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  • Some Stylistic Considerations of Free Indirect Discourse in Film Adaptations of Flaubert's Madame Bovary
  • Colin Gardner (bio)

Variously known as style indirect libre or erlebte Rede, free indirect discourse has always been of particular interest to both literary and film theorists because of its identification with the modernist innovations of Gustave Flaubert and the nineteenth-century bourgeois novel as well as the narrative properties of traditional Hollywood cinema. Gilles Deleuze, for example, ties it directly to his discussion of what he calls the "perception-image." In film, a perception has two poles, subjective and objective. Thus, "a subjective perception is one in which the images vary in relation to a central and privileged image; an objective perception is one where, as in things, all the images vary in relation to one another, on all their facets and in all their parts."1 However, it is important to note that the narrative film's scopic economy is not a simple binarism between subjective point of view and objective rendering on-screen (expressed most economically, for example, in shot-reverse-shot editing), but also behaves in accordance with a free indirect discourse that is able to express characters' inner states via the mise-en-scène, while the character is also present within the mise-en-scène. The free indirect discourse therefore suggests the possibility of expressing a first-person focalization (inside), while continuing to present the character in the third person (outside).

This complication of the subjective-objective duality is acknowledged by Deleuze in his analysis of Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Cinema of Poetry"2 and its relation to the free indirect in Cinema 1: The Movement Image. Here, Deleuze argues that the perception-image is often able to override the intentionality of bodily motility (the vectorial space of Deleuze's "action-image") via a form of camera self-consciousness. "We are no longer faced with subjective or objective images," notes Deleuze; "we are caught in a correlation between a perception-image and a camera-consciousness which transforms it (the question of knowing whether the image was objective or subjective is no longer raised)."3 Deleuze calls this "a very [End Page 587] special kind of cinema" because it makes the presence of the camera both felt and palpable.4 In this way, the perception-image takes on the guise of a free indirect subjectivity as soon as it manifests itself through an autonomous camera-consciousness. Consequently, the free indirect allows us to get a clearer idea of how a pure perception-image—with its specific roots in bodily affect—might work when freed from the subjective baggage of suturing film language.

Earmarked as a direct advance on, and contrast to, the all-seeing, God's-eye objectivist realist novels of Balzac and Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857) is often cited specifically as the prototypical text of this hybrid subjective / objective style, although Pasolini has traced a variation of its use as far back as Dante.5 Given this general hermeneutic regard for the free indirect as a historicizing, ideologically motivated textual practice, the paucity of discussion concerning its application to film is all the more surprising, especially given the import of Deleuze's analysis in both Cinema 1 and Cinema 2: The Time-Image. With that in mind, this essay thus posits the following questions: What is free indirect discourse? How does it work in the literary context of Flaubert in general and Madame Bovary in particular? Does it translate directly into cinematic terms? If so, how has this affected film adaptations of Madame Bovary, specifically those of Jean Renoir, Vincente Minnelli, and Claude Chabrol? If not, and this constitutes the crux of this essay's thesis, is there an indirect filmic substitute that can generate equivalent stylistic effects? The short answer to the last question is yes, and it lies, as we shall see, in film's ability to foreground the body's performative ability to express inner states as an outward form of affect or gest.

First, let us clear some semantic ground and try to establish a terminological consensus via some specific definitions. In A Dictionary of Narratology, Gerald Prince defines "direct discourse...


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