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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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3. Points of View 31


31 3. Points of View Film Criticism, Film Journals and Press Reviews in France Ceux qui théorisent, ceux qui connotent, ceux qui déconnotent ceux qui critiquent scientifique, ceux qui distancient, ceux qui brechtisent, ceux qui ratissent l’esthétisme, ceux qui mitraillent le subjectivisme, ceux qui fusillent l’impressionnisme, ceux qui bombardent l’éclectisme, ceux qui napalment le cinéma spectacle, ils sont bien beaux et bien gentils, mais ils m’ennuient à crever, avec leurs grosses têtes et leurs petites pointes Bic, et leurs révolutions en chambres de bonne. Henry Moret (editorial in Ecran, no. 2, February 1972) In his disparaging analysis of the state of French film criticism in 1972, Henry Moret indulges in a degree of cynicism similar to that of the colleagues he denounces for their self-importance and for the subjective fundamentalism of their approach to film criticism. Nevertheless, Moret’s observations reveal two contex- tual points that are important to our understanding of the nature of French film criticism, and more particularly, to our consi- deration of the issues surrounding the French critical reception of Australian cinema. Firstly, it is clear from Moret’s broad assertions that the vit- riol demonstrated by critics such as Louis Chauvet of Le Figaro in his condemnation of Giorgio Mangiamele’s Clay in 1965, which will be discussed in the next chapter, is by no means limited to the reception of Australian films. The severity of the terms used 32 by Moret to describe the manner in which his colleagues ‘shoot down’...

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