• Datum 16-01-2014
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France’s most talked-about movie of 2013, La vie d’Adèle, stirred a worldwide controversy, not only about out-of-tune publicity posturing between the director and the actresses, but also about whether filmmaking as an art could escape regular labor laws. Yet while everyone focused on Adèle (forgettable newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos), they forgot the ‘life’ in the film’s title. ‘Life’ is not only Kechiche’s endless quest, it is also the obsession of post-Pialat French auteur cinema, while in the country’s film industry, changes are always presented as a matter of life and death. In other words, France has spent the year oscillating between an obsession to recreate life on screen through the intrinsic qualities of the film medium, and a death wish that has struck through both its economy and its films.
Since February 2012, the socialist government’s attempt to reform the film industry’s collective bargaining agreement has prompted filmmakers and representatives of small production houses to blow the whistle about the forthcoming downfall of French arthouse cinema. A rewritten agreement was finally signed last October, modified to give productions under 1 million euros and those between 1 and 3 million some freedom in the salaries for technical and creative staff (the pay is otherwise strictly regulated). As economic as it seems, such a negotiation touches upon aesthetic concerns, if only because such acclaimed "new New Wave" filmmakers as newcomers Antonin Peretjatko (La fille du 14 juillet) and Justine Triet (La bataille de Solférino) wouldn’t have been able to shoot under the original terms of the 2012  collective agreement.
From abroad, such battles (doubled by the government and film representatives’ plea for the French ‘cultural exception’ in Brussels) may seem far from the crux of cinema as art. In choosing to focus not on a community (the school kids of L’esquive or the restaurant owners of La graine et le mulet) but on the close intimacy between Adèle and her lover, Abdellatif Kechiche goes in that direction: he sidesteps the question of means and scope, of film as a collective work, to replace it with insistent close-ups, an expression of one man’s obsessive gazing at female flesh. Reminiscent of Pialat but far more literal in form, his quest for life through extensive takes and editing (hours of filmed material kneaded like dough) does tend to a demiurgic, self-centered view of the auteur.
Alain Guiraudie’s splendidly simple Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du lac) proved that onscreen life could be born differently. The film has a deceivingly thriller-y plot: by a lake known as a gay cruising area, a young man witnesses a killing and falls in love with the killer. A gay-and-lesbian-interest thread is also a wrong approach to it, because Franck’s attraction to free-loving Michel questions everyone’s death wish, not just the experience and ways-of-life of a specific community. At the polar opposite end of the filmmaker’s ego-spectrum from Kechiche, Guiraudie with his sweet South-West accent and his regional, low-key overtones may well have signed 2013’s best French movie, and the Sunrise of our times.


Charlotte Garson is programmer at the Festival des 3 Continents in Nantes and a film critic for France culture and Cahiers du cinéma, among others.