French Cinema


Les Amants SE

Cinema Du Look: Spectacle over Substance?

French Cinema in the 80s was in crisis. With television being more prominently watched than ever before as a result of increased affordability meaning that by 1975 most households had a television set. Along with the death of François Truffaut in 1984 being the symbolic collapse of a certain idea of the auteur, French Cinema was struggling to find an identity. American films were more watched than French films by French audiences for a significant part of the 80s, resulting in the increased use of large budgets and the shift away from the aesthetic realism of the New Wave.

Cinema Du Look began with Diva in 1980 showing a distinct style of film which valued surface visuals over the narrative of the film. This is a key aspect of Cinema Du Look as a movement. Director, and former writer for Cahiers du Cinema, Leos Carax defines this with his film Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. “Carax goes back to the origins of the cinema”[1] is an accurate description of the way Carax has constructed Les Amants. Carax uses the beautiful Paris streets as a backdrop to the film, with the Pont Neuf being a key locale. These visuals dominate the film. The Pont Neuf was even recreated for the film along with surrounding buildings in a larger scale resulting in a more dramatic visual attraction. The construction of the bridge also contributed to Les Amants becoming one of the most expensive French films of all time. The casting of Denis Lavant, who worked with Carax on Boy Meets Girl and The Night is Young, and Juliette Binoche resulted in significant costs also due to their stardom at the time of filming. These Features are prominent in the Cinema Du Look movement.

The most striking of scenes in Les Amants, which perfectly characterises the spectacle of this period, shows the characters of Alex and Michèle on the Pont Neuf watching as the fireworks begin with a harmonica playing, exemplary of French music. The scene begins to intensify as more fireworks are fired off in the distance. American rock music from Iggy Pop and Public enemy play as the two dances extravagantly across the bridge in a surreal sequence featuring a boat pulling jet-skiers with sparklers on their backs.
The audacity and ridiculousness of this scene exemplifies the distinct style of Cinema Du Look and justifies the criticisms of the movement. Superficiality and comparisons drawn to advertising and music videos can be seen clearly with the bright lights and fluorescent colours along with the fact that the characters are presented as fantastical ideas rather than real people. Cahiers du Cinema “has been dominant in critiques of the Cinema Du Look: namely that it is superficial”[2]. However, Carax wrote for Cahiers between 1979 and 1980 meaning he wasn’t criticised. Another contributing factor to this may be that he also presented some vague ideas of political and social concerns in his films, for example, homelessness in Les Amants. Despite this fact, the film and the movement as a whole crates art which is clearly made for spectacle over any substantial narrative motives.

[1] Powrie, P. (2004). French cinema in the 1980s. Oxford [England]: Clarendon Press, p.133.

[2] Austin, G. (1996). Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction. Manchester [England]: Manchester University Press, p.119.

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