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Film Criticism as Cultural Fantasy

The Perpetual French Discovery of Australian Cinema


Andrew McGregor

This book presents an unprecedented analysis of the dynamics of cultural representation and interpretation in film criticism. It examines how French critical reception of Australian cinema since the revival period of the 1970s has evolved as a narrative of perpetual discovery, and how a clear parallel can be drawn between French critics’ reading of Australian film and their interpretation of an exotic Australian national identity. In French critical writing on Australian cinema, Australian identity is frequently defined in terms of extremes of cultural specificity and cultural anonymity. On the one hand, French critics construct a Euro-centric orientalist fantasy of Australia as not only a European Antipodes, but the antithesis of Europe. At the same time, French critics have tended to subordinate Australian cultural identity within the framework of a resented Anglo-American filmic and cultural hegemony. The book further explores this marginalisation by examining the influence of the French auteur paradigm, particularly in reference to the work of Jane Campion, as well as by discussing the increasingly problematic notion of national identity, and indeed national cinemas, within the universal framework of international film culture.


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1. Cultural Fantasy 11


11 1. Cultural Fantasy The Perpetual French Discovery of an Ever-Emerging Cinema of the Antipodes The exoticism of the Antipodes has for centuries been a major focal point of European fantasy. French critical reception of Australian cinema, and French constructions of Australian cul- tural identity, reflect the enduring popular image in France of an Australia that is a cultural as well as a geographical opposite – an orientalist relationship that ensures European centricity as much as it perpetuates the marginalisation of Australian cul- tural identity. The theme of perpetual discovery that emerges in French critical writing on Australian film is indicative of a sus- tained cultural marginalisation as much as a practical and com- mercial marginality. Similarly, Australian as well as French or- ganisations, in their attempt to create a niche market in France for what is labelled the Cinema of the Antipodes, perpetuate the notion that each and every identifiably Australian film offers the potential for a fresh European ‘discovery’ of the Antipodes. For as long as French film criticism has maintained its inter- national prestige via film journals of the calibre of Cahiers du ci- néma and Positif, French critical writing on film has itself been the object of analysis, and indeed criticism, from both within and beyond France.1 This book seeks to demonstrate that with regard to particular national cinemas identified in France as ob- scure and far-flung – a status clearly attributed to the example of 1 See, for example, Pierre Ajame, Les critiques de cinéma,...

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