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The Critical Exception

Fergus Daly

A Discussion on Film Criticism with Jean-Michel Frodon

Jean-Michel Frodon is an important figure in world cinema - exemplary, in fact - because his work directly engages with many of the problems currently confronting film criticism globally. Frodon writes for Le Monde, France’s leading national daily, something in itself of inestimable significance given France’s commitment to the idea of l’Exception Culturelle, the GATT rule whereby, through import restrictions, cultural goods and services are exempted from the unrestricted commercialism of other types of "merchandise." That he can continue to promote innovative and challenging work in the back pages of a highly conservative broadsheet is extraordinary. Even his style of writing is in itself a challenge to what too often appears to be a newspaper critic’s current function : to serve as a cog in the industry machine. And if, as much as by his style, any writer or thinker can be defined by his enemy then Frodon has named his own nemesis : "the program," that dispositif of image - globalization of which Hollywood is one actualisation.

Son of well-known critic Pierre Billard, Frodon is an ex-social worker and photographer who began his critical career in the 80s by writing for Le Point. Now senior film editor for Le Monde, he has also authored a number of books, including one of the major reference works on French Cinema since the nouvelle vague, the superb L’Age moderne du Cinema Francais (1995), one that fills many genealogical gaps in our knowledge of recent developments in French film. More recently he edited an excellent collection on Hou Hsiao-hsien and has been involved in the educational, legal, and economic aspects of the industry. He served on the front line during l’affaire Leconte, that battle waged in 1999-2000 between French film critics and prominent (if mediocre) filmmakers like Patrice Leconte and Bertrand Tavernier who rose up in arms against those critics - such as Frodon - they accused of persistently undermining commercial French filmmaking.

Frodon’s work is proof that the Cultural Exception still operates even at the level of criticism. Open Le Monde on any Wednesday and you’ll find three broadsheet pages of reviews, articles, and reports on all aspects of world cinema. Almost everything playing in Paris gets covered by Frodon and his fellow writers, and four or five films are singled out for extended, dense appraisal ; new films by Kiarostami, Hou, or the Dardennes are guaranteed full-page treatment. But more than this astonishing gesture of cinephilia - testifying to the continuance of cinema’s importance in Paris - it’s the quality of the reviews that is so striking. At Le Monde, Frodon and his colleagues can express themselves in a way that’s certainly unknown in the newspapers of the English-speaking world (although not to the same extent in literary or art criticism).

The examples are numerous, but looking at The Guardian, reputedly Britain’s best "high-brow" daily broadsheet, its chief film critic Peter Bradshaw continually astounds, but for all the wrong reasons. Beneath an art-house friendly gloss, anything that can’t be pigeonholed, i.e., that requires a modicum of thought to help the viewer complete the experience, is dismissed with a feeble one-liner. Therefore "genre is no excuse for the somnambulistic characters" in Ruiz’s Comédie de l’innocence (2000). Of course no reference is made to the rich heritage of somnambulism in the cinema to which Ruiz may very well be offering an original contribution. Likewise, Desplechin’s Esther Kahn (2000) "feels as if it’s been translated from Martian, with a Martian cast." Of course, being French, Desplechin "has no feel whatsoever for Victorian London." Bradshaw clearly doesn’t comprehend a cinema in which artifice is problematized, in other words, the whole baroque and mannerist tradition, although he sure knows what 19th-century London should look like.

In comparison, Frodon’s writing often tends to the poetic. He can explicate at length the boy’s words and gestures in the opening scene of Kiarostami’s Ten as well as relating the boy’s performance to others in cinema history, but, unlike Bradshaw, he never would comment on his acting because, firstly, he doesn’t speak Farsi, and, more importantly, whether the boy can act or not has nothing to do with the greatness of the film. In few words, Frodon allows us a glimpse of several entry-points into the film’s singularity, through suggesting the unique narrative strategies and potential for mise en scène that the particular dispositif constructed by Kiarostami in this film opens up, enabling him "at each instant to invent cinematic possibilities."

If we ask why Frodon’s style is worth more than the writings of someone like Bradshaw or a glib stylist like Elvis Mitchell, it’s because poetic statements provoke thought, tensions that only making new connections resolves. In many ways cinematic invention today is at such a peak that help from critics is often needed to set hibernating faculties in motion, enabling readers to perceive what’s at issue intellectually and affectively in a film. And the mark of the great critic is to know that these faculties can only be piqued indirectly. Poetic criticism problematizes the simplistic, dominant descriptive type of critique, it keeps the work open, half-made - as Kiarostami might say - allowing us half-finished reviews for half-finished films, no longer plugging the dominant significations that are sold to us from every quarter.

Cinema Scope : Should film criticism aspire to the condition of poetry ?

Jean-Michel Frodon : Cinema is, as Bazin taught us, impure, and cinema criticism even more so. Poetry, or at least ambition in writing, has to be a skyline for a critic, more and in a different way than it is for other kinds of writing in newspapers - including other kinds of writing about cinema. I certainly try (and enjoy, as a writer as well as a reader) more refined, personal, original, suggestive, emotional writing in a film critic. It also seems to me that a critique should convey some kind of echo of the film it is inspired by, that you should not use the same words, the same rhythm, the same "colour" of text writing (equally positive reviews) of, say, Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994) and Theo Angelopoulos’ Alexander the Great (1980).

Nevertheless, it appears to me that, in the context I write criticism, this poetic facet can by no means be the only one. A critic must include a statement, a personal choice, the explication of the taste of the individual who writes and signs the article. It also has to offer some opportunity to the reader to evaluate if he should himself go to see the film - this is, for me, a minor aspect of the critic’s work, and I don’t like "reviews" essentially based on "good or bad" affirmations, but it cannot be absent from the critical task. And it should propose, somehow, tools to help everyone to think about what the film is really about, how it functions, what it means, sometimes what tricks are being used and for what purpose. Hopefully, it should even provide elements of a larger reflection - about images, stories, heroes, moral, political, or artistic issues. This is, of course, an ideal, and I definitely don’t pretend to achieve it often, if ever. But this is what the ambition of a film critic should be, from my point of view.

Scope : In the contemporary world, where all our "Grands recits" have crumbled, what evaluative criteria can critics justify in applying to films ? In other words, if you judge a film as good or bad, what terms of reference are you using, and how can you justify them ?

Frodon : I am not so sure all the "Grands recits" have crumbled, even if their classical forms have aged. Relations between mankind and nature, between man and woman, between humans and death, between action and reflection, words and flesh, humanity and technique, individual and collectivity, etc. are still to be questioned, and still are in cinema. In this respect, "thematics" seems to me as rich as it has ever been in cinema, and more generally in arts and intellectual research, and at least as necessary for ethics and democracy as it ever has been.

The criterion remains to try, from the subjectivity of my personal taste, to elaborate a reflection around how filmmaking itself, the mise en scène, assimilates these "great issues" to make them the intimate material of a film, and then, to provide the specific approach, reflection and sometimes proposition cinema can provide in these matters (with the underground pretension that cinema is a richer, deeper, and more efficient vehicle to address these topics than any other means of expression).

Scope : I’m very interested in your concept of "le programme," as outlined in a sub-section of L’Age Moderne du Cinema Francais. The momentous changes taking place under the "techno-economic alliance" have had and will increasingly have a profound influence on film culture. Could you say something about "the program" and outline its main affects on the cinema today. Also, do you see any positive effects in cinema today of this "indifference towards reality," in the same way one could see positive aspects to the mannerist/neo-baroque films of Carax, Ruiz, and others which provided an alternative "cinema of the image" to the cinéma du look back in the 80s ?

Frodon : I have proposed to call "the program" the dominant state of representation as it becomes more and more unified and powerful. The term intends both to extend and to elaborate the notion previously called by Serge Daney the visual ("le visuel") as a very pregnant form of figuration which translates into visible elements the economical power through its various means of statement. The word "program" seemed appropriate as it refers simultaneously to television, computers, and politics. It’s meant to designate how, through narrative-based spectacular shows, the interests of the dominant and multinational economical order are combining in synthesized artifacts elements originally provided by propaganda, advertising, showbiz, and how it reshapes previous forms (painting, novel, theatre, cinema). The other name of "the program" is Hollywood, if it’s admitted that this word designates an aesthetic form, which intends to become the only mode of representation and narration worldwide. This form can be worked out anywhere, and is meant for everywhere. It has started to affect French cinema since the late 70s, and was later significantly embodied by Beineix, Annaud, or Besson.

I do not believe in the possibility of positive effects from indifference to reality in cinema. Cinema records reality, one way or another, and good films must acknowledge it, through very various ways, from documentary to mere fantasy. Somehow, interesting cinema always deals with reality, the reality being sometimes of the filmmaking itself, for instance in the "neo-expressionist" or "neo-baroque" tendencies of some modern directors (Ruiz, Carax, Denis, but also Wong Kar-wai or Jarmusch). The explicit quest for a form is certainly not a way of escaping from reality, and since this form, deliberately or not, has to be transgressive of the dominant (and more and more immanent) one, i.e., the program, it definitely deals with very real questions.

Scope : I worry a bit sometimes about how to affirm certain filmmakers over others. If good filmmaking always involves, as you say, "any kind of relation to reality," couldn’t Annaud, Besson, or Beineix say that they are exploring the reality of the contemporary imagination, the ways in which we choose to relate to our milieu, even if it’s a highly artificial one of advertising images ? Aren’t these modes of "imaginary living" valid ? If not, then what is this reality that good filmmaking touches ?

Frodon : I am very glad you asked this question, because I was afraid my answers might look like a list of techniques, or recipes, which could be used as a system. Which, of course, it is by no means. Certain films deny, or fake, a relationship with the real world in a way which intends to escape, or hide, the complexity of reality, the uncertainty of the relations between the elements of reality (human beings, nature, social forces, etc.), but also which use fiction, or even myth, which is perfectly okay, except when it does not intend to help understand the world in which we live, but serves dominant forms of power, and dissimulates the fundamental issues "mythologic" narratives and images should address to be legitimate.

When a movie intends to provide pleasure with what it pretends to denounce, when it capitalizes on instinctive reactions in a manipulative way without providing the elements to reframe it in a different perspective (like Hitchcock does), when clichés on landscape, human nature, interpersonal relationships and so on are being used in lazy ways to make everybody enjoy not-thinking (which is a widespread goal), I would call those the type of films I don’t like. But many films against which I have written found defenders whom I respect. Which means that there are two levels. The second is the conceptual level of what you expect from films, what you are ready to stand for and what you are ready to oppose as strongly as possible.

I once used a whole page of Le Monde to try to explain clearly why I consider Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) a terrible film (an "enemy film," so to speak, even more evil to be, in my view, against what it pretends to mean and what its director thinks, perhaps sincerely, about the issues it addresses). I recently had a long discussion with a friend in New York, whose opinions I definitely respect, and who had very interesting arguments in favour of the film that were offering a different approach to the same work, with the same basic demands towards cinema. Which means that the second level is the way, in each case, a single person, with his subjectivity, his culture, his state of mind (and of body !) at the very moment he sees the film, and between the screening and the writing, a man or a woman with his/her fears, loves, anguishes, dreams, will see a particular film, and will find (or not) words to express him/herself about it. As I already said, criticism is an individual activity, with all the pride and the risk of showing publicly how a (possible) demand for ethics and aesthetics has been fulfilled or not by a specific film. This can make you rather solitary : there is a kind of worldwide phenomenon around the success of Amélie (2001). For accidental reasons, I did not see this movie before its release, and had no chance to write about it. When I saw it in the cinema, I was literally oppressed, suffocated by what I felt, and I still think it’s a terrible act against the liberty of mind. Around me, people seemed so happy.

I recently attended a screening of a new Godard film, Dans le noir du temps, after which he made some comments which happen to be relevant to what we are discussing now. Godard said that there are two paths around a camera : from the lens to the viewfinder, and from the viewfinder to the lens. Against the dominant tradition of creators-directors working from the viewfinder to the lens, the modern cinema inspired by neorealism, such as the nouvelle vague, chose the other path. But there is another problem : bad directors never make the complete path ; some try to go to the real world from the aesthetics they have in mind, others try to capture the world and bring it to the reshaping of their own, but in both categories most fail to complete its journey through the whole camera. I find this metaphor quite suggestive. The problem with directors like Beineix would be that they never reach the world from their self-affirming approach (from the viewfinder).

Scope : I’m interested in your reference to films in which "clichés on landscapes, human nature, people relationship and so on are being used lazy ways." This immediately made me think of what you wrote in your review of Suzaku (1997) by Naomi Kawase when you said that in her opening shot of swaying trees that she had "created an image." What is an image in that sense as opposed to a cliché ?

Frodon : To take the easiest approach, I would say that the "image" is, in this case, created by the simplest, the most essential means. By the way she composes her frame, and lets time, light, wind, sound, inhabit the screen, Kawase transforms the very ordinary figuration of trees through opening it onto an immense invisible world, which anyone can elaborate from his own visual references, fears, dreams, aesthetic or political or sensual or even scientific personal approaches. It is very moving, if you open yourself to this simple - though demanding - experience. People are so used to both being told what they are supposed to see and understand, and to it being done fast. It’s even more moving if, for instance, you start to think that Paul Cezanne dedicated many years of his life, until his death, to reach something similar with la Sainte Victoire, and that this young, talented woman gets it at the very first frame of her first film.

It is also moving to think that we have seen so many trees in cinema, most of them were just there, captured but ignored like insects killed on the windshield of a moving car (which is the way most movies treat the real world). Many other trees are used as clichés, either because they receive massive injections of signification, symbolism, or because they are chosen for a spectacular appearance which implies a silent voiceover saying : look how beautiful (or ugly, or cute, etc.) it is ! And then, by suppressing my freedom to elaborate what can be thought, felt, dreamed, from the representation of… anything. Trees are a rich basis to start with, but a human face, a city, the sea, a wall, an eye, the soil, a cat, etc. are also potentially infinitely rich. It is the particular capacity for "creation through recording" (i.e., cinema) which offers the opportunity, so rarely used, to build an image, in the demanding sense I gave to this word when I used it about Kawase’s film, from any real objects.

Scope : A few years ago Arnaud Desplechin wrote the following : "I’d say there’s not so much a malaise in cinema as a malaise in cinema criticism - a failure that’s both intellectual and pedagogical. Critics no longer understand films, no longer know how to relate them to one another or to situate them in a historical lineage or in a present-day context, and have nothing to tell spectators anymore. All of a sudden no one knows how to put new French films in perspective. Numerous, very different, films are made but it’s as if each one was in isolation, unrelated to the world, to the history of cinema, to other contemporary works." It’s bad enough when critics are attacked by market-obsessed people and mediocre filmmakers who know nothing about cinema, but when auteurs you admire (who are also cinephiles) go on the offensive, how do you feel and how can you respond ?

Frodon : I remember very well when Arnaud wrote this, because it was at this moment I became quite close to him, after I reacted to this affirmation. He admitted the way he said it was excessively general, and inspired by a very specific fact whereby he let himself be driven to make an unfair global statement. But the most important aspect is elsewhere : first, it stands in the definition of the critical task Desplechin gives, which seems to me very accurate and important. And then, it is in the way it underlines the need directors (some directors, some artists) have to get a response from critics. I think Desplechin’s judgement is unfair, but I shouldn’t express my opinion on that since I am directly concerned. But, much more importantly, I hear in his outburst the situation of someone engaged in a daring process of creation, and not needing approval or laurels but intelligent help, clever mirrors, elements of genealogy, perspective, politics, to keep moving ahead. I absolutely share what Desplechin demands from critics. If nobody does it (including me), it is terrible, I agree.

But there is another translation of what he says : by the end of the 80s, a lot of people who have been close to the most vivid and creative life of cinema in France since the 50s went into a deep melancholy. Some grew old, some were tired, ill, or sad. Some were lazy. Others, amongst the younger generation, became greedy or cynical. Some went on a different route, to the countryside, to alternative jobs. Others became filmmakers instead of critics. Which means that someone like Desplechin, who grew up in the intellectual companionship of two or three generations of "cultural references" (critics, older and respected filmmakers, etc), discovered in the moment he went into filmmaking that most of them had vanished. He was counting on them, and they were dead, retired, making their own films instead of commenting on his, or writing about television, sociology of the media, or about cinema but in nostalgic quarterlies dedicated to the outmoded dreams of another moment of modernity instead of reacting to the day-by-day adventures of filmmaking and exhibition. So Desplechin felt alone, and in a moment of fright was driven to say this thing.

Scope : Did you learn anything from the recent critics’ controversy in France which began when certain filmmakers complained about their treatment by critics such as yourself ?

Frodon : Yes, several things. I realized how much the French system of support for cinema, which I basically regard as a good system, has turned a lot of cinema people into spoiled children, who cannot accept any criticism. Then it helped me to understand better how much the film critic, as a historic intellectual phenomenon in France, has been a central part of this system, and that these hostile reactions by some directors were attacking their very own interests : film critics keep considering the whole cinema as art, which makes films by Tavernier, Leconte and others amenable to critical activity, that they receive (most of) the financial, political, and administrative support enjoyed by French filmmakers. I also realized how little I regard myself as part of a corporation, or even a group. One of the aspects which shocked me the most in the attacks was the mixing together of different attitudes and writings from other critics in which I don’t by any means recognize myself. And, I discovered how much these questions were vivid in France, which is good, and how much it puzzles, and attracts, foreigners, which is even better.

I understand through your question that I might have felt some regrets of being excessively aggressive against some directors or films, and I should have learned to be more moderate. I must say it is not so. I have made mistakes, but I keep believing that film criticism has to be a tense activity, in which everyone takes his responsibility and puts on the table his feelings and thinking without taking too much care. If I learned something though, it is that the limit I imposed on myself never to attack people, only their works, is meaningless, since these people feel touched in their flesh and bones (and pride) by anything you’d say about their films. It is inevitable, regrettable, and that’s it. I still believe the rule is necessary, since attacking people on their personal being, appearance, name and so on, like colleagues have done, makes me puke.

Scope : Olivier Assayas said to me how much it helped him to clarify his cinematic project to read good critics such as yourself. Is there any sense in which doing criticism is your way of making films (as the nouvelle vague auteurs might have said) ?

Frodon : My personal answer is clearly no, because, very differently from the nouvelle vague filmmakers, I never thought of criticism as a route towards directing - or towards anything else. What they meant, more precisely what Godard meant when he said so, talking about the whole group, was that as critics they were already expressing their demands on mise en scène that they could later translate into their own directing. All of them have always had a great desire to become filmmakers, which is very good, considering what happened after, not only with the "original Five" (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette) but also with all the others who went through the Cahiers du Cinéma road to directing (including Assayas himself). One of the "collateral effects" of that specific history has been to further the suspicion that critics are would-be artists, or even are failed artists getting revenge from those who achieved what they did not. When I began, I was attracted to becoming also a scriptwriter, and I actually wrote several scripts which never went into production in the 80s, but when I started to work for Le Monde, I knew it was impossible to be on "both sides of the barricade." Since then I have had no second thoughts. But it is very true that being a film critic means having to try to think a lot about mise en scène, what is tried and achieved by directors, and it’s only natural if what critics write collides with the questions directors are asking themselves. Hopefully, good critics are useful to filmmakers - that was, in a negative way, exactly what Desplechin was demanding. And, for myself, I am glad and proud Assayas said that.

Scope : What does it mean today to still speak of film auteurs ? Can we still speak of intentionality ? Or should we concentrate on the unity of a problematic across a series of films ?

Frodon : There have been a lot of misunderstandings around the concept of "auteur" in cinema. It is necessary to remind you that the cinema auteur was described by the creators of "la politique des auteurs" as a very specific relation with creativity, compared with the "auteur" position in classical arts. The cinema auteur is the one who organizes the interference between the objective condition of filmmaking (technical tools, recording of reality, collective work, economic constraints, etc.) and his personal vision. The proportion between the external elements and the creation can be very different from one film to another. For instance, Westerns by Hawks or thrillers by Hitchcock are auteur films through the way, inside the studio system and the genre laws, a creative director can nevertheless print his own view of the world. Auteurs like Vigo, Renoir, Resnais, or Carax wish, or are obliged to, elaborate their own fictional environment, without losing connection with reality, while others, from Rouch to Kiarostami, Pialat to Rohmer, and Flaherty to Cassavetes organize their recording of real situations that they have, or not, set up. In all of these cases, as well as in many of the most contemporary filmmakers, the auteur question seems more active than ever since it occupies a very specific place in the field of the "making of works of art." This question, so alive in the traditional arts, has become even more accurate with the eruption of digital technologies. It is part of the complex questioning on the specificity of cinema as an art form, challenged not only from the historically preceding forms, but also by more recent ones. Obviously, this does not block other types of approaches, but the specific conception of his work by, say, Wong Kar-wai, Pedro Almodóvar, or Mathieu Amalric still seems relevant, for me, to understanding and to discussing what’s happening on the screen.

Scope : Following on from your last answer, could I ask how you would define "personal vision." After the subject has been constituted as a subject in discourse and ideology, is there a reserve zone inhabited by a freer, more creative self ?

Frodon : I don’t want to define too precisely what a "personal vision" might be, since it can actually (and hopefully) happen in so many ways. To take a classical example, one could take a regular Western movie script, imagine what kind of similar ordinary movies a dozen different technician-directors would make out of it, what movie Hawks would make out of it, what (very different) movie Ford would make out of it. This archetypal situation became more complicated when regular technician-directors saw themselves as "auteurs." Signature effects began to proliferate - the more obvious, and one of the first in a systematic way, being Claude Lelouch. But all this, including the "regular technician-director" kind of movies, do already come from an aesthetical judgment, a critical point of view. All movies are born from the crossing of a mechanical recording with some human decisions, which "elect and build" a certain form among all those that are possible. In this sense, there is no need for cinema to eliminate the "point of view" question, which is one of the "subject" questions.

I am not sure I understand correctly the last part of your question, but if you’re asking if a film director can work apart from an explicit, or at least self-recognized ideology or theory of representation, my answer is certainly yes. For instance, it seems to me that such a major contemporary director as Hou Hsiao-hsien has no special ideology he is aware of, nor does he need any, which does not prevent him from being so creative. But it’s true that nowadays most filmmakers carry the heritage of an already long history of cinema. In that sense, like all other arts when they reach their "modern" era (which could be called the adult age, as opposed to the "enfance de l’art" so often mentioned by Godard), it is confronted with the difficulty of avoiding preceding discourses or ideology.

Scope : In the Film Comment 90s poll you wrote "Chinese culture [is] the strongest potential alternative to the Hollywood aesthetic hegemony." Could you expand on this and describe why this is an important issue in our times ?

Frodon : An extensive answer to this question would take up too much space, but again I would say that it seems to me that cinema, and beyond the whole system of collective representation is in danger of being formatted into one hegemonic form, which I call Hollywood : a form which can be created anywhere, and is meant to be released, by all means available, everywhere. It can, and most probably will accept "niche" alternatives being used as reservoir for new ideas, but only in an ultra-marginal position. It also seems to me that the best chance in the medium term to see another strong collective form of narration and representation might come from the Chinese world. It’s certainly more likely than from anywhere else : they have the stories, the audience, the money, the technique, and the skills, and the strongest, most original, and proud civilization as a background you can find anywhere in the world. This does not mean that a Chinese alternative to the hegemonic Hollywood form would be "better" (more beautiful, more interesting, more democratic or whatever), just that, in these matters, it’s infinitely different - and more desirable. Nevertheless, it appears that there is some strange similitude between traditional Chinese aesthetics and Western modern art, especially cinema - in terms of the composition of the frame, the place of humans in nature, the relation to time, space, etc. - which at least opens the hypothesis that a cinema using Chinese aesthetics might even bring up some renewed approach to the art of cinema fitting with the most interesting modern filmmakers’ work. This is what I suggest happened with Hou.

Scope : Finally, do you think that writing is for you a way of changing yourself or of penetrating deeper into yourself or a way of detaching yourself from yourself ?

Frodon : I am not so used to introspection, so I have never thought about it much. To try to answer fairly your challenging question, I would say there are several layers of mental attitudes which combine themselves variously. One comes from the fact that I work in a kind of public institution, with a lot of written and unwritten rules, necessary to fit with the general policy of the newspaper, the laws of journalism, the respect to the readers and so far. I discovered when I started to work there that these standards were basically mine, and I could match them quite naturally, and I would add, happily and proudly. This is one of the reasons I feel "at home" at Le Monde. The second level has to do with the fact there is something of a routine in the work I do. Though I keep feeling any new film I see, and any writing I do, as a new experience, it would be absurd to pretend that, having doing this every day for ten years, some kinds of automaticisms are not at work - sometimes it helps to get to the point, and sometimes it makes things boring (which hopefully has not happened often). The third level has to do with the fact that my writing has to fit with my colleagues’, and be approved by people in a higher hierarchical position. It is only at the fourth level which is, indeed, the one where, during my writing activity, I reach a specific state of mind. But I am still unable to tell if this "state" is the real me or something outside of me.

All I can say is that I enjoy a real pleasure in writing, which I feel like an accomplishment of something which belongs to me, thanks to deep emotions which have been revealed through the exercise of writing, and the echoes brought up while doing it. These are echoes with the film I’m writing about, with other films, texts and remembrances sometimes apparently very far from my actual subject, with more general things I am dealing with at the moment, with affective memories, with potential reactions by friends - what you might call "my inner world." I can’t really say if it’s penetrating deeper into myself or getting temporarily outside of me, what I know is that this process leads me where I would not go otherwise. One of the most evident proofs of this is that, for decades, I have been absolutely unable to talk about films after seeing them. Many have described cinephilia as speaking about films as much as seeing them. For example, there are very beautiful pages by Serge Daney about walking through the town all night with friends and infinitely discussing the film they just saw together. I never had this relationship with films - it was much more secret, at least intimate. Basically, what I have to say about a film, what I am able to think from it and for it, comes through the writing process. Very often, I discover while writing not only how to express what I think, but large parts of this thinking itself. Beyond my personal relationship with the writing process, I believe that real critique (like literature or poetry in different ways) is a mental process which has to do with writing as a very specific bodily and mental activity - the correct term, if it’s not too pedantic, would be : writing as a specific praxis. And, whatever you think of the result, this is what I experience.

- Cinema-scope

- Senses of Cinema

Fergus Daly has recently co-written a book on Leos Carax and co-directed a film on Abbas Kiarostami.