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An investigation into the

REPREsENTATION OF WOMEN in
French New Wave Cinema
1
cHARLOTTE lILY haNSON-lOWE
Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture

HA6101

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Dissertation: Research & Reflection

.......

AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE


REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN
FRENCH NEW WAVE CINEMA
.......

Charlotte Lily Hanson-Lowe

K1116222

~
BA (Hons) Graphic Design

Word Count: 8,747

With Thanks To Kamila Kuc

2014/2015

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CONTENTs

Introduction5

Chapter I :
Jean-Luc Godard and The Modern Women
Vs. Genevieve Sellier and The Male Gaze.9

Chapter II :
The Representation of Women Behind the Camera...23

Conclusion...33

Bibliography37

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List of Figures

Figure 1. Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961) . From Une Femme Est Une
Femme. Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard. (Film Still). France: Rialto Pictures.
At: http://weheartit.com/entry/group/54599763. Accessed: 03/01/15

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Figure 2. Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961) . From Une Femme Est Une
Femme. Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard. (Film Still). France: Rialto Pictures.
At:http://31.media.tumblr.com/c58a120ee9fd74467d2046d6ebfe41c5/tu
mblr_mqi2p9wrZA1rxvpseo1_500.gif. Accessed: 03/01/15
17

Figure 3. Gilda (1946) . From Gilda. Directed by: Charles Vidor. (Film
Still). USA: Columbia Pictures. At: http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/
dvdcompare/gilda.htm. Accessed: 03/01/15
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Figure 4. Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) . From Hiroshima Mon Amour.


Directed by: Alain Resnais. (Film Still). France: Path Images. At:
https://faceofspring.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/2-28-
2012_010.jpg?w=500. Accessed: 03/01/15
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INTRODUCTION

On the 20th September 2014, Emma Watson, leading actress and


philanthropist, addressed the world at the UN Headquarters in New York
and reminded us that, No country in the world can yet say they have
achieved gender equality (Watson, 2014). Gender equality is, by
definition, an objective outlined by the United Nations Universal Declaration
of Human Rights referring to the view that men and women receive equal
treatment in law and society, especially in working environments, and
should not be discriminated against on a gender basis. Vanity Fair
described Watsons speech as, game-changing, (2014), with over six
million people viewing it on YouTube. This much reported and discussed
speech identifies an ever present sense of inequality within our society and,
although there is a multitude of nuanced aspects that negotiate to establish
this, the media has often being cited as an influencer in gender
disproportion within society.
The media can be an important factor in the promotion of gender
equality, both within the working environment (in terms of employment and
promotion of female staff at all levels) and in the representation of women
and men (in terms of fair gender portrayal and the use of neutral and non-
gender specific language), (White, 2009, 9). As of 2013, within the film
industry, women accounted for only 16% of all directors, executive
producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors in the production of the
top-grossing 250 domestically made films in America. Although this figure
refers to America, these types of statistics are seen worldwide throughout
the media industry. It was only in 2014 that The European Film Academy
appointed its first woman head: Agnieszka Holland. Likewise, in April

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2014, that The Guardian declared that, only now, is French Cinema seeing
a cultural upheaval in female influence within the making of French films.
The French Centre National du Cinma et de l'Image Anime identify that
23% of feature-length films were directed by women last year, up from
18.4% in 2008, (Willsher, 2014). It is necessary to establish an oversight
into the historical prevalence of gender inequality within French cinema to
understand how current trends may have been influenced. For the purpose
of this dissertation, my investigation into the representation of women shall
solely focus on the French New Wave cinematic movement that occurred
between late 1958 and the late 1960s.
French New Wave Cinema is regarded as a pinnacle movement in
20th Century cinema, often being noted at the progenitor of alternative
cinema. American director Martin Scorsese once said: The French New
Wave has influenced all film-makers who have worked since, whether they
saw the films or not. It submerged cinema like a tidal wave, (Willsher,
2014). The auteur theory, which I shall be discussing later, of French New
Wave has evidently influenced a detrude of filmmakers and has inspired
much of what we spectate today. However, Genevieve Sellier, a leading
specialist in gender studies within film and television, states that, contrary to
received opinions that new wave cinema expressed both artistic modernity
and a throwing off of moral constraint, the films were crisscrossed by
contradictory current linked both to the elitist and masculine nature of this
cinema (Sellier, 2010, 152). Selliers feminist interpretation of French New
Wave cinema provides a point of debate. Using Selliers statement as a
benchmark of investigation, we are able to examine the dynamics of female
representation within French New Wave. Furthermore, if we accept that the
media serves as a key influencer for the gender inequality within our
society, analysing the representation of women within French New Wave,
especially within the filmmaking process, may provide a root into gender

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inequality within cinema and may provide us with a criticism on the Auteur
Theory of Cinema, stimulating a reconsideration of the way we view
historical cinema.
What is Auteur cinema? Compared to the Hollywood Studio system
that dominated cinema before the 1950s, where the studio held creative
control over a film, Auteur theory holds that the director of a film is
considered to be its author. Derived largely from Astrucs illumination of
the concept of camero-stylo: the camera-pen, and developed out of the
growing existentialism in France in the post-war years, the theory declares
that the director holds total responsibility for the nature of a spectators
cinematic experience. The issue, which I will raise further, is that, unless that
director has solely crafted all aspects of the film, be it scriptwriting, editing,
cinematography, production and direction, (which is highly unlikely), by
placing responsibility with the director we often dismiss the contribution of
others involved. Following this line of inquiry, it must be noted that of the
many contributing directors to French New Wave, Agns Varda can be
cited as its only female director. It is important, therefore, to consider how a
lack of female contribution may potentially mean that what we classify as

auteur cinema is, in fact, gender biased and synonymous with the male
gaze, (Mulvey, 1975).
I shall be investigating the representation of women in French New
Wave Cinema though a series of avenues. I shall provide a critical analysis
of Selliers (2008) application of Laura Mulveys Male Gaze Theory to
French New Wave and identify where/ how and if the objectification of
female is present throughout the movement. As noted, Agns Varda was the
only female director to contribute to the movement, but it must also be
asserted that only one female screenplay writer, Marguerite Duras, and
only two female editors, Agns Guillemot and Ccile Decugis, can be
attributed with French New Wave. I will then be exploring this lack of

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females behind the camera and the role in which they played towards the
representation of females in front of the camera. Through these avenues, I
shall ascertain a portrait of female representation in French New Wave
Cinema, inciting questions about our relationship with films portrayal of
women to identify that the male gaze was often employed as a critique of
traditional gender representations on screen. This analysis of La Nouvelle
Vague may not identify a stream of overt female objectification, but rather
raises the question, in regards to sexualisation on camera, how does
cinema negotiate the line between the female objectification and womans
autonomous sexuality?

_____________________________________________________________

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Chapter I

JEAN-LUC GODARD AND THE MODERN WOMAN

VERSUS

GENEVIEVE SELLIER AND THE MALE GAZE

In the 1970s, over a decade after the French New Wave movement began,
a growing trend of feminist criticism began to emerge within cinema. First
wave feminist critics adopted a broadly sociological approach, looking at
sex roles women occupied in various imaginative works, from high art to
mass entertainment. They assessed roles as positive or negative
according to some externally constructed criteria describing the fully
autonomous, independent women, (Kaplan, 1983, 23). Kaplan, a feminist
critic, uses reflection to assert that feminist critics harnessed their own
techniques to examine the portrayal of women in culture.
In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), Laura Mulvey
introduced her feminist theory: The Male Gaze Theory. The theory states
that the audience spectates a film through the perspective of a heterosexual
male. For example, the camera may focus on the curves of a womans body
to present her attractiveness. In this sense, the woman is relegated to the
status of an object, to be admired for physical appearance and in turn,
devoid of human identity. The female character takes on two roles: as an
erotic object for the character within the narrative to view and secondly, as
an erotic object for the spectators within the cinema to view. In the darkness
of the cinema, the viewer can spectate without being seen by those on
screen or by any other viewers. The theory is based on scopohilia: the love

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of watching. According to Mulvey, in a patriarchal society, the male
characters serve as active, they drive the narrative forward, whereas the
passive female characters only serve as an inspirational catalyst for the
men to act.
Mulvey, (1975, 33), furthered this analogy to speak of the
controlling gaze which presents women as image or spectacle and man
as the bearer of the look. Jonathan Schroeder, (1998, 208) highlights
that, to gaze implied more than to look at it signifies a psychological
relationship of power in which the gazer is superior to the object of the
gazefilm (is) an instrument of the male gaze, producing representations of
women, the sexual fantasy from a male point of view. This sexual
fantasy leads to an increasing mythological presentation of the female. The
concern here is that a passive audience will be influenced by this
representation of reality and mirror it into actual reality, resulting in women
viewing each other through the male gaze and increased hegemonic
ideologies within our society.
Due to the predominantly male statistic of directors, (Varda was the
only female director), it is arguable that the male gaze is synonymous with

French New Wave. Sellier argues that most(films) are elaborated from
the gaze of one or two male protagonistsfemale characters in these films
are the male heros fears and desires made concrete (Sellier, 2008, 148).
Certainly, in several films such as A bout de souffle (1960) and Jules et
Jim(1962) the female character outlives the male who dies as an effect of
her actions. Sellier cites Loshitzkys statement that, the misogynistic
tendency of (Godards) filmscannot be avoided (ibid). This chapter
shall focus on the debatable presence of the male gaze in Godards A
Bout de Souffle (1960), and, Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961) and Vivre
Sa Vie (1962) and its relationship to the representation of a modern

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woman (a woman who encompasses sexual liberation and female
emancipation from traditional gender roles) .
Seen as one of the most seminal films in cinematic history, A bout de
souffle (1960) signalled a departure from the studio Hollywood films of the
1950s. Given an original treatment by Truffaut but completed by Godard,
the film, whose story is contemporaneous with its shooting (Esquenazi,
2000), signalled a landmark for Auteur cinema with its originality. It tells the
story of Michel, a man on the run for murdering a police officer and his
affair with Patricia, an American living in Paris. It is Patricias call to the
police that ends Michels life after he decides to stay with her. Sellier (2008,
149) is correct in identifying that Patricia embodies the fatality of Michel
simply for the reason that he has fallen in love with her but whether this
means that she is a masculine creation exemplifying the male gaze and
traditional gender roles is debatable.
Jean Seberg had already gained critical applause for her role in
Bonjour Tristesse (1958), in which the female was the subject of the
narrative and not the object, marking a departure from traditional female
representations. A bout de souffle is arguably no difference. We again see

Seberg take on the role of the modern woman as Patricia. Whalley argues
that being introduced to Michels love interest as a small, fat chested,
shorthaired girl is a cinematic revolution in itself. Hair is a symbol of
femininity and Patricias cropped style extracts this womanliness exerting
her independence from the typical passive female role. This boyish
presentation is also seen when Catherine dresses as a boy in Jules et Jim
(1962). This progressively androgynous portrayal of women is symptomatic
of the modern woman. We know that Patricia has more than one lover, let
alone engaging in premarital sex that is not informed by love and in this
sense A bout de souffle showcases the independent woman, totally defying

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the patriarchal take on cinema found in main-steam Hollywood (Whalley,
(2011).
Godard himself declared that New Wave filmmakers film girls the
way we see them, boys like the ones we run into every dayin short the
way things are (Arts, 1959). Godard was representing his own
experiences. A bout de souffle arrived at the pinnacle of the sexual
revolution of the sixties and showcases a modern love. The Logic of
modern love is that the woman becomes free thanks to her work, she can
sleep within whomever she pleases (Domarchi, 1960). In 1961, an IFOP
survey taken of 1,623 individuals between sixteen to twenty years old
found that 19 percent of girls and 66 percent of boys regarded sexuality to
be normal and unserious (Dusquesne, 1963). Although 19 percent may
seem low, it marks an introduction of the evolving attitude towards female
sexual autonomy that is reflected in Godards film. Although women were
becoming increasingly sexually liberated, in 1960 the modern woman was
only beginning to emerge and naturally, as they navigated the negotiation
between sexual modernity and the ingrained traditional gender roles that
they had been taught, there were contradictions in their behaviour as we
see with Patricia.
Therefore, one might suggest that any discourse Sellier finds within A
bout de souffl, in regards to Patricias sexual independence, is actually an
exemplification of the negotiation of societys changing attitudes towards
female sexual autonomy. There are instances where we see Patricia change
her attitude towards Michels advances. In her bedroom she scolds him for
looking up her skirt but then when he strokes her bottom in the bathroom
and she ignores it, eventually sleeping with him, we are not provided with
the indication of why. Sellier sees this as the old stereotype of women
incapable of knowing or taking responsibility of their desire (2008, 115).
However, I would argue that Patricias contradictory behaviour is her taking

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responsibility for her desire and is part of her sexual independence, not
a rejection of it. We do not necessarily need to know the reason why.
When they do eventually sleep together it is because Patricia wants to and
not because she had been coerced into it, nor does Godard condemned her
for it as would have been seen in Hollywood films.
Sellier would disagree with this appraising interpretation of the
female representation in A bout de souffle. She argues that Godards
framing of the shots is synonymous masculine voyeurism. In Patricias
bedroom we are provided with several close ups of Sebergs face where
lighting is used to enhance Sebergs beauty. Here Godard oscillates
between fetishism of the close up when he shoots the female face and body
as objects of desire for the male gaze (Sellier, 2008, 114). Likewise, there
are several scenes where the camera films over Patricia shoulder and in this
sense, the audience is complicitous in the male gaze as we spectate through
Michels eyes. However, Sellier fails to recognise that the camera spectates
both Michel and Patricia equally. The use of the close up is also used on
Michel to showcase Patricias gaze. It must also be noted that throughout
the film we are presented with sexualised images of women in the media
(for example, the semi-dressed woman on the tabloid that Michel reads)
which can be explicitly compared to Patricias boyish looks to reveal a
departure from this traditional female icon. Therefore, the camera does not
sexually objectify Patricia, it reveals a comparison between the modern
woman and the pre-existing male gaze.
When Michel wraps his hands around Patricias neck and threatens
to kill her if she does not smile, Sellier argues that the male
characterpossesses a knowledge about the female character that the film
confirms (ibid). Michels narration declares that Patricia shall give in
because she is weak and seconds later we do see Patricia smiling.
However, although Michels character is able to predict Patricias response,

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Sellier does not appreciate Patricia as an independent woman capable of
making her own decisions. Although the audience have experienced
Michels violence, Patricia has not and so is unaware of violent potential.
Additionally, even though we know Michel to be violent, the threat lacks
sincerity. Patricia acknowledges this too and so her smile is not symbolic of
female weakness, rather, it a natural response from a human who finds a
situation amusing.
However, sexism is still identifiable within the film when Michels
undermines Patricia by making a vulgar retort whenever she makes a
remark about something of high culture including Renoir, Bach, Faulkner,
Dylan Thomas (Sellier, 2008, 114). Patricias accepting response provides
critics with an example of a patriarchal presence in Godards film. This can
be directly compared to Godards Le Petit Soldat (1963) in which Karinas
infantilizing full skirts and foreign accent gives all of her sentences the
awkwardness of a child learning to speakwhich undermines her value of
political commitment (ibid. 154), suggesting a trend of Godards disinterest
with female academics within his films. However, in A bout de souffle I
would argue that the sexism reiterates my previous point that French New
Wave attempted to negotiate the representation a modern woman with
traditional gender stereotypes. Blythe (2013) articulates it precisely when
she stated that at times, A bout de souffle is ironic and paradoxical. It is
almost overtly sexist in Michels treatment of women, yet Patricia is
undoubtedly a modern woman. Sellier is correct in identifying the male
gaze and potential sexism within A bout de souffle, but her dismissal of
Godards positive portrayal of Patricia as a modern woman ultimately
renders her feminist interpretation limited in its analysis as it fails to
recognise why the sexism may be there and other sociological aspects.
Although A bout de souffle is seminal to Godards reputation, it is
the Karina years (Bergala, 1985) which provide a definitive insight into

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Godards relationship with women and film. Anna Karina, undoubtedly
Godards muse, made seven films with director in which he celebrated her
allure and beauty. Critics may argue that this celebration derives from the
sexist gender representations of the male gaze.
Une femme est une femme (1961) is a musical that centres on exotic
dancer Anglas desire for a child and the response of the two men who
love her, Emil and Lubitsch. This presentation of a woman who ardently
desires a baby (Le Figaro, 1961) arguably relents to traditional
stereotypes of women and their need for a child. It also undermines a
females sexual autonomy, that was gaining momentum with modern
women, by making light of Anglas maternal desires. Paule Sengissen,
(Tlrama, 1961) attacks this portrayal of Karina and maternity. She argues
that Godard minimises and makes vulgar the situation that women no
longer undergo maternity, (they chose it), by making jokes in poor taste.
It showcases an apathy towards the ideology of the modern woman. It is
interesting to note that Sengissen, the only contemporary critic to make this
observation, was a woman. Sellier agrees. She argues that Godard makes
too many differentiations between desires of the sexes: the desire for a
child is presented as a natural fact in women and not in the men (Sellier,
2008, 161). She makes the comparison between Anglas desire for a child
and Emils desire for a bicycle. In this, a womans maternity is no more
important than a mans desire for an inanimate object.
With Karina we also see an introduction to the woman-child. As
identified previously, Karinas foreign accent often infantilises her
performance. Certainly, as Angla, Karina skips, giggles and pouts her way
across the screen, throwing tantrums and silently insulting Emil by holding
up different book titles when they are not speaking with each other. We are
reminded of a little girl tugging at her mothers dress after being told off.

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Figure 1 : Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961)

Likewise, during Anglas strip tease in the dance hall, her Victoriana
childs sailor-outfit suggests a youthful sexualisation. This scene of
undressing shows fetishist indications of the male gaze just as in Chabrols
Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) where we both watch the men voyeur the
goodtime girls in the dance hall and watch the performers ourselves.
Godard frames Karinas beauty through a series of close ups whilst she
informs the audience that she is no angel, bathed under a red light

synonymous with sex trade districts. (See Fig.1) She is undoubtedly


sexualised here, an object for the men to voyeur. However, the
sexualisation is not one dimensional, it serves its purpose. Just as we were
shown sexualised images of women in the media throughout A bout de
souffle, Godard uses traditional imagery to make direct comparison to the
sexualisation of women in film. Godards dance hall satirizes studio films as
he parodies Hayworths exotic Gilda (1946) (See Fig. 2 and 3). The satire
is imbedded in the self-revealing constructed reality of the dance hall:
Karinas outfit changes as if by magic and music plays even though we see
that the pianist is not playing. Godard ironically replicates the traditional
striptease number and in so doing, criticises it.

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Figure 2 : Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961)

Figure 3 : Gilda (1946)

Likewise, although the scene provides voyeurism, Godards film


requires participation, (Monaco, 1976, 101). His jump cuts, direct sound
and genre eluding do not allow for Mulveys passive, voyeuristic spectators,
again showing a non-traditional use of the male gaze. Selliers
misinterpretation of Une femme est une femme as misogynistic may be
better focused towards the films promotional material which consistently

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shows images of Karina in her underwear and bent over, winking, making
no allusion to the narrative of maternity.
The male gaze declares that female characters are harnessed as
catalyst to allow the man to drive the story forward. However, although
infantilised in her behaviour, it is Karina that propels the narrative. It focuses
on her decision between two men. She is all-powerful: her argument with
Emil dissipates after his unconditional surrender to her (Sellier, 2008,
162). As with A bout de souffle, Godard does present us with sexism and
sexualisation in Une femme est une femme but he showcases his admiration
for Karina and the modern woman by comparing her to traditional gender
stereotypes and providing Angla with control over the narrative.
This all-powerful female is seen throughout French New Wave,
notably in Moreaus portrayal of Catherine in Truffauts Jules et Jim. Again
we see the theme of one woman and two men who love her and as with A
bout de souffle, it is her actions that determine the downfall of each man.
Catherine is the ultimate male mythological creation: the femme fatale.
Truffauts treatment of Moreau is arguably far more sexist than
Godards of Karina. We consistently view Catherine through the eyes of the
male characters, or rather their inability to understand her. She is
unpredictable and sexualised through the male gaze with close up shots of
her face and scenes of her in her underwear.
Although Catherine embodies the traditional representation of a
femme fatale who violently goes from one extreme to the other (Jules et
Jim, 1962), Trauffaut allows Catherine the rejection of traditional gender
roles such as mother, (she constantly disappears leaving Jules to reside
over the role of father more than Catherine does as mother). Truffauts
criticism of her behaviour, however, still presents a traditional attitude. Yes,
she is sexually liberated, but we view this through the experiences of the
men and so see her as the infelicitous wife unfulfilling in her duty as mother

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just as Truffauts unsympathetic portrayal of the mother in Les quatre cent
coup (1959).
However, although fulfilling gender stereotypes as a femme fatale,
signals of female emancipation and the modern woman are still present
within the narrative. She has had three lovers and actively criticised the
male characters throughout, vocalised in her opinion. Female sexual
autonomy is directly discussed when Jules states that, a wifes fidelity is
important, a husbands second and wonders whether the female
protagonist of a play is a virgin. Catherine declares that her virginity is
unimportant and grows angry at Jules sexist sentiments. Here, Truffaut
overtly presently misogyny but allows the female character to rebuff this,
referencing a modern womans mentality over pre-marital sex. However,
although the female is given a voice, the male dissipates this voice.
Catherine (woman) still needs Jim (man) to defend her from Jules (man).
Jules and Jims inability to truly understand her is synonymous with
Truffauts difficulty in understanding a modern woman. She is not allowed to
simply be sexually liberated, she must also be crazy and take on roles
such as a Queen or an innocent child, the woman that all men
desire. The men are constantly trying to justify Catherines behaviour by
stereotyping her. In the bar another female character is introduced as,
empty. Just a thing. A lovely object. SexPure sex.. Here, women are
criticised far more for their sexuality than with Godard and are spectated
under the male gaze due the male characters inability to understand the
modern woman.
However, Catherines erratic behaviour and inaccessibility can be
interpreted as a true representation of the modern woman. The Press of
the time were empathetic towards this portrayal. Cayotte (Cinemonde,
1961) declared that, women like Moreau have a deeper
mysterysomething other than the projection of the mystery desired by

19
man. Their mystery is that of the autonomy of a humans life. Likewise,
Duras, the only female writer of French New Wave, stated that Moreau is
(one of) the actresses that best represent the women of our era (the sixties)
because they incarnate feminine drama (Sellier, 2008, 181). However,
although by contemporary standards Truffauts indications of the modern
woman are certainly present, (Catherine does introduce a new type of
sexuality that was more intelligent than previous sexualised imagery of
women), we can ascertain with hindsight that he still failed to show a
sexually liberated female without placing her under a male gaze.
Returning to Godards depiction of Karina, I would turn Sellier
towards Vivre Sa Vie (1962) for an exemplification of the male gaze in
French New Wave with Godards continual use of close up shots and
appraising lighting. Karina plays Nana, a Parisian who turn to prostitution
after rejecting her husband and son. She is the epitome of an objectified
woman who dies as a result of her sexual appeal during cross fire between
her sex-traders.
Godard again alludes to historical cinema to reveal this
objectification: Karinas bobbed hair is a direct nod to Louise Brookes in
Pandoras Box (1928) where the heroine also meets her fate after falling
into prostitution. Diana Holmes and Alison Smith argue that although, the
feminist spectator will have to face uncomfortable viewingas they will
have to gaze if they want to gain sconic pleasureGodard uses
claustrophobic and displaced images of women to unfoldwhat seems to
be a real concern for why women images accumulate their meanings
(2000,118). The male gaze here is, as with Godards other films, employed
to expose the presence of male gaze in pre-existing cinema.
Photographic techniquesused to frame Karinas face (explore
this),as the lighting darkens and flattens Karinas facial features, her face
becomes a mask (ibid). The audience are made aware of Karina as a

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spectacle when Godard frames her in a window. However, the window
here is not used to reveal openness as is so often with film, but rather, it is
used as a metaphor for the screen itself, an intangible frontier between
interior and exterior(representing) the invisible yet foreboding barrier
surrounding women (ibid). Godards filmic techniques are a form of self-
reflection. They expose themselves to expose the male gaze within society.
Rather than dismissing Godard under the veneer of the male gaze,
critics such as Sellier should look to the reason for its presence. As stated, it
was a form of criticism on representations of women in studio cinema. I
would also argue Godards presentation of Karina is predominantly
indicative of their personal relationship. It is Godard showing us how he
experiences her life. Nana may be interpreted as an anagram for Anna
and in turn, we view Karina as Godard does. Godard employs the male
gaze here to facilitate a commentary on the spectating gaze surrounding
Karina, and women in general.
It is not in Vivre Sa Vie (1962) alone that we see this. William Simon,
(1979 in Loshitzky, 1995, 136), stated that, Karina favours the expression
of the most romantic aspect of Godards temperament...the hero is, to a

certain degree, Godards alter ego in fiction. If the camera celebrates


Karinas beauty, it is because Godard is celebrating his love for her.
Likewise, although Jacques Rivette once remarked: Have you ever noticed
that Godard never uses women older than twenty five?, the majority of his
films used Karina as his leading actress. He did not use enough of a variety
of actresses to make this assumption and I would argue that it is
inappropriate to use this observation as a criticism against Godard. Karina
was cast because of who she was and not because of her age.
On their first meeting, Godard infamously requested Karina
undressed for a role in A Bout de Souffle (1960), as she had done in a
soap advert, to which Karina replied: Are you mad? It was only in your

21
mind that I was undressed. Her refusal is an indication of her authority
over her own image. It seems unlikely, then, that Karina would agree to
negate her authenticity as an actress and can be used as a direct criticism of
Selliers painted, child like image of Karina as the girl who followed
Godards direction blindly. She had more control than has been credited in
how she was portrayed as a woman. Therefore, although Auteur cinema
would lay all ethical responsibility with Godard, I would argue that this
undermines the influence of actresses and others involved within the
filmmaking process and, in so doing, provides a criticism of auteur cinema.
As expressed, Mulveys male gaze was present in the work of
Godard and other French New Wave filmmakers such as Truffaut and
Chabrol, but its presence is symptomatic of a developing attempt to present
the sexual emancipation of the modern woman without sexually
objectifying her. Often, these films do fail to remove the female from a
voyeuristic gaze, but Sellier fails to recognise Godards genuine concern
about traditional representations of women and his use of the male gaze as
a critical technique to compare Hollywood films to auteur cinema. Likewise,
Selliers appropriation of Mulveys theory may be misguided as the theory

was never intended for the films of the sixties, but, like New Wave, it
attempted a critical analysis of the Hollywood studio representation of
women. Mulvey herself criticised the theory by noting its exclusivity (it
ignores the sexuality of homosexuals). Sellier ignores these criticisms
entirely to apply it to her preconceived notions of gender inequality and in

doing so renders her analysis limited and out-dated.

22
Chapter II

THE REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN

BEHIND THE CAMERA

Undoubtedly, in investigating the representations of women in front


of the camera, we must explore the lack of women behind the camera and
their contributions towards the film making process in French New Wave
cinema. This lack of female contributors leaves space for critics such as
Sellier to interpret New Wave films as a predominantly masculine creations.
As previously mentioned, auteur cinema directly reflects the artistic
vision of the directors, and in so doing deflects responsibility, or credibility,
from the others involved within the film making process. For example, Ccile
Decugis was one of two female editors of French New Wave and worked
on Truffaut s Les quatre cent coup (1950) and Godards A bout de souffle
(1960), before going on to edit with Rohmer. The revolutionary editing

technique of French New Wave, such as the use of jump-cuts, has often
been cited as a key influencer of independent cinema today. Renowned
director Tarantino, who has publically declared Godard as an inspiration,
states that, what (these directors) brought to editing was a breaking of
rules. We know that Godard was extremely involved with the editing
process of A bout de souffle (1960), but of the many critiques written, not
one mentions Decugis. Clearly Decugis work was influential, (Dede Allens
suggested that it inspired the editing style of Bonnie and Clyde (1967)), but
her contributions have been completely forgotten bar the mention of her
name in the films credits. The same can be said for the often forgotten

23
editor Agns Guillemot who worked with both Godard and Truffaut and
whose only mention can be found in Simontons (2006, 368)
acknowledgement that she edited many New Wave films. Other mentions
are only found in the credits, as with Decugis. Therefore, critiques of auteur
cinema only acknowledge the directors for the revolutionary editing
techniques and in so doing undermine the contribution of these female
editors.
Likewise, mentions of Suzanne Schiffman, a script supervisor who
was mentored by Truffaut, occasionally appear in articles regarding French
New Wave but these are often brief and in regards to talking about her
male counterparts. The only acknowledgement that can be found from a
director of French New Wave is the potential comparison between
Schiffman and the script girl Michel visits at the start of A bout de souffle
(1960). As Godard stated that his films replicate his own
experiences/observations, it is arguable that this character is a direct
representation of Schiffman and her contributions to the movement.
Although she was less influential over the completed film than Guillemot and
Decugis, her minimal acknowledgement exposes an evident lack in praise
for the few female contributors.
And what of Varda and Duras? Sellier claims that the only
filmsthat construct the female character as a subject, a consciousness and
not as the object of the story (2010, 150) are Hiroshima Mon Amour
(1959) and Clo 5 a 7 (1962). Indeed, with both we see a woman take on
the role of protagonist and it must be considered that Hiroshima was
scripted by the only female writer and Clo directed by the only female
director to contribute to French New Wave. It is interesting to note,
therefore, how women were represented in their work and whether this
reflects the female contributions behind camera.

24
The only female director of French New Wave, Varda has been
called both the movements mother and its grandmother. The fact that some
have felt the need to assign her a specific feminine rolespeaks to just how
unique her place in this hallowed cinematic movement is, (Criterion,
Unknown). Self-taught Vardas second film Clo 5 a 7 (1962) gained
international criticism and acclaim for its real time portrayal of vain singer
Clo and her emotional evolvement as she considers her mortality and
begins to live authentically.
Borrowing from Roland Bathes, Johnston argues that Clo celebrates
the bourgeoisie myth of woman and fails to subvert sexist ideologies
(Youngin, 2011). Certainly, there is an identifiable presence of the male
gaze within Vardas film: continual close-ups of Clos face exemplify
scopophillic tendencies; her friend fulfils the mythological requirements of an
objectifying gaze when spectated nude with her head upright, revealing her
profile; and the continual objectifying language used by men toward Clo
(mon petit/little one,beaut/beautyma poupe/my
doll,bijou/precious.) However, I would argue that Vardas film presents
a mis en abyme of the male gaze to expose these patriarchal ideologies of
woman as an image and, in turn, criticise the objectifying gaze.
Vardas use of the male gaze facilitates self-reflexivity. During her
friends nude pose, Varda breaks the gaze of the camera as it cuts backs to
Clo and then again back to Clos friend, moving the audience away from
an objectifying gaze. Likewise, the insistent presentations of Clos vanity
such as the way she speaks of herself, (As long as I am beautiful, I am
alive.), and repeated scenes of her spectating herself in a mirror confront
the audience with the effects of the male gaze within society: woman as a
spectacle. We are continually made aware of our gaze as an audience. For
example, during the scene in which Clo admires her own beauty in the hat
shop, the scene cuts to the street where we now see Clo through the shop

25
window. Here, the window acts as a metaphor for the male gaze. Vardas
unsympathetic portrayal of Clos vanity subverts the male gaze to remind
us of its presence. The Audience may be upset if they expect to find in the
film what is called...the expression to female sensitivity... Agns does not
identify with her heroine. Clo is presented objectively to provide a
comment on the male gaze. (Siclier, 1984)
Furthermore, it is the contrast between Clos apparent vanity and
her eventful rejection of this male gaze that symbolises Vardas own
attitudes. Clo removes both her wig and feathered dressing gown, symbols
of her femininity, to leave in a black dress as she, cries out her revolt
against the image to which she is being reduced- that of a woman alienated
in love. (Sellier, 2008, 218) It is the first time that we see her alone and so
with a new sense of independence. Therefore, Sellier is correct in her
analysis that Varda presents a female as the subject with a stream of
consciousness in Clo: we experience her emotional development and are
provided insight into her dreams and desires. Varda herself identified that
she represented Clo with a plethora of emotions as a young lady who
feels sick, lost, afraid and anxious. Collet agrees: in less that two hours we
leave behind a small minded flirtatious little person and watch a true
woman appear.' (Tlrama, 1961) However, Sellier is incorrect in
suggesting that Clo is significantly elevated against its counterparts as,
although Varda provides a closer insight into the logic of women than
Godard, for example, Sellier does not acknowledge the representations of
a modern woman in other French New Wave films where we are still
provided an understanding of the females desires.
Additionally, we must ascertain Vardas awareness of her own rarity
as a female director. Speaking of her earlier career, Varda stated that,
when I started my first film there were three other woman directors in
France,I thought, I have to use cinema as a language(Richardson, 2009).

26
Therefore, it is clear that Varda was extremely conscious of way in which
she represented women. Varda sees herself as an advocate of female
equality within cinema as she was the first to fight for a new kind of
cinema, with most of her films concentrated on womens stories (ibid.).
She has spoken of her own feminist beliefs and her desire to speak strongly
about (it) and although we do see a particularly insightful representation of
the female in Clos evolution, it is the other female characters of the film
that present Vardas attitude towards female independence and
emancipation.
Although she is a supporting role, the frustrations felt by Angele,
Clos assistant, allude to Clos need to be spectated. Essentially, Clo is a
non-entity when she is not being watched. Although Clo is demanding of
Angele, Angele is critical and expresses distaste at Clos behavior, hence
exposing Vardas opinion of Clo.
Likewise, although Dorethe, the nude model, is seemingly voyeured
by the men in the art class, she also expresses the most direct comment on
female autonomy throughout the film: My body makes me happy, not
proud. Theyre looking at more than just me. A shape, an idea. It is as if I

wasnt there. She identifies that the experience is devoid of sexualisation


which, again, compares to the objectifying expression of the female body in
traditional Hollywood strip-tease scenes. Reynaud agrees, declaring this as
one of the highlights of the film, formulating the most incisive statement
about (Vardas) relationship to the male gaze. (Reynaud, 2013)
Likewise, women are continually seen to drive cars, traditional
masculine objects. In Clo. Dorethe drives herself and Clos taxi driver is
also a woman who, again, directly discusses this rarity and her own image:
Tough job for a woman...dangerous too, but I like it. This goes against
gender stereotypes of the time - the portrayal of woman as mother or lover
and is a direct example of a female taking on a masculine role.

27
Clo is undoubtedly modern in its portrayal of women by providing
them emancipation and consciousness. Varda harnesses and subverts the
male gaze to communicate her own attitude towards the sexualisation of
women in cinema, but whether this attitude was entirely achieved solely due
to her own gender is unlikely. I would argue that she was not the only
director of French New Wave to be attaining this insurrection of the male
gaze. Her own personal experience as a woman may, however, have
allowed her to elevate above the negotiation, often found in the work of
Godard and Truffaut, of how to represent a sexually autonomous woman
without the camera unintentionally fetishistically framing her.

Figure 4 : Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

28
As Sellier states, prior to Clo 5 a 7 (1962), Hiroshima Mon Amour
(1959) introduced audiences to this concept of woman as subject by
providing insight into the memories and emotions of the female protagonist
during a monologue. From the start, Resnais resists traditional use of the
gaze to present both sexes with equality as we view Emmanuelle Riva and
her lover in a sexual embrace (See Fig. 4). The camera frames both in close
ups that reveals a beauty, but it is devoid of the male gaze as it does not
necessarily place us through the eyes of a heterosexual male, rather we
view each through passive eyes. There is a theme of masculine and feminine
evident in the contrast between this sensual embrace and the interjected
scenes of war. Likewise, the overhead narration embodies this equality.
When he disagrees with Riva over her experiences, Resnais allows her to
contradict this, providing each with an equal sense of perspective and
authority.
Riva herself stated that this was the first film that allowed her the
opportunity to play a grown woman, not a girl, and Resnais and Duras
narrative allows the woman an authentic voice. Rivas descriptive narration
of a woman driven mad through the loss of her German lover displays the
female mentality with complexities and emotion, as with Clo 5 a 7 (1962),
providing insight into the fears and desires of a female protagonist. We are
directly told that she both lies and tells the truth and that she is afraid to
forget so much love. Hiroshima Mon Amour empowered women because it
tapped into the dark territories of the private. (Madella, 2011) There is an
access to memory which, compared to A bout de souffle (1960) for
example where the female continually states that she does not know why
she is sad, provides audiences with a knowledge of the reasoning behind
the females melancholia. Likewise, it is Duras use of melancholia and the
comparative juxtapositioning of Hiroshima as a backdrop to the affair that
superposes the traditional representation of desire.

29
It is interesting to note that although Hiroshima serves under the
banner of auteur cinema, the film is often regarded as both Resnais and
Duras. Here, the director is not the author of the film: responsibility and
acknowledgement are very much shared between director and writer. It is a
positive, then, that we are able to remember the contributions of a woman
in the involvement of this film compared to the forgotten contributions of
French New Waves female editors.
And to what was the extent of Duras influence over the
representation of women in Hiroshima? Evidently, great. There is an
undeniability of thematic presences in Hiroshima that is found in Duras
other work. Woman here is entirely autonomous in her sexual desires,
challenging the narrow confines of appropriate sexual behaviour through
miscengation: first in World War One where she falls in love with a
German, and then here with a Japanese man. It is a rejection of the racial
tensions of the time or the expected attitudes of women. This miscengation is
also found in her novel, The Lover (1984), where we again spectate the
affair between a Caucasian girl and a Chinese man and the rejection of
social constraints. The Lover (1984) was semi-autobiographical, reimagining

Duras own history, and very much represents the female as sexually
autonomous, who seeks to control the terms of her own pleasure (Staley
and Edson, 2010). This is not to say that Duras/the girl are not objectified:
they are. Our understanding of sexuality is shown through the girls
perspective, we see her gaze at her female friends body with desire, but
this sexuality is an appropriation of male desire. Although her original novel
was objectifying, Duras later disapproval of the film version of her novel,
which she viewed as too objectifying, displays a genuine concern for the
hegemonic tendencies of film. Therefore, The Lover (1992) provides us with
an insight into Durass attitude towards sexuality in Hiroshima. With each,
woman is allowed a total sexual autonomy but Duras does not reject the

30
objectification of women in film if it is used as tool for commentary. The
Lover (1984) is an example of its use to remark on male desire and
hegemonic influences, but The Lover (1992) provides a misuse as it does not
facilitate a progressive comment on the representation of women. The
powerful and modern representation of the female in Hiroshima,
furthermore, can very much be attributed to Duras and not Resnais alone.
With both the work of Varda and Duras, it is impossible to not notice
evident feminist influences over their representations of women. Concerns
over sexual autonomy are very present and, as Sellier states, each allow
their female protagonists to reveal a consciousness and complexity. This
was a very modern representation of a womans sexuality and subverts the
mythological female of traditional cinema. Both Duras and Varda are
remembered for their influence over French New Wave and it is a testament
to the movement that these two women were provided with such authority.
Likewise, auteur cinemas complete acceptance of Varda, who was
untaught, as a filmmaker is remarkable for its open-mindedness, a break
from the snobbery of the contracted studio systems.
However, French New Wave still exposes a lack in female

contributors. It is no wonder that the two films that are considered most
modern in their representations of women were the ones in which a woman
had great influence over the filmmaking process. Women were few and far
between behind camera, and this sense, French New Wave was very much
a boys club. However, it would be inappropriate to dismiss all New Wave
as sexist. Several of the male filmmakers displayed a genuine concern over
the representations and objectification of women on screen and attempted
the representation of a modern woman, emancipated and autonomous in
her sexuality. Likewise, women still obtained roles behind camera such as
script supervision or editing. The minimal number doing so does not
necessarily expose an exclusivity in French New Wave: it may be attributed

31
to the time. Fewer women were trying to have a role in the filmmaking
process and Varda herself has stated that women simply did not believe in
their own ability to make a film. This indicates a gender inequality in society
rather than simply within French New Wave films. Likewise, its an
inequality that is still present in the film making industry today, as outlined in
my introduction. The key issue with French New Wave is not its exclusivity,
but its ability to forget these female contributors by providing all credit and
memory to the director.

_____________________________________________________________

32
Conclusion

As previously outlined, French New Wave was a predominantly male


movement with men severely outnumbering women behind the camera.
However, this does not mean that French New Wave can be dismissed as
sexist. During the 1960s, there was social and cultural upheaval, especially
in France with the growing tensions that lead to the protests of 1968. Youth
were experiencing a cultural revolution and with it came new ideas

regarding female emancipation and sexuality. French New Wave was a


progenitor to the feminist interpretations of film delivered in the Seventies,
and, as with anything birthed as a predecessor, what we see with La
Nouvelle Vague is a genuine concern and attempt to represent the modern
woman both in front and behind the camera.
In front of the camera, the male gaze can definitely be identified, but
often it is employed as a comparative means between the traditional
representations of women and the new. There are direct references: for

example, the repeated appropriations of traditional strip-tease scenes,


found in Une femme est une femme (1961) and Les Bonnes Femmes (1960)
etc., that employ satire to comment on the traditional sexualisation of
women on screen. Likewise, French New Wave aimed to deliver audiences
with female characters that were sexually autonomous. Films were
beginning to show women as sexually independent, a sexuality that did not
reflect male desire.
French New Wave is not devoid of sexism, however. The general
characterisation of these women often achieves this projection of the
modern woman, but the camera still occasionally fetishistically frames the
female, and in this the audience spectate through the male gaze. Close up

33
shots and flattering lighting reveal an exaggeration of beauty which is
rarely found in the representation of men. Likewise, male characters still
gaze and make comments that are representative of traditional gender
roles. This provides us with a point of questioning: how does a director
negotiate the representation of sexually autonomous woman without
allowing the camera to sexualise her? Sellier argues that the directors of
French New Wave failed to achieve this but I believe that she misses the
point. Often this gaze was delivered with a degree of self-reflexivity, it was
aware of its own presence, and conveyed from amorous attitudes. For
example, Godards representations of Karina may sexualise her on
occasion but this admiration of her beauty derived from a genuine love, not
just masculine heterosexuality. Likewise, French New Wave was extremely
progressive in its attempt to achieve this modern representation of women
and should not be dismissed for its lack of totality in achievement.
Furthermore, with this sense of modern woman came a modern
representation of female mentality. French New Wave provided further
access into the complexities of the female psyche and offered a stronger
female voice than its predecessors. Unquestionably, it is the two films which

had the most female contribution behind camera, (Hiroshima Mon Amour
(1959) and Clo 5 a 7 (1962)), that achieve this presentation most
succinctly but Truffauts Catherine must also be admired for her complexity
and appropriation of the traditional role of the femme fatale. Again it is this
trending technique in French New Wave to appropriate traditional gazes
and characterisations in order to facilitate commentary on the sexualisation
of women on screen.
And what of women behind the camera? What should be questioned,
are the continuous acknowledgements that critics allow the directors of
auteur cinema. By critiquing only the director, either negatively or
positively, we undermine the contributions of the rest of the crew and

34
indeed, the actresses themselves. As previously stated, Karina and Riva
both spoke about their representation on screen and it would be nave to
suggest that they were ineffective in their own characterisations. Likewise,
unless the director was the one who directed, wrote, edited, and performed
their film, they cannot single handedly claim total responsibility for the
audiences experience. As we see with the applause for Duras
contributions to Hiroshima, a writer holds equal influence to the director
over the films narrative. It is wrongful, then, that we dismiss the
contributions of Decugis and Guillemot, for example, through our lack of
acknowledgement. There may have been other female contributors to these
films, but unfortunately, the nature of auteur cinema has only allowed the
memory of its leaders to succeed.
That said, there was certainly a lack of women contributing to French
New Wave but this is not necessarily isolated to this movement. We still
have actresses speaking of the limited variety of roles of women today.
Natalie Dormer (Zemler, 2014) spoke of her role in The Hunger Games
Trilogy(2014): it is nice to play a character defined by her profession and
not by her gender. Television has really assisted a lot in providing

consciously three-dimensional and heroic female characters. And I think


cinema is catching on to the fact that 50 percent of their audience is female
and it would be nice to have a little bit more representation other than the
wife, the mother, the femme fatale, and the mistress. Evidently, filmmakers
have not yet achieved a totalitarian mastering of this negotiation in the
representation of women and as mentioned earlier there is still a huge
disproportion in the number of women making films. Therefore, we cannot
dismiss French New Wave as sexist because it was a predominantly male
movement, we must appreciate it for what appears to be - a genuine
concern regarding the representation of women and an undoubtedly

35
modern embodiment of female sexuality, regardless of the gender of the
director.
Varda articulates it precisely when she stated, I am not interested in
seeing a film just because it is made by a womanthe question isnt men or
women. The question is to fight for innovative films, a genuinely filmatic
language that aims to use pictures and sound in alternative ways (Sjaastad,
2010), and, in this sense, French New Wave achieved precisely that
through its resistance and commentary concerning traditional objectifying
representations of women.

36
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interview, Accessed: 02/01/2014

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