Women, Pleasure and Transgression in French Literature and Culture
Edited By Maggie Allison, Elliot Evans and Carrie Tarr
Feminist approaches to questions of women, pleasure and transgression have generally been premised on the assumption that women’s pleasures are typically constrained – if not ignored, marginalized or forbidden – in patriarchal cultures. The naming, foregrounding and pursuit of women’s pleasures can therefore be deemed potentially transgressive and linked to women’s emancipation in other realms. The essays in this volume draw on a range of materials, from travel writing and the novel to film and stand-up comedy, addressing the specificity of French and Francophone approaches to women, pleasure and transgression across a range of historical contexts.
The volume is divided into three sections: intellectual and creative pleasures; normative pleasures, that is, pleasures conforming to women’s conventionally expected roles and status as well as to accepted views regarding race, national identity and sexuality; and perverse pleasures, that is, pleasures transgressive in their tendency to reject authority and norms, and often controversial in their «excessive» appetite for violence, sex, alcohol or food. In each case, questions are raised about how we approach such pleasures as feminist researchers, motivated in part by a desire to counter the notion of feminism and feminist research as something «dour» or joyless.
14 Perverse Pleasures: Women’s Takes on ‘Extreme’ French Cinema (Carrie Tarr)
14 Perverse Pleasures: Women’s Takes on ‘Extreme’ French Cinema1
The turn of the twenty-first century witnessed the development of a relatively new strand in French filmmaking that became known as ‘extreme’ French cinema. Dating back to Gaspar Noé’s Seul contre tous (1997), the phenomenon consists of mostly male auteur films which shocked audiences with their taboo-breaking appropriation of elements of horror, gore and porn, including stylized but graphic imagery of bodies (mostly, but not only, female) being raped, tortured and murdered.2 This ‘cinema of transgression’, to use Martine Beugnet’s term (Beugnet 2007), might seem alien terrain for women’s filmmaking, yet it includes films written and directed by French women filmmakers, notably Virginie Despentes, Marina de Van and Catherine Breillat. This chapter will assess what sort of viewing pleasures three ‘extreme’ films by women, centring on transgressive female protagonists, might offer female spectators, and the extent to which they are inflected with women’s and/or feminist concerns.
For critic James Quandt (2004), the hybrid nature of ‘extreme’ French cinema was the sign of a cultural crisis whereby French filmmakers responded to ‘the death of […] French identity, language, ideology, [and] aesthetic forms […] with desperate measures’. Thus for Quandt, as for many other critics, ‘extreme’ French cinema was best understood as a←219 | 220→ calculatedly violent, porno-chic reconfiguration of French film aesthetics attempting to beat Hollywood and Asian cinemas at their own game in the transnational marketplace.3 Consequently, it was not to be seen as...
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