In visualizing lives on the margins as sensually as another filmmaker might the halls of Versailles or the lights of a shimmering Christmas tree, French director Claire Denis has positioned herself, in our eyes at least, among the first rank of international auteurs. She does something nearly unthinkable in a world cinema scene obsessed with provocateurs like Haneke and Von Trier: she chooses to please rather than pillory her audience, invite into a dialogue around images rather than read sermons from on high. Like her compatriot and contemporary Olivier Assayas, Denis seems to have decided that, in the long, long shadow cast over French cinema by Godard’s early output, the most radical thing to do is not to eschew or batter narrative, but to wrestle with and redefine it, all without losing sight of the essential satisfactions of storytelling. This isn’t to suggest her films are films are easy on the mind, though they are always easy on the eyes. Her camera doesn’t just capture; it caresses.
While rarely calling attention to her own impeccable craftsmanship, Denis has forged a personal, identifiable aesthetic that registers just as immediately as any of Godard’s more radical formal interventions—or Haneke’s still-life needlings, or Hou Hsiao-hsien’s roving historical investigations, for that matter. Unlike the similarly off-handed work of Assayas (whose everywhere-at-once approach to filmmaking was long ago feted with the patented Reverse Shot treatment), Denis’s personal cinema is a product of a kind of seductive minimalism. Her hovering camera, structured ellipses, and sensual employment of music produce a feeling of voluptuous grace hard to shake even when her films turn violent.
Read the rest of the intro to our 25th symposium, Claire Denis: The Art of Seduction. And then, dig right in to the articles, featuring incisive, full takes on the films in her career, plus her early work as assistant director for Wenders, Jarmusch, and Makavejev, and a look at her music videos for Sonic Youth.