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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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9. Perpetual Discovery 241


241 9. Perpetual Discovery The French Critical Reception of Australian Cinema 1995-2001 From the mid-1990s, following the kitsch spectacle of Austra- lia’s international successes in Muriel’s Wedding and The Adven- tures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Australian filmmaking headed into a period defined by the aesthetic of the ‘arthouse’ film. The movement consisted, on the one hand, of films of a brutal honesty in their depiction of disturbing violence and a sense of the harsh ‘reality’ of life in the less-familiar urban Aus- tralian landscape. On the other, the industry was producing films that sustained the aesthetic of the ‘strange’ or ‘bizarre’ that had developed in Australian film earlier in the decade. The French critical response to this period of Australian filmmaking reveals the perpetuation of the marginalisation of Australian cinema and Australian national identity in France, with themes such as ‘discovery’, ‘amazement’, ‘distance’ and ‘isolation’ punctuating French writing on the Australian films of the era, twenty-five to thirty years after the Australian cinema revival. * * * The cinema of Rolf de Heer represents the work of a filmmaker whose often disturbing singularity, within the context of an al- ready marginalised national cinema, clearly isolates him from the commercial mainstream. De Heer’s films have earned the director a reputation for unconventionality; not only in terms of style, but particularly in regard to the challenge his work poses for ‘conventional’ taste and morality. This translates into a con- fronting viewing experience for the spectator, and a resultant polarisation of critical responses to...

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