Who is she?

French film director, writer and actress, who has made around 10 feature films since her debut Chocolat (1988), which was selected for competition in the Cannes Film Festival. Before making her own films, Denis worked as an assistant director to celebrated names such as Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch and Dušan Makavajev.

Why is she of interest?

One of the major women filmmakers working today, Claire Denis is also among the few directors working with the idea of film as poetry. Eschewing easy classification, even by standards of European arthouse pictures, Denis’s cinema steers clear of all stereotypes about women’s cinema and exhibits a vision that’s among the boldest in the international film scene.

Where to discover her?

Beau Travail (1999), often called Denis’ best film to date, is an ideal starting point for exploring Denis’ cinema even though it is an unusual film in her body of work, partly because of its nearly all-male cast and its examination of what are generally considered masculine concerns. Centering on a group of French legionnaires posted in the deserts of northern Africa, the film functions both as an aesthetic study of Army rituals and an existential inquiry into the meaning of being a legionnaire in post-colonial Africa.

What are her films about?

Themes

Denis was born in France but raised in North Africa and this experience would inform many of her films. These partly autobiographical films raise the question of what it means to be a white living in Africa, when one does not consider oneself an outsider, without falling into the usual pitfalls of racism and condescension. Being an admirer of Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, Denis also incorporates a number of key familial relationships in her works such as ones between father and daughter, and mother and daughter.

Style

Denis’s films are notable for their sedate editing rhythms and leisurely pacing that attempt to capture the emotional truth of everyday moments. The shots are linked not based on narrative or dramatic logic, but emotional logic. Denis uses major and minor narrative ellipses that lend a poetic touch to the passage of time within the film. Furthermore, her cinema is very physical. The movement of actors through the frame or through vast landscapes holds special interest to her. Many of her films feature understated yet outstanding musical scores by the British band Tindersticks.

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