Two recent French films (Divines, Benyamina, 2016; Bande de filles, Sciamma), directed by women and featuring racially and ethnically marked girls’ bodies in movement, have achieved notable critical and popular success. Residents of the Parisian banlieue, these girls share a heritage of post/colonial immigration. This talk interrogates how these films represent gendered bodies and how those bodies are offered to be seen, but also how they relate to the space of the banlieue. To what degree do the social microcosms these “bandes de filles” represent figure as aspirational utopian alternatives to the lived realities of French suburban poverty? Embodying histories of migration, the girls' filmed representations show a transcendent movement that seeks to escape or surpass that history—as they aspire to a future do they engage in forgetting or remembering of the past via their narratives or movements?
Framed by feminist and phenomenological considerations of the body in film, Margaret C. Flinn seeks to nuance such theorizations with specificities of how race and gender in France are represented today. In Girlhood and Divines, we see the (racial and ethnic minority) female characters appropriate the gaze, while the films’ position the main female characters in a relationship to their spectators that complicates a scopophilic appropriation of their bodies’ movements by their very self-sufficiency. Thus, embodiment becomes a potentially transcendent, transformative source of power, rather than a means of enacting violence upon the bodies of women of color. Both Bande de filles and Divines work on and through a principle of empowered embodiment, and they do so by mobilizing viewers’ sensory experience of the film.
Margaret C. Flinn is Associate Professor of French and of Film Studies at The Ohio State University. She is the author of The Social Architecture of French Cinema, 1929-39 (Liverpool University Press, 2014) and is currently completing a manuscript on the cosmopolitan humanism of Olivier Assayas for University of Illinois Press.
Sponsored by the Center for French Language and Cultures