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Film Criticism as Cultural Fantasy

The Perpetual French Discovery of Australian Cinema

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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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7. International Icons 157

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157 7. International Icons The French Critical Reception of Australian Cinema 1985-1989 In the mid to late 1980s, the Australian film industry began to feel the effect of the lucrative Australian government ‘tax shel- ter’ policy known as 10BA – created in 1981 in order to encour- age private investment in film production. Investors in Austra- lian film projects could claim significant tax deductions by channelling their disposable income (of which there was an abundance in the booming 1980s economy) into the production of any film project, provided it met basic criteria. Needless to say, the end result was an increase in the commercial focus of the industry, with, some would argue, a greater emphasis on quantity over quality. Nevertheless, the abundance of films con- tributed to Australia’s increasing international profile – the re- sult of heavy promotion of Australia as a tourist destination around the world, and also of Australia’s success in other me- dia, particularly music, with groups such as Midnight Oil and INXS enjoying unprecedented popularity in France. Dominque Jamet acknowledged the trend in France Soir in 1985, but still managed to introduce a level of cynicism which was, by then, familiar in French critical writing on Australian film: ‘L’Austra- lie est le continent à la mode, et c’est fort bien ainsi: ce n’est pas tous les jours qu’aux antipodes il y a du nouveau.’1 * * * A potent example of the cynicism of some French film critics was the reception of Ray Lawrence’s Bliss (1985) – a critical dis- 1 Dominique Jamet,...

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