practices (16). Filmmaking for Guédiguian is a personal and small-scale undertaking that is intimately and inextricably connected to friendship as a way of life and as a model for a search for “new forms of politics” (14). If Guédiguian’s political stance has been rightly be critiqued at times as inchoate and at others as...


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pp. 498-500
Launched on MUSE
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