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  • Postcolony's Colonial Registers in Claire Denis's Chocolat and White Material
  • Michael T. Martin and Eileen Julien1

The cinema should be human and be part of people's lives; it should focus on ordinary existences in sometimes extraordinary situations and places. That is what really motivates me.

—Claire Denis, 2010

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Figure 1.

Claire Denis, Jon Vickers (left), and Michael Martin (center). Courtesy of the BFC/A.

Much has been written that I hope not to reiterate in the conversation that follows with Ms. Claire Denis, auteur filmmaker of extraordinary insight on all manner of lived experience of the postcolonial subject [fig. 1]. Less considered by audiences and critics alike is the correspondence between Chocolat (1988) and White Material (2009). Such [End Page 99] correspondence occurs to me, not because they share a relational temporality of place and circumstance, or even the autobiographical, which Denis has denied. Instead, this correspondence is because the films foreground a relationship and shared encounter in the intersection, specificities, and determinations between two historical formations,2 and the central characters are emblematic of archetypes, however nuanced and differentiated, by that encounter.

Michael T. Martin:

Ms. Denis, I would like to begin this conversation with several questions that will help our readers and me to understand your POV.

Claire Denis:

May I say one thing about what was written about me? I never read Internet responses about my films. I think there is something strange about reading things that describe my work. Whether I agree or disagree with the views expressed, I think it's a confusing process. I think it's better to go through life interested in what's coming next. What has done in my own past can't be undone. I think it's a morbid way of living. So, today, tomorrow, next week, I will be back in the editing room. I already shudder to think of all that lies ahead, but that's what matters to me. What happened before is past and gone, not because I'm a philosophical person, but because I'm a fragile person. I hate to look back. Except for history. I like history and other peoples' past. But to look back on my steps, no. This is not a matter of being humble or too proud—it's really a fear.


Most of us carry baggage. In my own case, baggage that I can't unload.


This is serious—but unloading what you carry inside is different from turning back, which is unhelpful; it's loading on more. I don't think of it as baggage, in the sense that it's heavy. It's in me and I don't give it a second thought.


It's there.


It's there forever. And it's not something I carry like a badge of honor, or pain, or an emotion.


It's a fact.


Yes! Maybe to consider the future is a sort of flight, running away from myself, but at least it's alive, it's a direction, it's what I think of when I go to bed and what will await me the next day.

Eileen Julien:

Speaking of the future, this brings to mind, France, who years later as an adult, returns in Chocolat to Africa. Is she looking back or forward? Is her need to push herself into the next phase of her life or to reconsider and recover the past? [End Page 100]


When France returns it is partly a flashback of my own experience to a place I've lived or am discovering, it's a Proustian experience: the smell of the earth, a man, the perfume of a woman, food, its taste, the sensation the rainy season evokes in me—things like that create emotions. In spite of this, it was never my intention to go back to a place to reconsider my past in this film. In fact, I would never have done what France does in Chocolat. While I was shooting in Cameroon, where I spent part of my childhood, I was surprised that people there still knew my...


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