Professor Martin O’Shaughnessy, Nottingham Trent University

 

Laurent Cantet is one of the leading contemporary film-makers in France. His work repeatedly engages with questions of power and his different films deal with the new world of work, the Republican school, its utopian capacities and hidden inequalities, and the asymmetrical power relations of tourism in a neo-colonial context. He has also taken part in various mobilisations by French film professionals in support of groups such as paperless migrants. He could thus be seen as a committed film-maker, but not one that necessarily follows earlier models. His working methods also suggest an awareness of the politics of the film-making process itself. Although he co-writes his films and sometimes adapts existing works, he also invites his often non-professional actors to participate in the elaboration of the script in a deliberate letting go of his own power.

The research project aims to engage with these dimensions of Cantet’s work, analysing the nature of the intervention he makes in debates around the social role of salaried labour and the French Republic’s hidden exclusions and treatment of migrants and looking more broadly at his exploration of social groups and their power dynamics. The project will draw on the researcher’s experience as a film studies scholar and his extensive knowledge of contemporary France. It will thus work at the intersection of French studies and film studies and constantly work to make productive connections between contextual knowledge, on the one hand, and the skills of close analysis, on the other. It will engage with works of sociology and social and political theory as and where this is relevant and productive. Examining the way Cantet questions his own directorial power, it will ask to what extent Cantet’s work offers a new more egalitarian and dialogic mode of authorship. It will also use Cantet as a case study to ask how he renews our understanding of commitment in a period when leftist parties no longer frame and structure cultural resistances as they once did.

Because the research is interested in the politics of film-making, it will of necessity explore the circumstances surrounding the production of the films and their conditions of existence and circulation in a context where many low and medium budget films struggle for public visibility. At the same time, the research will consider the nature of the public impact of the films, looking at their reception history, but also looking at their capacity to structure public debate through the kind of post-projection discussions now so common in France. Again, the thrust here will be to ask broader questions about cinema’s role in opening a space for public participation when other more traditional forums have become less available.

The researcher has a strongly established expertise in French cinema and particularly in its political dimension. This research will therefore build on substantial earlier work, taking some of its key questions forward (about the need to redefine our understanding of political cinema for new times) but refining them by testing their application to a particularly interesting and significant individual case.

 

Professor Martin O’Shaughnessy, Nottingham Trent University

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