Claire Denis

Excerpts from Claire Denis, a feminist film study by Judith Mayne

“It was a moving experience for me to discover this landscape & to watch a man looking for himself. I asked myself, Do I have a landscape?”

“The friendship between the two men is quickly perceived by a woman. I think that we women are good witnesses; in looking, in seeing, we find pleasure. Looking at what is outside of my pleases me enormously.”

They were not permitted eye contact with the prisoners: “I thought the phrase—‘no eye contact’—was funny but sad at the same time, because we were making a film, and that’s exactly what making a film is about—the desire for eye contact. Encountering a look that is going to cross yours, in that moment when you establish contact, there might be a hesitation, but at the same time it’s a very strong sensation. The desire to make a film is the desire to see others.”

Denis has spoken specifically of how the sustained use of the handheld camera puts you “always in the present. It’s very energetic. It’s like a dance every day with the actors.”

Denis has also said that she doesn’t have a “concept” for directing actors. “I see it more like choreography… Directing & acting exist in an organic relation similar to a dance between director and actors.”

Dance allows [Boni] to be physical & sexual without the risks implied by the “weakness” of giving in to one’s sexual desires, that is, without the interference of another person. The dance is a kind of state of suspended animation, creating a sense of physical self & performance, while remaining independent of actual contact with another.

Bodies meet, & characters touch in Denis’s films. There are moments of great intimacy in Denis’s films, but at the same time there is a fragility, an awareness of the preciousness of touch but also of its dangers. Touch tends to be fleeting, even when its results are permanent. The brief touch of the hands [in I Can’t Sleep] suggests the simultaneous pleasure & danger associated with physical contact. Dance has an important function in this context, since it so often signals both an exultation of the body and a displacement, a projection of something else.

Overall, Claire Denis’s cinema is one in which bodies move through landscapes of past & present, & through the pleasure & pain of contact with others.

“I don’t like provocation because I take not pleasure in provoking people. You have to enjoy provocation to do it, and I don’t. I always approach situations with curiosity, and sometimes my curiosity might make me audacious. But the motivation for my curiosity is never the desire to provoke.

“I found [Imamura’s Intentions of Murder] to be extraordinary, because a violent action reveals something very unexpected—the awareness that one is alive, even thought the violent action is truly horrible. Things that you just assume about life can suddenly take shape in an event—it doesn’t necessarily have to be a violent event—and all of a sudden, you realize that you exists, there, in that event.”

“You can’t do something that isn’t part of who you are.”