Beau Travail, 1999, Claire Denis

Claire Denis
The Complete Oeuvre and Carte Blanche

May 1 to 19, 2005


In May 2005, the Film Museum will present the work of French filmmaker Claire Denis – arguably the most important woman working in cinema today. Coinciding with the Retrospective, the Film Museum is publishing the first German-language book on Denis’ oeuvre.

Claire Denis has dedicated herself to an uncompromising aesthetic in which sensory experiences, physicality and "musical images" are given priority over conventional narrative schemes. At the same time, her work revolves around key issues of the present: blurred gender distinctions; transgressions of social and cultural boundaries; the dissolution of national identities in the postcolonial era; and finally, the essential topic of sexuality and (filmic) desire.

In addition to her feature and documentary films, not to mention her numerous but little-known shorter works, twelve "favourites" selected by Denis from world cinema will also be shown at the Film Museum. This Carte Blanche is also an indirect commentary on her own work. Her choices include early classics by Murnau and Renoir as well as the post-war “New Waves” (Fassbinder and Monte Hellman, Godard and Philippe Garrel) and two outstanding examples of East Asian cinema (by Nagisa Oshima and the Korean Hong Sang-soo). In the context of these juxtapositions, Denis' own films will take on new contours.

Claire Denis was born in 1948 and spent her childhood in French West Africa. After her film studies, she worked in theatre and as an assistant director to Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, Jacques Rivette and others. (Her documentary on Rivette and his own overlooked masterpiece Le Pont du Nord are both included in this show.) Denis' first feature Chocolat (1988) is a somewhat autobiographical story of the last colonial days in Cameroon. The subtle and frequently contradictory moods in this film made her lyrical talent immediately obvious. She consolidated her reputation as an innovator of French cinema with the brilliant post-film-noir S'en fout la mort (No Fear, No Die) (1990, about the illegal cockfighting scene in France) and the smaller-scale teenage film U.S. Go Home (1994). In the central party sequence in U.S. Go Home, Denis translates the characters’ inner conflicts into rhythm, gestures and sound in a virtuoso choreography. The incestuous undercurrent of this film crops up again in Denis' best-known work, the sibling drama Nénette and Boni (1996).

Since their first collaboration for the serial killer film J'ai pas sommeil (I Can't Sleep; 1994), it has been clear that Denis has found a kindred spirit in her camerawoman Agnès Godard. This was the film which made Denis' and Godard's names outside of France. It also formed the model for Denis' later works: modern re-interpretations of genre myths and well-known subjects transplanted into an unfamiliar terrain. This is evidenced in a bloody vampire film (Trouble Every Day, 2001), an intense love story (Vendredi Soir/Friday Night, 2002), and two wildly inventive adventure films which represent the highest achievement in her work up until today (Beau Travail/Good Work, 1999, and L'Intrus/The Intruder, 2004).

The book Claire Denis. Trouble Every Day, edited by Isabella Reicher and Michael Omasta, is the first in a new series: FilmmuseumSynemaPublications. It will be presented on May 1, the starting date of the Retrospective. This volume includes conversations with the filmmaker, essays by Jim Jarmusch, Jean-Luc Nancy, Christine Noll Brinckmann, Ralph Eue and many others, and detailed information on all of Denis' works.

Claire Denis will be present at the Film Museum from May 5 to 7. During this period, she will take part in an extended discussion and a number of audience Q&A’s. She will also present the Austrian première of her latest work Vers Mathilde about the choreographer Mathilde Monnier, which was enthusiastically received at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

This programme is supported by the Institut Français de Vienne and the French Foreign Ministry

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