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Studies in French Cinema Volume 8 Number 1 2008 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/sfc.8.1.


The phenomenology of desire: Claire Deniss Vendredi soir (2002)

Elizabeth Newton University of Leeds Abstract
This article offers a phenomenological reading of Vendredi soir. Following Martine Beugnets notion of the cinema of the senses in Claire Deniss work, the article places the film within a coherent phenomenological framework, and argues that Deniss film enacts a phenomenological reduction, a bracketing out of the usual conditions of its protagonists existence. This leads to an emphasis on the embodied, sensory aspect of being-in-the-world, producing in the viewer an almost synaesthetic, bodily identification with the film. In analysing the sensuous aspect of the film, the article emphasizes the role of the body as a sexual being, as discussed by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. It explores the problematics of a MerleauPontyan account of sexuality, examining the way in which feminist phenomenological theorys alternative accounts of sexuality for a female-centred body-subject may be deployed to account for the sensuous experiences of a female filmic protagonist. The article also argues that a Merleau-Pontyan account of sensory imagination provides a useful way of reading certain incongruous aspects of the film that have been criticized by commentators.

Denis embodiment feminism Merleau-Ponty perception phenomenology sexuality

In her perceptive work on the cinema of Claire Denis, Martine Beugnet remarks upon the emphasis on sensory experience in Vendredi soir, reading it, along with other films by Denis, as an example of the cinema of the senses (Beugnet 2004: 13298). Beugnets analysis, in common with other commentaries on Denis, acknowledges the overwhelmingly sensory and sensual nature of Vendredi soir, but Beugnet also mentions, in passing, the phenomenological nature of the novel on which the film is based (Beugnet 2004: 185). These observations, considered alongside an increasing interest in phenomenology amongst film theorists, raise the possibility of subjecting the film to a phenomenological analysis. Building upon Beugnets account of the sensory nature of the film, this study places Vendredi soir as an example of the cinema of the senses within an overarching, phenomenological framework. To this end, issues raised here include a consideration of the films enactment of the phenomenological reduction, a suspension or bracketing out of habitual conditions of existence, so as to allow the world to be experienced from an embodied perspective, as sensory phenomena. The role of the imagination is also explored in an attempt to refute suggestions that sequences representing the protagonists daydreams appear incongruous. This analysis also posits the film as an example of female embodiment in cinema, drawing on feminist phenomenological accounts of cinema.
SFC 8 (1) pp. 1728 Intellect Ltd 2008


Figure 1: The poster for Vendredi soir.


Elizabeth Newton

Thus, three areas of study that have been steadily gathering pace in French studies and film studies in recent years are interwoven here: French womens cinema; cinema and the senses/body; and the relationship between feminism and phenomenology.

The bodily and sensory focus of Deniss film is the primary subject of analysis here. This coincides with the aims of phenomenology: to describe human experience in its embodied involvement with the world around it. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose thought informs this phenomenological analysis, was at pains to demonstrate the way in which human beings are intimately and immediately linked to their environment and to others in it. His descriptive philosophy, like Deniss film, offers up a presentation of lived experience. For Merleau-Ponty, the wondrous inherence of mind within body is not something that should be analysed or explained; rather, the focus of phenomenology is to describe embodied human experience:
Phenomenological or existential philosophy is largely an expression of surprise at this inherence of the self in the world and in others, a description of this paradox and permeation, and an attempt to make us see the bond between subject and world, between subject and others, rather than to explain it as the classical philosophies did by resorting to absolute spirit.
(Merleau-Ponty 1964: 58; original emphasis)

Merleau-Ponty also conveys the view that cinema is a particularly useful medium for rendering the experience of human embodiment, being an art form whose mode of expression is mediated via the senses. Vivian Sobchack agrees with this in her study of the phenomenology of film, arguing that cinema makes use of modes of embodied existence (seeing, hearing, physical and reflective movement) as the vehicle, the stuff , the substance of its language. It also uses the structures of direct experience (the centering and bodily situating of existence in relation to the world of objects and others) as the basis for the structures of its language (Sobchak 1992: 45; original emphasis). Thus, embodied human consciousness finds a particularly apt means of expression in cinematic art. As Merleau-Ponty puts it, the mingling of consciousness with the world [] is movie material par excellence (Merleau-Ponty 1964: 5859). That film analysis should refer to phenomenological philosophy is unsurprising therefore, as phenomenology seeks to capture and describe the intertwining of mind and body. The link between phenomenology and cinema sketched here by Merleau-Ponty corresponds very closely to the experience of watching Vendredi soir. That is, the viewer is able to participate in the sensory universe offered up by the viewing experience; to observe and identify with the inherence in her surroundings of the protagonist, Laure (Valerie Lemercier), and her relationship with others, in particular with Jean (Vincent Lindon), with whom she has a one-night stand. The intimate atmosphere of the film plays a part in the viewers identification with Laure, leaving no doubt that it is from her embodied perspective that events are being experienced. If the focus of Vendredi soir is on lived, embodied experience, it is, to a certain extent, at the expense of a conventional narrative. Although the
The phenomenology of desire: Claire Deniss Vendredi soir (2002)


film has a discernible plot, it is somewhat sparse and slow to unfold. The basic facts of the plot are, in themselves, fairly straightforward: the film opens with Laure, the protagonist, on the eve of leaving her singleton flat and moving in with her partner, Franois. Caught up in a traffic jam caused by a public transport strike that paralyses the whole of Paris, and encouraged by an announcement on the car radio suggesting that drivers help others inconvenienced by the strike by offering them a lift, she allows Jean, a complete stranger, into her car. In the near absence of any dialogue, a mutual attraction develops, and they spend the night together in a hotel. Laure leaves the next day, apparently happy to return to Franois, in spite of the intensity of the night of passion she has just experienced. That these simple events take such a long time to play out on the screen creates the impression that the timescale of the plot corresponds to the natural passing of time, i.e. filmic events seem to unfold in real time. However, this is not the case; there is clearly some telescoping of time in the film, which lasts 88 minutes, but which depicts events from a Friday evening through to a Saturday morning, a period of roughly 12 hours. The consequence of this drawn-out plot (drawn out in comparison with most narrative cinema) is that it allows for lingering shots and scenes that frequently focus on items or objects of an apparently unremarkable nature. Nevertheless, the effect of these is far from dull; rather, the viewers senses come alive as he or she becomes attuned to Laures experiences and shares in her inherence in the world around her. Thus, these scenes or shots do not serve to advance the plot as would be the case in many other films; the viewer is enveloped in a sequence of sensory phenomena that appear to serve little purpose in driving events forward, they are simply a depiction of the experiences of the protagonist, Laure. In the absence of any urgency to progress the plot as in conventional narrative cinema, sensory experience itself takes centre stage. In this respect, Denis remains faithful to the novel on which the film is based, Emmanule Bernheims Vendredi soir, as Diana Holmes remarks: Denis finds a filmic equivalent for Bernheims spare narrative style [including] Laures perceptions and imaginings [] in a montage that is more impressionistic than tightly chronological (Holmes 2006: 134). As Holmes has observed, the film corresponds to a conventional narrative, insofar as it presents a microcosmic love affair; boy meets girl, who is already betrothed to another; attraction develops; rivals (imagined by Laure) and obstacles come between them (Laure at one point becomes fearful for her safety when Jean takes control of her car); these problems are resolved; passion ensues. But in spite of the obvious and passionate attraction between Laure and Jean, she chooses not to pursue their relationship, but to return to her regular life with Franois. This brief interlude of freedom from her steady relationship, and therefore from social convention provides Laure with a break from the normal conditions of her existence, and one might expect her to opt not to move in with Franois, but to continue this passionately fulfilling relationship. However, if this is what the viewer expects, he or she will be disappointed; as Beugnet has suggested:
In Vendredi soir, time and the narrative logic catch up, but without bringing a resolution. Deniss films belong to the postmodern in so far as their denial


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of the comfort of the progressive unfolding and of the logical ending seems to echo the contemporary fading of the belief in safe, grand narratives.
(Beugnet 2004: 43)

The catching up of time and logic mentioned by Beugnet here relates to her assertion that Vendredi soir can be seen to be an example of Deleuzian time cinema in which time is not linked to the plot, but is elastic and changing, and where situations exist in themselves and not simply as a premise to action (Beugnet 2004: 25). Whilst there are elements of conventional narrative in the film, any sense that this is a conventional film is destabilized by the emphasis on sensory experience, rather than on plot. This is not to go as far as to say that Deniss film has the same defamiliarizing effect as, for example, an experimental or avant-garde film. The slow pace of Vendredi soir precludes any possibility of seeing the events depicted on screen as merely serving to advance a plot, but the net result is not an exercise in experimentation. Instead, the verisimilitudinous nature of the events presented softens the impact of the lengthening of time, allowing the viewer to focus upon the films evocation of human experience. As Elena del Ro has indicated, Deniss film places upon viewers a different set of demands than those they are accustomed to, not only in terms of their departure from classical narrative patterns, but also in terms of their divergence from typically more cerebral experimental strategies (Ro 2003: 196). Thus, in both form and content, Vendredi soir diverges from expectation, challenging habitual modes of understanding film. This challenging of habitual ways of encoding film, in favour of an evocation of sensory phenomena, is analogous to the phenomenological reduction, a procedure that aimed to allow the phenomenological philosopher to examine phenomena as they are presented in human experience. For Merleau-Ponty, any attempt to describe experience as it is undergone directly, without the assumptions brought to it via cultural baggage, science or any other kind of explanatory framework, starts out from the reduction. This cultural baggage (the natural attitude as it is termed in phenomenological philosophy) is to be lifted, placed into parentheses or bracketed out: To return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in relation to which every scientific schematization is an abstract and derivative sign-language (Merleau-Ponty 1962: ix). Phenomenology is an attempt to describe experience without reference to any of the systems that might usually be employed to understand it. According to MerleauPonty, the relationship between humans and the world they inhabit can only be described, not analysed or explained. Phenomenology aims to present the world perceived in the absence of the natural attitude, a defamiliarized world of sensory phenomena. The process of suspending habitual modes of understanding accurately describes the sidelining of conventionally codified means of representation in Vendredi soir, with its resulting emphasis on sensory phenomena. The certainties of the central characters existence are suspended for an evening; Laure finds herself in a state of transition, of suspense and stasis. Her life is on hold, symbolized by the fact that her possessions are packed into cardboard boxes, ready for her to move in with her partner Franois
The phenomenology of desire: Claire Deniss Vendredi soir (2002)


on Saturday morning. At this turning point, Laure, who is not yet sharing Franoiss home, but who is clearly disconnected from her bare and cheerless flat, finds herself in a no mans land. When she gets in her car to leave the flat, the box of belongings on the back seat and the for sale notice in the cars rear window only add to the sense that she is uprooted, that she is giving up a part of herself. Additionally, Laures plans are hampered by the public transport strike that is paralysing Paris. Having gone out in her car to dine with friends, it soon becomes apparent that she will have difficulty in going anywhere; the streets are severely congested, she inches forward amongst a sea of cars. Thus, her plans are disrupted. In this sense, too, the normal conditions of her existence have been suspended; her everyday life is put on hold for one evening, as is, consequently, the propulsion of the narrative. Stuck in the traffic jam, Laures whole world is reduced to the space inside her car. It becomes her defence against the outside; when a man she perceives as a potential danger tries to climb in, she locks the door and drives off. Laures mood seems to soften, however, as she is comforted by the warmth from the cars heater, and she is cheered somewhat by some 1980s-style pop music on the radio. As Beugnet reminds us, in Deleuzian time-cinema, wherein time is not subjugated to action, but where situations are presented in and of themselves, as in Vendredi soir, sensory experiences are foregrounded; they become the entire focus of this section of the film (Beugnet 2004: 25). Here, a process of phenomenological reduction is being played out on the screen; the certainties of Laures world have been lifted, her existence has been reduced to a set of apparently unremarkable phenomena; yet through the lens of Agns Godard, objects are imbued with an extraordinarily evocative quality. The depth of detail for its own sake is remarkable, as is the strange verisimilitude rendered by paying attention to everyday things that do not carry signification or codified meaning. Merleau-Ponty suggests that this is precisely the effect of the phenomenological reduction; a bracketing out of frameworks for understanding and making sense of the world reveals it as an unfamiliar, but wondrous, series of phenomena:
The best formulation of the reduction is probably that given by Eugen Fink, Husserls assistant, when he spoke of wonder in the face of the world. Reflection [] slackens the intentional threads which attach us to the world and thus brings them to our notice; it alone is consciousness of the world because it reveals that world as strange and paradoxical.
(Merleau-Ponty 1962: xiii)

That is, one becomes aware of the strategies one usually employs to make sense of the world only when these are set aside, with the consequence that the world is experienced as strange and wondrous. It is with some justification, therefore, that Holmes describes a sense of a banal reality magically transformed during this section of the film, one which is created through the slow ballet of semi-motionless cars, light reflecting off their metal surfaces (Holmes 2006: 134). Within the close confines of Laures car, she is protected and warm, lulled by the heat. When Jean asks for a lift, the two strangers remain
Elizabeth Newton

suspended in the warmth and comfort of the car for a considerable time, with nothing to do and nothing to say to one another. Consequently, there is a focus on the muffled noises coming from outside, the curling, upwards movement of the smoke from the passengers cigarette, the creaking of his seat. Such close attention is paid to these small sensory details that an almost synaesthetic effect is achieved; the viewer can almost smell the smoke, feel the warm air from the heater, begin to feel drowsy in the cosy intimacy of the car-cocoon. To say that a viewer can apprehend a film through senses other than those used to represent the narrative (i.e. sight and sound), may at first seem somewhat unlikely. Nevertheless, an appeal to ones own experience confirms that one may feel as much as see and hear a film, and this, indeed, is what Laura Marks has in mind when she describes the appeal of cinema to a haptic or tactile visuality, suggesting that haptic images invite the viewer to respond to the image in an intimate, embodied way, and thus facilitate the experience of other sensory impressions as well (Marks 2000: 2). In phenomenological terms, a haptic visuality, one which appeals not just to vision but to the other senses as well, comes about because of ones corporeal inherence in the world, and this too is related to the phenomenological reduction. One conclusion of the reduction, for Merleau-Ponty, was that human consciousness was embodied, there was no Cartesian separation between mind and body; rather, he described existence in terms of a bodily consciousness, or body-subject. Because consciousness is situated within a body, perceptions are not perceived as discrete qualia (that is, sensory perceptions of, for example, sounds or colours in isolation) but are grasped by many senses at once. MerleauPonty speaks of a unity of the senses, claiming, for example, that visual and auditory experiences contain one another; they are pregnant one with the other (Merleau-Ponty 1962: 235). There is no need for us to translate or find equivalences between the senses, as they are all interwoven within the body-subject; hence colour and texture, for example, are not separable, for Merleau-Ponty: This red would literally not be the same if it were not the woolly red of a carpet (Merleau-Ponty 1962: 45). Thus the sound of the passenger seat creaking as Jean settles into it draws the viewers attention to his physical, tactile presence; the curling cigarette smoke evokes the smell, tightness in the throat and stinging eyes experienced when in a smoky environment. At various points throughout the film, Laure, whilst she has little else to occupy her thoughts, begins to imagine various scenarios. These are usually inconsequential in terms of the plot, as Beugnet has noted: Independently of the plot, as in Deleuzes definition of a time-cinema, time can become the time of diffused fear, of waiting and expectation, of boredom, of alienation (Beugnet 2004: 136). Several times, whilst Laure is waiting or bored, time slows and stretches to allow her imagination to wander and, focusing on banal objects, her daydreams playfully transform them, making them move in unexpected ways, punctuating the film with light-hearted visual jokes. It has been noted that these sections of the film are somewhat inconsistent with the overall atmosphere of the film. Film reviewer David Rooney, remarking on these detours into Laures imagination, concludes that audiences may respond to the dramas microscopic intimacy and semblance of real-time
The phenomenology of desire: Claire Deniss Vendredi soir (2002)


action. But to the majority, this will seem an annoyingly precious exercise in self-conscious art (Rooney 2002: 31). Amy Taubin agrees, suggesting that most of Friday Night is edited with exceptional fluidity and sophistication, but the transitions into and out of these fantasy and memory sequences are strangely clumsy, as if Denis were inventing from scratch a language to depict the movement of consciousness (Taubin 2003: 2224). However, imagined scenes such as these are perfectly consistent with the phenomenological aim of describing experience, including imaginary experience, faithfully. For Merleau-Ponty, imagined perceptions are just as much a part of experience as non-imagined ones; indeed, the two are closely intertwined:
My field of perception is constantly filled with a play of colours, noises and fleeting tactile sensations which I cannot relate precisely to the context of my clearly perceived world, yet which I nevertheless immediately place in the world, without ever confusing them with my daydreams. Equally constantly I weave dreams around things. I imagine people and things whose presence is not incompatible with the context, yet who are not in fact involved in it: they are ahead of reality, in the realm of the imaginary.
(Merleau-Ponty 1962: x)

Examples of such episodes in the film occur throughout. While Laure is sitting in her car in the traffic jam listening to a pop song on the radio, she looks at the Volvo car waiting in front of hers, and as she does so, a silver S appears from nowhere and, moving in time with the music, jumps and wiggles its way to the end of the silver 16 valve sign on the back of the car, so that it reads 16 valves. This sequence is quite different in style from the rest of the film in that it is obviously a computer-generated piece of animation. Another example occurs in the restaurant, where the pizza, garnished with olives and anchovies, flashes a brief grin as the anchovies curl upwards into a smiling mouth for a split second. Back in the hotel, the pink lampshade hovers across the room and places itself onto the lamp stand, and then the completed lamp lights up, all by itself. Other imagined scenarios, involving people rather than objects, are signalled by various techniques such as dissolves or, in one instance, the use of an iris. If these whimsical moments are somewhat at odds with the restrained tone of the film as a whole, this is not to say that they are incompatible with a phenomenological rendering of human experience. As Merleau-Ponty suggests, they form just as much a part of human perceptual experience as any other phenomena; the imaginary is woven around the real, but one does not tend to confuse the two. Thus, it is unsurprising that these sequences seem different to other parts of the film; they are an attempt to render the dreams Laure weaves around the objects of her perception.

Embodiment and female perspective

The question of point of view has been raised by commentaries on Vendredi soir, particularly in relation to the adaptation of the novel onto the screen. Bernheims novel uses a free indirect style to convey the notion that the narrative is unfolding from Laures perspective, as Judith Mayne describes: The novel is both inside and outside Laures consciousness at the same time; she is observed but she is also the subjective center of the novel
Elizabeth Newton

(Mayne 2005: 121). This is successfully translated onto the screen by Denis, via a mixture of point-of-view shots (from Laures point of view) and of shots of the couple and their surroundings as seen from a third-person perspective. This rendering of a subjective perspective via a third-person narrative or camerawork provides an example of how, according to MerleauPonty, a characters interior landscape can be understood by the viewer of a film. The third-person perspective does not present a characters thoughts or perceptions, but their behaviour; their own unique way of interacting with the world and with others. Not only does this behaviour give an indication of a characters personality, it also allows the viewer access to their interior landscape; the viewer will understand that a character feels dizzy, for example, just by watching the movements and gestures of that person from a third-person perspective:
We will get a much better sensation of dizziness if we see it from the outside, if we contemplate that unbalanced body contorted on a rock or that unsteady step trying to adapt itself to who knows what upheaval of space. For the movies as for modern psychology dizziness, pleasure, grief, love and hate are ways of behaving.
(Merleau-Ponty 1964: 58)

Thus, for Merleau-Ponty, what is of primary importance is embodiment and embodied behaviour, concerns that are reflected throughout Vendredi soir both in its impressionistic rendering of sense experience, and in the way in which the film presents the protagonists point of view. Additionally, the film presents the embodied perspective of a female character, which has implications for its depiction of the sexual encounter between the two main characters. Merleau-Pontys account of sexuality is bound up with his conception of embodied consciousness. For him, because human consciousness is corporeal, and therefore sexual, perception always contains an element of sexual motivation, but this may be not be immediately obvious to the body-subject, it may only be perceived ambiguously:
From the part of the body which it especially occupies, sexuality spreads forth like an odour or like a sound [] sexuality, without being the object of any intended act of consciousness, can underlie and guide specified forms of my experience [] existence permeates sexuality and vice versa, so that it is impossible to determine, in a given decision or action, the proportion of sexual to other motivations
(Merleau-Ponty 1962: 16869)

This account of an ambiguous sexuality corresponds particularly well to the very early stages of Laure and Jeans encounter in Vendredi soir. Laures initial perceptions of him are ambiguously rendered; at one point, she focuses on his hands arguably not a part of the body that is conventionally codified as erotic as they wait together in the traffic jam. At the same time, her gaze moves away from Jean and falls on other objects and people, so Jeans hands are not afforded any particular significance in this instance. Yet, at another point, Laure watches as he slides a hand under his shirt to
The phenomenology of desire: Claire Deniss Vendredi soir (2002)


rub or scratch his chest, a gesture that foreshadows, in the subtlest way, the later scene of the couple undressing in the bedroom. Agns Godard makes this episode more explicit in a remark relating to her camerawork: Its like when you look at somebody, but you dont want him to see that you are looking at him [] You just shyly throw a glance and notice, This is nice (cited in Thomson 2003: 29; original emphasis). However, the film does not allow the viewer access to any explicit thoughts that Laure may be having; there is no voice-over, so the incident remains ambiguous. Merleau-Pontys account accurately describes sexuality not as a drive or a cause of behaviour but as a modality of existence, infusing all aspects of the ways we face and act in the world, part of our situation in the world, according to Elizabeth Grosz (1994: 108). Indeed, the question of sexuality and human desire is a topic that Denis returns to time and again, suggesting that, for her, it is fundamental to any depiction of human existence, and that it is fundamental to her work as a female film-maker. Whilst acknowledging that her gender informs her films from their inception, she also says that the process of film-making is shared with collaborators of both genders, describing the process as erotic:
Even if Im at the origin of the film, and the film is therefore feminine, the work of filmmaking is a relationship. Its a relationship with the actors, and its a very erotic relationship. [] You cant do something that isnt part of who you are. When male directors move towards female characters [] thats where their desire, whether its heterosexual or homosexual, crystallizes, around the representation of a female icon. Its all about desire
(cited in Mayne 2005: 14445)

However, there is a potential difficulty with analysing a female-authored film that depicts female-embodied experience from the theoretical standpoint of a Merleau-Pontyan account of sexuality. As Grosz has observed, several feminists have complained that Merleau-Ponty is clearly representing sexuality on the model of male sexual experiences while ignoring female sexuality (Grosz 1994: 108). That is, Merleau-Ponty takes all the examples that support his arguments from male heterosexual subjects, failing to mention sexual difference and orientation, and thereby implying that the arguments he presents are neutral or universal. In spite of this, however, not all feminist readings of phenomenology are hostile: Grosz also acknowledges the usefulness of Merleau-Pontys emphasis on sensory experience, which chimes with the aims of feminism in using experience as a touchstone or criterion of the validity of theoretical postulates (Grosz 1994: 94). In this sense then, Deniss cinema is phenomenological; it presents experiences for our ratification. Furthermore, in Vendredi soir, the viewer is allowed access to the perspective of a female protagonist, so that the patriarchal structures of classical narrative cinema are broken down. The viewer need not identify with the controlling gaze of a male character, nor with an objectified female character whose function is to satisfy male needs. In this respect also, Gaylyn Studlar has noted the convergence between feminist film theory and the phenomenological reduction: The feminist effort to make strange the common sense of patriarchal filmic discourse
Elizabeth Newton

shares unrealized similarities with the phenomenologists attempt to bracket out (or make strange) naive notions of reality (Studlar 1990: 72). Thus in Vendredi soir, Laure is not filmed in a way that suggests conventional beauty or eroticism. There are other women in the film who are more conventionally beautiful than Valrie Lemercier, who plays Laure, such as the blonde in the car next to hers, the girl playing pinball in the caf or the woman with sore feet in the restaurant; all, from Laures perspective, are fleeting rivals for Jeans attention. Equally, in terms of the camerawork, the erotic side of the encounter between the two characters is presented in a somewhat defamiliarizing manner, as Holmes has indicated: Neither actor has a flawless star body, and the camera frames not the standard signifiers of the erotic (breasts, chests, buttocks) but rather two bodies entwined, and from an angle so close that it precludes any harmonious aesthetic patterning of the scene (Holmes 2006: 134). Thus, neither actor is objectified as a sexual object. Instead, the unglamorous reality of a night of passion in a cheap hotel is rendered with great verisimilitude. Denis infuses the encounter with a vivid sense of the passion and tenderness between the two characters; because of its lack of glamour and its bracketing out of conventional depictions of eroticism, the desire that Denis is so interested in depicting on the screen is all the more vividly evoked.

In summary, a phenomenological reading of Deniss cinematic depiction of desire is particularly suited to Vendredi soir in that it corresponds to Deniss lifting of convention in favour of an evocation of sensory phenomena. The reduction, with its resultant emphasis on embodied experience, is the starting point for such a reading. The experiences that Laure undergoes are only possible due to the suspension of her habituated modes of existence, the bracketing-out of her everyday life, as Holmes concludes: That ecstatic intensity, by its very nature, could only be glimpsed in the suspended time of the defamiliarised city (Holmes 2006: 132). On many levels, the experiences Laure undergoes can be accounted for in phenomenological theory, including her daydreams and fantasies, which, for Merleau-Ponty, are just as much a part of experience as any other, and therefore should be included in phenomenological description. The presentation of Laures point of view through a mixture of point-of-view and third-person camerawork, an attempt to render the free indirect style of the novel without recourse to voice-over, is an apt means of presenting the inner landscape, the experiences of a character, for Merleau-Ponty. Watching a characters behaviour and gestures on screen affords the viewer an immediate understanding of what that character is experiencing; the viewing body-subject understands instinctively the behaviour of another. It is for this reason also that the viewer grasps the subtle and ambiguous signs of the burgeoning passion between the two main characters. Finally, Deniss evocation of desire is unusual due to her eschewal of narrative conventions and this analysis has pointed towards ways in which the intersection of feminist interests and phenomenology can account for this: a feminist phenomenology of cinema may provide, Studlar concludes, a descriptive method that illuminates both the structures of textual operation and the quality [] of filmic experience
The phenomenology of desire: Claire Deniss Vendredi soir (2002)


(Studlar 1990: 76). She also expresses the hope that it may encourage the production of alternative, non-sexist modes of expression. Deniss depiction of desire from a female-embodied perspective in Vendredi soir provides an evocative example of the filmic enactment of a feminist phenomenology. References
Bernheim, E. (1998), Vendredi soir, Paris: Gallimard. Beugnet, M. (2004), Claire Denis, Manchester: Manchester University Press. Grosz, E. (1994), Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Holmes, D. (2006), Romance and Readership in Twentieth Century France, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Marks, L. (2000), The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press. Mayne, J. (2005), Claire Denis, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962), Phenomenology of Perception (trans. C. Smith), London: Routledge. (1964), Sense and Non-Sense (trans. H. Dreyfus and P. Allen Dreyfus), Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. Ro, E. del (2003), Body transformations in the films of Claire Denis: from ritual to play, Studies in French Cinema, 3: 3, pp. 18597. Rooney, D. (2002), Venice: Friday Night, Variety, 915 September, p. 31. Sobchack, V. (1992), The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Studlar, G. (1990), Reconciling Feminism and Phenomenology: Notes on Problems and Possibilities, Texts and Contexts, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 12: 3, pp. 6978. Taubin, A. (2003), Movie of the Moment: Friday Night: Some Enchanted Evening: Two Strangers, One Hotel Room and Director Claire Denis Make Plans for Friday Night, Film Comment, 39: 3 (MayJune), pp. 2224. Thomson, P. (2003), Production Slate: A Maori Myth and a French Connection, American Cinematographer: The International Journal of Film and Digital Production Techniques, 84: 6 ( June), pp. 26, 2831.

Suggested citation
Newton, E. (2008), The phenomenology of desire: Claire Deniss Vendredi soir (2002), Studies in French Cinema, 8: 1, pp. 1728, doi: 10.1386/sfc.8.1.17/1

Contributor details
Elizabeth Newton is a tutor in French studies at the University of Leeds. She is the author of articles on cinema, literature, phenomenology and sexuality. Contact: Department of French and Francophone Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT. E-mail: elizabethnewton@yahoo.com


Elizabeth Newton