Body transformations in the films of Claire Denis: from ritual to play

This article reads two of Claire Denis' films - Nénette and Boni (1997) and Beau travail (1999) - through the lens of Deleuze's account of modern cinema as a sensation-producing machine. Through their respective engagement with sensual and performative discourses, both these films attempt to dissolve the disciplinary mechanisms that tend to constrain the bodies of characters and viewers in classical narrative cinema. Nénette and Boni transforms a young man's routinized, phallocentric and fetishistic sexuality into a sensual and feminized experience that reconnects the body to a world of unstructured surfaces and textures. Through this transformation, the film addresses the Deleuzian concept of `becoming-woman' as the possibility, available to both men and women, of gaining a kind of deterritorialized, non-individuated sexuality. To a large extent, this kind of `molecular' sexuality is also at the heart of Beau travail's displacement of narrative in favour of performance. Although a homoerotic narrative of seduction/repulsion seems to drive Beau travail's machinery of desire from start to finish, the film reaches its most intense desiring production through a self-conscious seduction of the spectator that is consummated in Galoup's final solo dance. In this dance, we become the recipients of the repressed legionnaire's delayed and displaced response to seduction, as we witness the excolonizer's exchange of disciplinary ritual for unmotivated jouissance.

Author Name: 
Rio, Elena del
Journal: 
Studies in French Cinema
Citation: 
Rio, Elena del. "Body Transformations in the Films of Claire Denis: From Ritual to Play." Studies in French Cinema 3.3 (2003): 185-97. Print.