Golon Books Home / Home Page

Tutor: Ginette Vincendeau 

Tanja Sihvonen

Femme francaise fatale?

The Representation of Women in Jules et Jim (1961), Pierrot le fou (1965),
Tirez sur le pianiste (1960) and the Angelique series (1964-1968)

The femme fatale is an essential constituent of the film noir thematic. The everyday understanding of the term could be put down along the lines suggested by James F. Maxfield: ‘a femme fatale is typically conceived of as an extremely attractive woman who deliberately tries to lead men to their destruction; she is composed of equal parts of seductive beauty and malice.’ Already the term itself, and of course the complicated set of references and allusions, contains a clue of the treatment of women in these films. In order to be fatal, the women have to be fatal in relation to something; that is, their role and importance is measured by their effect on something or someone. The criterion of judgement in this context is self-evident: it is the male characters and their (mis)fortune, shame and guilt that are projected onto women. As Janey Place puts it, ‘film noir is a male fantasy’ , where women are valued in the context of sexuality, by their appeal as uncontrollable and at the same time enchanting females. But, as Elizabeth Cowie points out, the results of this are more complex than one would think: As the (possibly) deceitful woman arouses the man’s desire, the violent chastisement of the femme fatale bears witness to ‘the man’s inverse desire to control and punish the object of desire’. This, however, is perhaps more true of American films noirs, where the characters are given psychological motivation and their acts are made understandable through showing their movements of mind through, for example, the use of voice-over.

The frame of reference in Angelique films (Bernard Borderie, 1964-1968) is in many ways opposite to the film noir thematic. Angelique could be labelled as costume drama, historical fiction or women’s melodrama. The main character around whom everything revolves is the woman, Angelique (Michele Mercier), the whole series being essentially her story in which male counterparts are but supporting characters. The narrative focus typically centres on the woman, as it is a “woman’s film”. This is the first and most obvious difference. Angelique might be in this respect an exceptional and positive even as women’s melodrama, as Angelique is clearly a true heroine, self-sufficient, witty and beautiful, and thus constructed as a role model and a character to identify with. Now this is highly problematic in terms of sexual difference and mythology, as in “mythical-textual mechanics” the hero, the “active principle of culture” must be male, while as the obstacle, resistance and matter remain female. In Angelique this “order of things” is reversed: it is Angelique who goes on a search for her lost love (who actually escapes her!), and thus thinks and acts as a confident and independent character. Her thoughts and actions are not determined by masculine mastery - on the contrary, her characteristics are very much defined by her resistance and rebellion against the male dominance. The examples of this are countless: She is married against her will (which was the normal practice at the time), but she chooses the man with whom she wants to have sex with the first time; when her dear husband is jailed in Paris she goes there and does everything she can to free him; she rebels against the Sun King’s will so that he has to be degraded to make a deal with her. According to my interpretation, the whole narrative is structured around feminine quest for independence and the right to a fully satisfying life.

In this essay I analyse the gender aspect through the representation of women in Jules et Jim (Francois Truffaut, 1961), Pierrot le fou (Jean-LucGodard, 1965), Tirez sur le pianiste (Francois Truffaut, 1960), and compare it to the popular series of five Angelique films. The three New Wave films loosely fit into the French film noir category, and contrast with the Angelique series both thematically and by their use of visuals. At first glance the genres these films represent seem to be quite opposite. Film noir is usually thought to be more of an idea than a specific genre of film. It is defined by a set of elements, both thematic (investigative structure, the role of a deceitful woman) and formal (flashback, voice-over), and perhaps above all by its visual style: ‘low-key lighting; the use of chiaroscuro effects; strongly marked camera angles, either low or high; jarring and off-balance shot composition; tight framing and close-ups that produce a claustrophobic sense of containment.’ The associations of the word “noir” are clandestine things: depression, death, madness, cruelty, crime, perversity and “blackness” as (racial)“otherness”. In the cinematic context of a criminal underworld or an alienated social group it is possible to deal with themes that are at the same time alien and frightening to the mass audience, but which, on the other hand, help it to deal with its own unconscious anxieties. The fears that are most often referred to in this context can be called “social castration anxieties”, which are caused primarily by the immense changes in society of the post-industrial era. The social structure is changing so fast that the distinct values, norms of behaviour and their rejection of the traditional way of life draw entire generations and social groups apart. The hero of a French thriller is a loner, a criminal, who is not a member of society (anymore). The rules of the game are often those of the crooks, among whom homage and allegiance to the group are most respected. The underlying thematic of the 1960s thrillers was to show uncertainty, unreliability and nonconformity of the main character(s)through a particular kind of cinematic expression, visuals and narration. The indoor settings, urban environments, car chases and lack of dialogue create an ambience of which darkness and sordidness are essential characteristics. The hero of the film noir is a lonely emotional retard, either a gangster or a law-enforcer, or quite typically hovering ambiguously between the two. Film noir has had critical acclaim, as the fact that the term itself was invented by critics suggest.

Such is not the case of Angelique films, as they are costume dramas and have thus been doomed to be treated as mere woman’s films - the term that has a rather derogatory connotation. The genre has been labelled as flimsy and unimportant, unworthy of serious critical attention. Therefore the theory of its thematic, visual and cinematic components is still largely under construction. For example, having a heroic, courageous female in the leading role has provoked a vivid discussion amongst feminist film critics of whether that woman should be considered as “phallic” or” figuratively male”. The problem is, as Elizabeth Hills shows, that the division “active male/passive female” of psychoanalytical framework necessarily defines the feminine as a negation or a lack, and does not allow any transgressions.In my opinion, it is exactly the transgress character of these heroines, which is truly important in re-defining and transforming the feminist film theories. Part of this discussion is the importance of genre and generic conventions in interpreting the characters’ significance. Though film noir and melodrama (like masculine – feminine) have often been contrasted, according to Elizabeth Cowie, they could be treated as “two sides of the same coin”: ‘Film noir can therefore be viewed as a kind of development of melodrama so that whereas earlier the obstacles to the heterosexual couple had been external forces of family and circumstance, wars or illness, in the film noir the obstacles derive from the characters’ psychology or even pathology as they encounter external events’.This is very true of the relation between the three films noirs and the Angelique melodramas.

Film characters act as a reinforcing element in the reproduction of social structures the representations of which are shown in cinema. This is why, in my opinion, the analysis of gender roles in films is of uppermost importance. Films (and more generally popular culture) participate in the creation and maintenance of ideology and mythology, which are essential in analysing the changes in society. My analysis on the French cinema of the 1960s is based on the notion that culture – or at least some aspects in it – is linked with nationality, or more broadly, the social context in which it is talked about. Dealing with cinema I believe this is especially true in relation to France, as the French cinema has employed a relatively important role in the creation of a national French culture. As France consists of numerous very distinctive areas and the people have always had very strong local and class-based identities, establishing a strong national identity has been one of the major projects of the 20thcentury.Thus it has been important to establish a structure of a strong and centralised power, and in this process, I argue that cinema has played a crucial role. The way to re-build the greatness of France after the terrible losses of the war was through the process of modernisation, an aspect of which was the so-called democratisation of culture. The aim was to bring the most valuable works of the French nation within everybody’s reach by for example financing cine-clubs. In 1953 the government introduced new criteria for subsidising the production of films, and one of them was “a certain aesthetic quality” of films.Aesthetic values in cinema were considered to be important in “educating” the public. As Brian Rigby among others suggests, the whole discourse on culture and the role of it in the French context has been very political.

One aspect of the French cinema and its political implications is that it reflects the French people’s ambivalent attitudes towards American culture. The term film noir, which is usually associated with films made in the1950s, refers in general to American cinema. Though the term itself may have been in use already before the World War II, it was in the 1940s that the French critics used it to describe a specific genre of crime fiction. These films may be thought to represent universal anxieties of individuals trying to adapt to society in change. Robin Buss suggests, though, that as the genre was first named in France it must have had ‘a special relevance to the French context’. The French thriller, combining the American film noir tradition with quite typical French themes, can thus be said to represent and negotiate the ambivalent relations of these two quite different cultures. Though many Hollywood films enjoyed high popularity among the French people and everything American meant modernism for the new generation, there was also considerable opposition to the Americanisation.Outside the rather small (but influential) Cahiers du cinema group of film critics there were worries that Hollywood would sooner or later destroy the original European film industries. In my opinion the Angelique films could be seen as symptomatic of this, as they can be treated as the European response to the Hollywood domination. As Rene Predal shows, American films have always been more popular in France than the domestic production.As cinema for the French has been an issue of national importance and international recognition, it must have been alluring to try to compete with the Americans in their “own” field. Both of the genres I am dealing with here are American by origin, though they might have also found their source of inspiration in European literary or filmic traditions.As James Naremore puts it: ‘In on sense the French invented the American film noir, and they did so because local conditions predisposed them to view Hollywood in certain ways.’

In the 1940s and 50s, in the after-war pessimism and cynicism and, on the other hand, in the newly revived hope of a better future with the help of the Marshall Aid, the French society was in a state of profound change. The period starting in 1945 is often called “the Golden Age” because of huge economic growth. The changes in lifestyles, values and behaviour have led theorists to describe the era as a revolutionary watershed period of the French history. In terms of culture, the after-war France underwent two major changes: the processes of modernisation/Americanisation and decolonisation. These trends have often in academic discussion been kept apart, and Kristin Ross argues how this has been symptomatic of the project of modernisation itself: The project of making France a modern country was carried out with the help of foreign work force, mostly immigrants from the previous colonies of France. At the same time when France was detaching itself from its pastas an imperialist force, it was taking advantage of its subjects in order to fill the criteria of a modern welfare nation. Modernisation and Americanisation of France are, in her analysis, clearly visible in the New Wave films. She argues that these processes were not that much about binding together very different economic and political structures, but implementing the same capitalistic ideology to two divergent environments. The American films that were very popular after the war had a tremendous impact on the behaviour, values and norms of the French people, as they introduced a whole new consumer culture, the American Way of Life.

Some directors in France reacted to this American (cinematic) invasion with open hostility, some, like Godard and Truffaut, actually admired the Hollywood directors and their filmmaking methods. The film noir/thriller is an important genre in French cinema, because ‘it provides an excellent vehicle for describing, criticising and coming to terms with modernisation’, which is generally associated with Americanisation.

Thrillers, as well as Nouvelle vague films in general, were preoccupied with portraying the changes of everyday life caused by the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation of France. These profound changes are naturally brought into consideration in detective stories, as crimes were closely associated with urban environments and the modern consumer life style of urban dwellers. In the 1960s France the policy of planned urbanisation turned out to be a failure. There were more and more people inhabiting enormous suburbs and suffering from ‘the boredom and depression created by these soulless cities where concrete was king and where material comfort could not overcome the sense of living in an artificial universe’. These feelings of depression, alienation and loneliness are expressed in films noirs through creative use of lighting, darkness indeed being an important characteristic of it. The theme of darkness is used expressively in establishing the environment or the scene both externally and psychologically as shadowy, unstable and threatening.The noir themes manifested in many French films are often linked with the unconscious, “the world of shadows”, which makes us not only rational and sensible humans but also uncontrollable, potentially dangerous creatures.Richard Dyer argues that the characteristics of film noir consist of anxieties over the existence and definition of normality and masculinity. He grounds his argument on the observation that the films noirs usually construct a masculinity which is contrasted with the images of the non-masculine, “other” and frightening - which so often and so self-evidently means, feminine. To be more precise, it is not necessarily the feminine itself that is threatening to the male, but the uncontrollable component in the man’s own nature that both attracts and detracts him. The man has got to repress his latent (homosexual?) desire and fight against it, and the signifier of this denial is the imageof an attractive but fatal woman.

One of the most important thematic features of the three individual films I discuss here is that the women in them die at the end. Why does the narrative punish these characters? Janey Place says that the “crime” the dangerous woman is mostly responsible for is ambition, metaphorically expressed in her quest for freedom of movement and the visual prevalence of hers. As her true nature is always sexual, this seeking for independence and freedom must be repressed - otherwise it would destroy the man. The idea behind this is that the hidden, shadowed sexuality has to remain as such, because it reminds of the fear for the man’s own restricted, potentially dangerous sexual urges to come out. Thus the figure of a woman, of femme fatale, comes to ultimately represent the man’s sexuality and the (possible) lack of control. Against this background it becomes clear and evident why women have to die at the end of films noirs. For example at the end of Tirez sur le pianiste, after Lena (Marie Dubois) has accidentally been killed, we are shown Charlie (Charles Aznavour) at the bar playing the piano and his eyes staring something with a trifling gaze. His face is empty and expressionless. The psychological interpretation of this is that he has managed to kill the urge (once again), but it does not seem to be making him any happier. The new girl working at the bar (the potentially “new Lena”) represents the ultimate threat for him, as she reminds him of the denial and the fact that he cannot ever destroy the craving in himself.

Out of the three film noir women I discuss in this essay, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) from Jules et Jim embodies an archetypal femme fatale figure: she carries vitriol with her, shows some suicidal tendencies and at the end proves out to be truly murderous. But above all, it is her uncontrollable sexuality that shatters the relationship between the three people in the film (Jules, Jim and Catherine) and brings it to the tragic end. In terms of sexuality and independence, Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina in Pierrot le fou) is also an interesting case. She is shown to lack all familial connections, so already the opening scenes posit her as an outsider in society in much more depth than Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who is a husband and a father. Marianne is entangled in secretive international arms trade, and a murder takes place in her flat. Ferdinand (Pierrot) and Marianne flee, spend some months together and at the end, separate. Pierrot goes looking for her, finds her dying and then kills himself. So, although Marianne is not directly responsible for his death, her murder apparently triggers the destructive urges in Pierrot. The whole Hollywood-esque journey through the French countryside, as well as the deaths at the end seem somehow fortuitous and incidental.

The femme fatale thematic has some relevance in the analysis of Angelique as well. Angelique is shown to carry out destructive, even murderous acts. The difference is that she is not condemned visually or in the narrative at all. Quite the opposite, she is constructed as a courageous and righteous character in a world of corrupt and debauched people (the court of Louis XIV). Actually, one of the main themes that drive the narrative is that powerful enemies threaten Angelique’s life. The plot is constructed around her knowing something she should not know: In the beginning there is a scene where Angelique happens to hide behind a closet, in a room where some members of aristocracy are planning a conspiracy against the King. She is thus marked as a vital source of information and a benefactor to the people whose lives are in danger, but also a dangerous figure who has to get killed. In this respect she might be compared to Lena in Tirez sur le pianiste. In this film it is in fact men that are fatal to women. Charlie’s emotional inability to confront problems in his marriage leads to the suicide of his wife. As she is strong enough to tell him the dark secret about Lars Schmeel, the manager, that has been shadowing their happiness, his emotional impotence manifests in him rushing out of the flat (see pictures 20-23). At the end of the film Charlie’s ineffectuality proves to be fatal to Lena, who dies as a result of random shooting (see pictures 24-35). She is basically the innocent girl, whose mistake seems to be falling for the wrong man. Being the good, “innocent” girl as well, Angelique saves herself from danger and escapes from the cruel world to the pirate ship of her husband.

Compared to the confident Catherine and Angelique, Helene/Lena in Tirez sur le pianiste seems a different kind of character at first. She is not destructive or fatal, but a nice and easygoing girl. Yet, she seems to be in control of the situation in a manner, which implies “phallic” power. For example she effortlessly carries the unconscious Charlie to safe, and in another sequence frees them both from the hands of malicious but stupid gangsters. She comes to play an important part in Charlie’s life, bringing back memories of his late wife, and as there are criminals involved, the story is bound to end in tragedy. Only this time it is not the woman who is fatal to the man, but the other way around. Just as Charlie’s wife committed a suicide, Lena dies of gangsters’ bullets and Charlie’s misery continues. Though Lena is obviously not the deadly character in the film, according to my interpretation she inhabits the potential of becoming one.

Godard’s Pierrot le fou was, according to the director, an entirely spontaneous film. The character of Marianne is constructed as an irresistible combination of passive innocence (“baby-sitter”) and active fatality (“murderess”) thus fulfilling the criterion of femme fatale of Maxfield’s, ‘seductive beauty and malice’ combined. It is probably this contradiction in her, as well as her role as an active character that makes her such an enchanting figure. In the car scene it is indeed Marianne who seduces Pierrot. Marianne tells him what she wants to do with him, and every time he answers: “Moi aussi, Marianne” (“Me too, Marianne”). During the sequence she is constantly looking at him, where as he is looking forward. Only once are they looking at each other, and Marianne is smiling (see picture 1). In terms of representing femininity, Marianne is certainly an active, self-assured and still very feminine character. Godard himself said that ‘Anna represents the active life and Belmondo the contemplative’. In this respect she is probably the one closest to the character of Angelique, although their “femininities” are in terms of visuals and narrative represented very differently. The oblique implications of Marianne’s links with international arms trade, political complots and eventually the murder make her a fatal woman, who “deserves” to die at the end. The iconography of the whole film emphasises her wickedness and capability to perform demolishing acts (see pictures 3, 4, 7 and 8).

The director, whose attitude towards women is brought into consideration most often, is probably Francois Truffaut. This might be due to the simple fact that his films are very much about men - women relations. The sexual politics in his films tend to concentrate around the question ‘Are women magic?’ which instantly posits women as objects of male idealisation. They are denied ‘the status of human subject’, as the viewpoint in his films is exclusively subjective masculine. This is especially notable in Jules et Jim, where the uncontrollable Catherine enchants the two heroes with her magical smile that is first seen on a statue. The men swear that if they ever come across such a smile in real life, they will follow it (and this is, of course, what happens). Catherine’s smile brings her in the centre of the two men’s affection, but at the same time it denies her own independent subjectivity. The fact that there is first the smile, which is then (literally) brought alive through the iconography of her face, posits her as a transcendent figure, an enigma that the men are trying to solve.

An important attachment to my discussion of the representation of women in these films is the question of how they portray male characters. The starting point in looking at Truffaut’s - as well as many other directors’ - filmic conventions is that the point of view is always man’s. The necessary implication of this is that the direction of attention invites the spectator to identify with the male characters. This is most visible in the representation of sexual desire, as it is always shown through shots of women’s bodies, never men’s. A good example of this is the scene in Tirez sur le pianiste where Clarisse (Michele Mercier) visits Charlie in his flat and they are about to make love (see pictures 9-12). The scene is famous for its self-awareness, as Clarisse first sings a little song about the advantages of television compared to the cinema while undressing. She then goes to bed with Charlie and we can see her bare breasts that Charlie covers up saying that this is what they do in the movies. This scene then appears to be implying that the New Wave norms of showing “erotic” scenes are more liberal. The rather unnecessary nudity (of women) seems to be one characteristic of these films (see pictures 5 and 6). The rather unproblematised showing of nudity might be due to the prestigious Art Film status of the Truffaut and Godard films, where as Angelique films, as popular entertainment, have definitely been under stricter control and protecting norms. In Angelique, despite its “Erotica” classification, there are no obvious lovemaking scenes or nudity in the same sense as in some New Wave films. This is undoubtedly also due to the series’ status as woman’s films. They are indeed constructed around showing desire, both masculine and feminine, but in a very different way from the New Wave films. The erotic appeal of Angelique films primarily manifests itself in the way the characters talk, dress and look at each other.

Truffaut’s male characters do not invite the viewer to eroticise them, as their portrayal is far from the conventionally aestheticised male body, the representatives of which can be found in many male characters in Angelique. However, despite the rather ordinary looks of many of the Truffaut and Godard characters they are presented as desirable for the female characters/viewers. If this is related to the more general cinematic tradition, where film actors become stars and idols for the public mainly because of their looks, it seems rather suspicious that it is principally the female characters who are required to be physically appealing. A good example of a not-so-handsome man who is in the diegesis portrayed desirable is Charlie Kohler in Tirez sur le Pianiste. He, despite his ordinariness is a womaniser, a man to whom even the prostitute quite happily wants to make love for free. It is self-evident that as Angelique films apply the so-called soap opera aesthetics , of which one of the essential requirements is the necessary physical pleasure of the characters, also the men are eroticised in the same way as women. I argue that in Jules et Jim, Tirez sur le pianiste and in Pierrot le fou the female characters are in terms of visuals aestheticised far more than the male characters, for example by often showing their faces in close-ups. This is again different from Angelique, where the tendency is to concentrate on both of the faces of women and men. As the close-up and the extreme close-up heighten the emotional component of the characters, it is interesting that in woman’s films (as well as for example in soap operas) men’s emotional depths are brought up (at least) in visual terms just as much as women’s. (See pictures 44-47) In terms of voice-over (which is almost exclusively male in Western cinema), and especially the narrative, there might be a lot of treatment of the masculine self, though. But since as the masculinity is portrayed through the position of a self-possessed subject, and it is evident that men’s feelings are not that much of an issue as women’s, so man’s films tend to concentrate on more external thematic than woman’s.

Laura Mulvey bases her famous argumentation on feeling pleasure of watching (scopophilia) on two different workings of the psyche. Although it is basically a libidinal act, the identification of the spectator is made possible through self-protective measures of the ego. The basic problem in this division, according to Janet Walker, is that the image we see on the screen is always more perfect than ourselves. As the spectator is in feminist criticism theoretically male, the pleasure of watching and the process of identification are based on men forgetting their insufficiency while fetishising the female image. As the subject enters the Lacanian stage of the “Symbolic Order” it gives him a chance to exceed the limits of the imaginary, but also reminds him of the trauma that developed in the process of moving from one phase to another. The castration complex is thus manifested in the act of looking itself, which may indeed be pleasurable, but which on a deeper level activates the masculine anxiety. According to many feminist film critics, the sign of this paradox in the act of looking is the image of a woman. The now slightly outdated discussion of the relation of scopophilia and gender is in any case an important beginning of the theorisation on a female spectator. The noir visuals are largely based on male characters being subjects and females being objects. The female spectator watching a New Wave thriller has the option of adopting an active masculine role or a passive feminine position in relation to other, male characters. The woman’s position, her “to-be-looked-at-ness” in these films prevents women spectators from enjoying the pleasure of active participation in the identification processes. The treatment of woman as an image requires her to be a passive figure, like the following sequence of Jules et Jim shows (see pictures36-43).

Catherine is introduced to Jules and Jim, as well as to the viewer, through scenes that clearly posit her as a distinctive figure who shines out from the group of other women. The two men’s attention to her is exaggerated by them turning their backs on the other two women in the scene (pictures36 and 43). Catherine is then captured in shots from the front and in profile that interestingly bring to mind the photographs taken of a criminal convicted to jail. Her image is silent, vaguely smiling, looking self-consciously to the camera. Her presence might be affirming, if there was not this sense of uncovering her for the men’s gazes. The whole scene is quite literally about unveiling her “secrets” (face, eyes, smile), which is preceded by presenting her as an enchanting enigma for the men: she walks down the stairs, eyes fixed to (obviously) the two men, looking down at them seductively. She then lifts up the veil covering her face (close-up) and her face is seen in various close-ups of different sizes. There is no doubt that she is a strong woman, who can look (back) at men, but the visuals, especially the framing of her face, make her evidently an object of a man’s (admiring) gaze. This is emphasised by the fact that she does not talk or move - this renders her an image-like, beautiful figure that has got the magical smile required to seduce the men.

This image-likeness of Catherine is interestingly comparable to Angelique, who is also often shown in close-ups that invite the viewer to admire her beauty. The point of distinction, however, the way Catherine looks at the camera in a fashion that could be described as seductive - since she looks straight into the camera, she is looking at you, the spectator. In Angelique there is a greater tendency to show the woman’s emotions in relation to something she sees in the diegesis itself (pictures 48-56). This is naturally due to the more conventional narrative that prevents the director from using as radical a visual device as looking straight to the camera, which was rather typical in the New Wave films. In the example from Angelique, both of the characters are looking at each other, but I would say the visual emphasis is more likely in Angelique’s face, and thus emotions, than Joffrey’s (Robert Hossein). Angelique is enjoying the (passive) status of a spectator, while the man is seducing her (see pictures 52-56). This is very representative of the whole thematic of the Angelique films.

The Angelique films are, in my opinion, structured around the feminine in terms of the narrative (the “biography” of a woman) as well as cinematic expression (for example the looking relations structured upon the woman looking, which has been - and might still be - quite rare in mainstream cinema) (see pictures 44-56). This is clearly different from the New Wave thematic that is famously intertwined with representing men’s obsessions, emotions and modes of thinking. The example par excellence of this is Charlie in Tirez sur le pianiste, as the voice-over, “his voice”, keeps the spectator informed of what is going on in his mind. The sequence of Charlie and Lena walking in the street is constructed completely around the spectator identifying with Charlie, as his thoughts, feelings of uncertainty and hesitant moves are shown to the viewer in detail (see pictures 13-19). However we are not told anything about Lena’s thoughts, and thus she surprises everybody at the end by suddenly bursting into laughter. The shots of Charlie’s hands and his arm reaching to touch Lena leave no room for speculation over which one of them is more active in relation to the other.

One of the important characteristics of film noir is that despite their apparent active role the male protagonists are often considerably weak. This has evoked speculation over what the gender relations in these films are based on. One of the explanations suggests that the weakness of men be due to after-war trauma: though France was on the victorious side, it suffered great losses in terms of materials and men. In addition to that, the country was occupied and ruled by the enemy, which many of the French were actually quite happy to collaborate with. This “national” shame of Frenchmen was displaced as women’s guilt; as for example the fact that many Frenchwomen had worked in “horizontal collaboration” with German soldiers gave the men a reason for punishment. This is visible in cinematic representation of women: as the American film noir heroine is a wicked but above all glamorous seductress, her French counterpart is more of a “garce”, a bitch. Critics have noted that the male figures are often presented as childlike, helpless, fragile and physically smaller compared to the women characters in his films. Thus the viewpoint of the man brings out the feelings of inferiority he is going through. In contrast, the woman, the (m)other is seen as possessing almost magical powers to satisfy all the man’s needs. She then becomes an ultimately desirable figure for the male (child). The acknowledgement of her power, however, renders the man vulnerable and evokes castration anxieties in him. This visually and in the narrative constructs the women characters as lethal and fatal for men. This is clearly seen in Jules et Jim, where the femme fatale eventually kills herself and the man she desires but cannot have. Thus the interest in showing active, powerful women and rather passive men can be regarded merely as cleverly masked misogyny: the point of view and the subject are always masculine, and for the female figures there are reserved the roles of magical, desirable but castrating ‘others’.


Armes,Roy: French Cinema. Martin Secker&Warburg Ltd. London 1985.

Berstein,S 1993:The Republic of de Gaulle, 1958-1969.Cambridge UniversityPress and Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’homme. Cambridge.

Bruzzi,S 1997:Undressing Cinema. Clothing and Identity in the Movies.Routledge. London.

Buss,R 1988:The French Through Their Films.B.T.Batsford Ltd. London.

Cowie,E 1993: ‘Film Noirand Women’ inShades of Noir.Ed. JoanCopjec. Verso. London.

deLauretis, T 1984:Alice Doesn’t. Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema.The Macmillan Press Ltd. London.

Forbes,J 1992:The Cinema in France after the New Wave.The Macmillan PressLtd. London.

Glass,F, 1990. ‘Totally Recalling Arnold. Sex and Violence in the New Bad Future’,Film Quarterly Fall 1990, 2-13.

Hills,E, 1999. ‘From ‘figurative males’ to action heroines: further thoughtson active women in the cinema’, Screen Spring 1999, 38-50.

Holmes,D&Ingram, R 1998:Francois Truffaut.Manchester UniversityPress. Manchester.

Maxfield,J F 1996:The Fatal Woman: Sources of Male Anxiety in AmericanFilmNoir,1941-1991.Associated University Presses. Cranbury.

Mayne,J 1993:Cinema and Spectatorship. Routledge. London.

Mayne,J 1994: ‘Feminist Film Theory and Criticism.’ inMultiple Voices inFeminist Film Criticism.Ed. Diane Carson, Linda Dittmar, Janice R.Welsch. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis.

Mendras,H&Cole, A 1991:Social Change in ModernFrance. Towardsa Cultural Anthropology of the Fifth Republic. Cambridge University Press&Editions de la maison des sciences de l’homme. Cambridge.

Mulvey,L 1992: ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.’inTheSexual Subject. A Screen Reader in Sexuality.Routledge. London 1992.

Naremore,J 1998:More Than Night. Film Noir in its Contexts. University ofCalifornia Press. Berkeley/Los Angeles.

Orr,J 1993:Cinema and Modernity.Polity Press. Cambridge.

Place,J 1998: ‘Women in Film Noir’ inWomen in Film Noir.Ed. Kaplan,E A. The British Film Institute. London.

Predal,R 1996:50 Ans de Cinema Francais.Editions Nathan. Paris.

Rigby,B 1991:Popular Culture in Modern France. A Study of Cultural Discourse.Routledge. London.

Ross,K 1996:Fast Cars, Clean Bodies. Decolonization and the Reordering ofFrench Culture.Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Massachusetts.

Vernet,M 1993: ‘Film Noiron the Edge of Doom’ inShades of Noir.Ed.Joan Copjec. Verso. London.

Walker,J 1994: ‘Psychoanalysis and Feminist Film Theory: The Problem of SexualDifference and Identity.’ inMultiple Voices in Feminist Film Criticism.Ed. Diane Carson, Linda Dittmar, Janice R. Welsch. University of MinnesotaPress. Minneapolis.



Tirez sur le pianiste

Release year: 1960

Director: François Truffaut

Writing credits: David Goodis (novel), Marcel Moussy


Charles Aznavour - Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan

Daniel Boulanger - Ernest

Serge Davri - Plyne

Marie Dubois - Lena

Claude Heymann - Lars Schmeel

Claude Mansard - Momo

Michèle Mercier - Clarisse

Runtime (France): 85

Country: France

Colour: Black and White (Dyaliscope)


Pierrot le fou

Release year: 1965

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Writing credits: Jean-Luc Godard


Jean-Paul Belmondo - Ferdinand Griffon, "Pierrot"

Anna Karina - Marianne Renoir

Graziella Galvani - Ferdinand's Wife

Aicha Abadir - Herself

Samuel Fuller - Himself

Runtime (USA): 110

Country: France / Italy

Colour: Colour (Eastmancolor)


Jules et Jim

Release year: 1961

Director: François Truffaut

Writing credits: Jean Gruault, François Truffaut


Henri Serre - Jim

Oskar Werner - Jules

Michel Subor - Narrator

Boris Bassiak - Albert

Marie Dubois - Therese

Sabine Haudepin - Sabine

Jeanne Moreau - Catherine

Run time(France):100 (USA: 110)

Country: France

Colour: Black and White

Angélique, marquise des anges

Release year: 1964

Director: Bernard Borderie

Writing credits: Sergeanne Golon (novel), Jacques Cosne, Bernard Borderie


Michèle Mercier - Angelique

Robert Hossein - Joffrey de Peyrac

Jean Rochefort - Desgrez

Claude Giraud - Philippe de Plessis-Bellieres

Giuliano Gemma - Nicolas

Jacques Toja - Louis XIV

Runtime: 115

Country: France / West Germany / Italy

Colour: Colour (Eastmancolor)


Merveilleuse Angélique

Release year: 1964

Director: Bernard Borderie

Writing credits: Sergeanne Golon (novel), Jacques Cosne, Bernard Borderie, Claude Brulé

Cast: (See Angélique, marquise des anges)

Country: France / West Germany / Italy

Colour: Colour (Eastmancolor)


Angélique et le roi

Release year: 1965

Director: Bernard Borderie

Writing credits: Sergeanne Golon (novel), Bernard Borderie, Francis Cosne, Alain Decaux

Cast: (See Angélique, marquise des anges)

Run time (Germany): 100

Country: West Germany / France / Italy

Colour: Colour (Eastmancolor)


Indomptable Angélique

Release year: 1967

Director: Bernard Borderie

Writing credits: Sergeanne Golon (novel), Bernard Borderie, Jacques Cosne

Cast: (See Angélique, marquise des anges)

Runtime (Germany): 80

Country: West Germany / France / Italy

Colour: Colour (Eastmancolor)


Angélique et lesultan

Release year: 1967

Director: Bernard Borderie

Writing credits: Sergeanne Golon (novel), Bernard Borderie, Francis Cosne

Cast: (See Angélique, marquise des anges)

Runtime (Germany): 90

Country: West Germany / France / Italy

Colour: Colour (Eastmancolor)



Back to Top / Golon Books Home / Home Page

Page refreshed : 22nd March 2017