In 2011, the Guardian published an article heralding a “new wave” of women directors in France. “[T]here’s nothing unusual about French women film directors,” author Agnès Poirier writes, but right now, we are in the middle of a “a deluge, one that has been going on for more than 50 years.” The most interesting question that the article raises comes in the middle: “Have these films de femmes anything in common?” Poirier asks; “there must be something that draws them together.” Then, after brief summaries of a few recent films, the article concludes, somewhat blandly and predictably, that the link “might” be sex, but that regardless, the films are all “unexpected” and (shock horror) by women.
Why there must be something that links these films remains to be seen (I suspect that it wouldn’t be necessary to find links between specifically male filmmakers of the same time period, but that’s a topic for another blog post), but I would suggest that there is a glaringly obvious trend in all of the films mentioned in the article, that is somehow missed. First, let’s look at the summaries the article gives:
Love Like Poison (Quillévéré, 2010): “it focuses on a 14-year-old‘s battle with her Catholic faith […] her film deals with a teenager who actually believes”
Lily Sometimes (Berthaud, 2010): “[A] tale of two sisters […] The elder looks after her little sister after their mother dies”
All That Glitters (Nakache, 2010): “a clever take on two ambitious girls, one Jewish, the other Muslim, who dream of Paris”
and now the other films that the article mentions (summaries by me):
Belle Epine (Zlotowski, 2010): A 14-year-old girl befriends a motorcycle-racing gang as she struggles to deal with her mother’s death.
Water Lilies (Sciamma, 2007): Set in the suburbs of Paris, three girls from a synchronised swimming team face the challenges of puberty, sexuality, and attraction.
Tomboy (Sciamma, 2010): After moving house, a ten-year-old girl is mistaken for a boy by the local children.
Ten points to anyone who can spot the link.
Slightly facetious remarks aside, one of the things that links these films is their dealing with (usually adolescent) girls and their experiences. What we have is a wave of young, French women, making films about young, French girls. What I am interested in for my research, is how they represent these girls on screen.
Another link between these filmmakers and there work is, I believe, their use of music. Mia Hansen-Løve once said at interview that she “dislikes” the way that music is often used in films, claiming that she tries to use music in a more “justified” way, different from standard film scoring. Indeed, there may be something “different” about the way she uses her music. However, if you compare the music in Hansen-Løve’s work to that of the other filmmakers mentioned here, there are, I believe, strong similarities between them. It is this idea of difference, the idea that these films may be using their music in a particular way, that I explore in my PhD, more specifically focusing on how this music interacts with the films’ representation of girls. This really boils down to the following questions:
- How do these films use music? What kinds of music are included and what artists are featured? What trends can be seen in the use of music across these films? How might this be different from other films?
- How does this music then affect us, as spectators? How might the music help us understand the characters, or even help to express these characters’ personalities/voices? How might the music help evoke “girl” as a concept, as well as interact with the representation of the real “girls” on screen?
These questions lead, inevitably, to a whole host of other interesting questions, like “how does music mean, anyway?” and “is there a difference between ‘a girl’ and ‘girl’?” and “does the inclusion of on-screen/off-screen music matter?” and all sorts of other things, some of which I will hopefully be able to answer through the course of my PhD (and hopefully also post some answers here), and some of which will probably never get answered, at least not in the next three years. But that’s what makes it exciting.
So, that’s a brief introduction to what I do every day – no exploding test tubes or philosophical debating, here (although contemplating life’s meanings is easier when your office is underground, I find), but a lot of investigating, questioning, and theorising. And the odd session spent watching films and listening to music, obviously.