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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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Conclusions 293


293 Conclusions There is a clear parallel to be drawn between the critical recep- tion of Australian cinema in France and the French critics’ per- ception of Australian cultural identity more generally. French critical writing on Australian cinema over the thirty-year period from 1971 to 2001 is characterised by a theme of perpetual ‘dis- covery’ of both Australian cinema and Australia as a national cultural identity. On the one hand, the French critics identify Australia as an exotic and distant European Antipodes; on the other, a loosely defined Australian specificity struggles to emerge from a perceived hegemony of Anglo-Saxon and, par- ticularly, American culture. The cultural markers used by the French critics to distin- guish an Australian specificity differ from those used within the English-speaking world, where linguistic variation constitutes a primary indicator of nationality-specific cultural origin. In the absence of linguistic reference, we have seen that the French critics tend to focus on geographical features to distinguish an Australian specificity – most notably the Australian desert landscape, and also Australia’s considerable distance from Europe. Given the fact that the French critics are writing for a French audience, the tendency is, quite naturally, to situate France at the ‘centre’, with Australia clearly at the other side, or opposite end, of the world. The positioning of Australia as a distant other is comple- mented by a suggested cultural ‘emptiness’ that reflects the bar- ren landscape. Australia’s geographical isolation is frequently referred to either as an indication, or explanation, of cultural and societal...

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