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…

Monday, 17 November 2014

A new cinema, a new interest – women’s issues and new Romanian cinema


For the past decade, Romanian cinema has seen a prosperous period, gaining positive critical and public reception. Previously unknown to critics and scholars, Romanian cinema secured itself a leading role in world cinema. Considered by many a new wave, the filmmakers themselves have preferred the term of ‘new generation’ instead, putting similarities on account of their common upbringing.  An interest for same thematic platforms, realism, and similar stylistic choices are just some of the common traits which have enabled films scholars to place the majority of Romanian films under the same umbrella. One of these aspects is represented by the interest in women’s issues and female characters. Telling stories with and about women has never been a major line for Romanian cinema; films made during communism until the inception of the new wave have been limited to displaying stereotypical female characters, life situations and experiences. This has been changed by the new generation, and an important share of the films made in the past ten years have been interested in women’s issues or presenting life situations from feminine perspectives.
 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007), Ryna (Ruxandra Zenide, 2005), First of all, Felicia (Melissa de Raaf, Razvan Radulescu, 2009) and The Happiest Girl in the World (Radu Jude, 2009) are just some of the latest productions which deal with women’s issues. The new modes of women representations by the new Romanian cinema are not limited to these films, instead are to be found in various forms throughout the works of the new generation. The alternative modes of representing women proposed by latest Romanian films can be seen as a medium of dealing with women’s issues, female character and femininity in cinema. The filmmakers do not express any feminist agenda, the products are not explicitly women cinema, but they hint at possible ways of empowering female characters and displaying women’s experiences on film.

1.4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days         2.Tuesday, After Christmas

Most of the characters are still placed in patriarchal embedded situations and are positioned in domestic areas; however, they do not tend to be dependent on the men around them, they are not being defined only through their relationship with men or their gender. A very important new aspect brought in by Romanian cinema is represented by realist characters; the women are not labelled in boxes or objectified, they are constructed as human beings, active and outspoken, with flaws and aspirations, having professional life and families. They are frustrated, irritated or dreary with the patriarchal modus operandi, and the inability of men to understand and appropriately communicate with them. The female characters seem to be more prone to change and action, even when they cannot change things, they voice their complaints. This energetic process of character development, completed with a predisposition towards women’s issues and feminine subjectivity can be interpreted as a search for identity of most women represented in the new Romanian cinema. The variety of female characters and women experiences found in the new generation of films proves more feminist than the display itself, acknowledging the diversity of women and the manifold implications of being a woman. The films offer a great range of characters - from prostitutes to middle class students and high end overprotective mothers, a variety of situations past and present which have taken their toll on women. Completing the narrative techniques, the visual style, cinematography and editing choices are working towards the centrality of female characters and women’s issues. The cinematography of films such as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Francesca or The Happiest Girl in the World is based on the centrality of female characters, with the shots are constructed around the women, with the character placed in the centre of the image. The shooting angles and editing techniques are allowing a greater space for women to perform and present their realities.

3.The Happiest Girl in the World   4.Child’s Pose
A different cinematic agenda (the new generation of filmmakers have been exploring alternative narratives in their quest to distance themselves from previous Romanian cinema), or a formula for international success are all possible explanations or, at least points of discussions for the interest new Romanian cinema has in women’s issues.

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