Selfless Cinema? Ethics and French Documentary

Cooper, Sarah

A book about French documentary which demonstrates the productive possibilities of Levinas for understanding ethics in cinema. The introduction draws a useful distinction between Levinas' view of time and Deleuze's time-image, which offers a stimulating critique of the latter concept. Chapter Two, on Jean Rouch, also engages with Deleuze.

In Selfless Cinema?, Sarah Cooper maps out the power relations of making, and viewing, documentaries in ethical terms. The ethics of filmmaking are often examined in largely legalistic terms, dominated by issues of consent, responsibility, and participants’ or film-makers’ rights, but Cooper approaches four representative French film-makers — Jean Rouch, Chris Marker, Raymond Depardon, and Agnès Varda — in a far less juridical way, drawing on the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. She argues that, in spite of Levinas’s iconoclastic, anti-ocular thinking, his concept of visage is richly applicable to film, and especially to documentary.

Sarah Cooper, Selfless Cinema? Ethics and French Documentary (London: Legenda, 2006).