Welcome to Auteuse Theory

Welcome to Auteuse Theory. The purpose of this blog is to allow us to think about and write about a range of films made by women, from silent re-discoveries to the latest releases, from activist documentaries to mainstream Hollywood features, taking in examples from across the globe, whether famous or obscure. We have no desire to force ham-fisted links between very different films and very different filmmakers, to insist that they fit some pre-designated template of women’s cinema. Quite the opposite; we want to explore the diversity of forms taken by women’s filmmaking across different nations and eras. So why focus on women as a separate category at all? Why isolate their films from those of their male peers and think about them as some kind of exceptional or special case? Well, there’s still the matter of persistent inequality of opportunity within certain key authorial roles in the film industries. We all know the stats: even now, post-Bigelow Oscar win, women only constitute 10% of directors globally, and 15% of screenwriters. This is an improvement on previous years but it’s still (obviously!) a very minor proportion of the whole. As the British director Lynne Ramsay has commented, it’s ‘a bit like a country not being filmed – and that country not having a voice. It really does matter.’ And although we are very reluctant to make simple equations between the fact of there being a woman being at the helm of a film and that film offering a more complex picture of femininity (there have always been battalions of male directors who are very good at telling female-focussed stories), there is nonetheless plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is often true.

Our main subject is film but we will inevitably make forays into television and other media from time to time. We will be focussing predominantly on films directed by women, but we’re also interested in including films which demonstrate female authorship in other ways (writing, producing or performance). And we won’t be thinking about those films solely as women’s films. We don’t want to ghettoise them, so we’ll be connecting them to the time and place of their production, or their place within a genre or a movement, as much as we connect them to each other. There will be no rhyme or reason to the films that we discuss or the order in which they appear, instead we’ll be hoping for serendipitous connections, unexpected correspondences, sharp contrasts, strange juxtapositions; in other words, a blog that aims to be perpetually different and surprising. Most of the writing will be undertaken by the two main authors but interspersed with guest reviews from others who will each bring a fresh perspective.

And, finally, why the title Auteuse Theory? We were scouting around for a name that indicated a response to the old-fashioned auteur theory, and its insistence on ‘virility’ as a marker of directorial quality (all that Hawks and Ford worship). Women hadn’t only been marginalised in the making of films but the select few who had managed to break through were often given short shrift in the founding critical histories of film (with the exception of the highly problematic case of Leni Riefenstahl), until feminist scholars put Arzner, Weber, Guy-Blache, Lupino and Varda back into the picture. And this work of excavation and rediscovery continues – see the Women Film Pioneers and Women and Silent British Cinema websites for ongoing examples. We are aware of the problems of using the French feminised form of a professional name, drawing a gendered distinction between male and female practitioners (just as some publications reject the word actress in favour of actor for both men and women), but in the spirit of subversion, we wanted to occupy and feminise a word - auteur - which still sits at the heart of so much film scholarship and film appreciation. And although the blog is called Auteuse Theory, it might be more appropriate to think in terms of 'theories', the more intellectually generous plural form. These are some theories and thoughts and ideas arising from watching these films made by women. We hope you enjoy reading them…

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Emanuela Piovano's "Le stelle inquiete/ Simone and Gustave"

Flavia Laviosa

The publication of Off Screen: Women and Film in Italy in 1988 and The Women’s Companion to International Film in 1990 (marked the beginning of an international interest in Italian women filmmakers. Ten years later, Dizionario delle registe: L’altra metà del cinema, the first and laudable attempt to produce a comprehensive and detailed volume on Italian women directors, informed international academia of the remarkable number of women operating in the film industry and the impressive quality of their work. More recently, three additional publications--Glass Ceiling. Oltre il soffitto di vetro. Professionalità femminili nel cinema italiano; Lost Diva Found Woman. Female Representations in New Italian Cinema and National Television from 1995 to 2005; and I Morandini delle donne. 60 anni di cinema italiano al femminile – further document and recognise the vast contribution made by women (actresses, directors, screen writers, producers and costume designers) to the history of Italian cinema.
The complex and variegated galaxy of contemporary Italian cinema includes multiple generations of women filmmakers all engaged in exploring new genres and hybridised aesthetics. Although working in a hostile climate of economic austerity, talented, energetic, innovative voices and creative forces take various directions and continue to gain international recognition. There is great need for research that evaluates the continued and rising visibility of women directors whose works provide a multifaceted definition of Italian cinema and who represent a rich and vital artistic make-up within the obstacles and contradictions that regulate the Italian national context. These directors interweave private spheres and public events, explore contemporary realities, re-examine intellectual figures, and revisit historical wounds, while producing a montage of artistic documents and provocative testimonies. The range and quality of their diverse works offer great promise for the future of women behind the camera in twenty-first century Italy.
Director and producer Emanuela Piovano’s most recent film Le stelle inquiete/Simone and Gustave (2010) is the first feature film made about the French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-43). Simone and Gustave is not a bio-picture, but it is specifically about an unknown fragment of Weil’s life, the summer months that she spent in 1941, when in July she was forced to leave German-occupied Paris to avoid anti-Semitic prosecution. She moved to St. Marcel, near Marseille, in the Ardèche region of southern France, where she was a guest at the vineyard owned by the philosopher-farmer Gustave Thibon and his wife Yvette. Piovano gives an intimate portrait of Weil, choosing to present her feminine side and private relations, in the broad context of her social activism, political theories and philosophical thought. The film conjugates the art of cinema with history, poetry, mysticism, philosophy and social militancy. As Weil familiarizes herself with working conditions on the farm, she engages in extended philosophical conversations and exchanges of views with the Catholic, royalist and spiritualist Gustave. Inevitably a burning intellectual passion for new ideas ignites their encounters.

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