Harris offers new thinking on Blier

by Rebecca Leffler | 2/17/04 6:00am

Murder, intrigue, sexy French women and shocking eroticism are just a few of the things that come to mind when one thinks about French filmmaker Bertrand Blier. Known as the "enfant terrible" of contemporary French cinema, Blier is infamous for his alleged misogyny and controversial feature films such as "Merci La Vie," "Mon Homme" and "Trop Belle Pour Toi," among many others. However, Professor and author Sue Harris has challenged the text of misogyny in Blier's work and, in her book entitled "Bertrand Blier," she presents a unique reading of Blier's work that is perhaps as provocative as some of the films themselves. Today, Harris will speak to the Dartmouth community about female performances in Blier's films and challenge the common assumptions of both the core of films and the man himself. Her talk is entitled "Desperately Seeking Divas: Gender Dynamics in the films of Bertrand Blier."

Harris, who has a strong background in theater and received her Ph.D in film studies, will speak about female performances in Blier's work and attempt to quell the suspicions of misogyny allegedly inherent in Blier's films. "The interesting thing about Blier is that he's been accused over and over again of misogyny," Harris told The Dartmouth. However, according to Harris, "Blier actually lets women perform very differently from the norm."

She argues that Blier has taken a strong interest in male-female relations and has experimented with the misogynistic conditions inherent in these relations. Harris cites developments in post-war French theater -- the Theater of the Absurd and the Caf Thtre, for example -- as the origin of Blier's work and a good way to read his goals in making such controversial pictures. According to Harris, "Blier is breaking the rules in order to rewrite them, particularly with women in his later films."

Harris feels that what is going on in Blier's films is what people would ordinarily expect of French film (namely intellectual angst among the protagonists, sexy women and thrilling intrigue). Yet while the content is typically French, Blier seems to be playing with common conventions of French cinema. In fact, Blier himself has said that he is not interested in endings, only situations.

In her talk, Harris will discuss her personal interactions with Blier and show clips from his most recent films including "Mon Homme," "Merci la Vie," and "Trop Belle Pour Toi." "Mon Homme," for example, taps into the French trend of the representation of a prostitute-type figure, but from a very unique angle. In Harris' opinion, Blier's earlier films were meant simply to shock while his later films manifest a more complex way of filming.

Harris, a specialist in contemporary French film and theater, is the new Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London and is a frequent contributor to acclaimed film magazine, "Sight and Sound." She has studied the influence of popular theater on popular cinema and takes a strong interest in commercial films. "At first," she told The Dartmouth, "it was hard to be taken seriously. But I'm still here." Harris has traveled from London to Hanover not only to speak to members of the Dartmouth community today, but also to visit Professor Lynn Higgins' French class on "Women Filmmakers in the French Tradition" and dine and watch some of Blier's films with students.

If Harris' talk is anything like Bertrand Blier's films, it will certainly be intriguing, for according to Harris, "Blier is so controversial. He upsets people all the time." In fact, Blier has said that "if people leave the cinema asking 'Where should I go for dinner?' then I have failed as a director." This deliberately aggressive cinema is the basis of Harris' talk today on female performances in Blier's films. So for anyone interested in women's studies, French film or simply controversial images, Harris' talk will definitely not leave you asking where you are going to dine this evening.

"Desperately Seeking Divas: Gender Dynamics in the films of Bertrand Blier," this "rendez-vous" with Sue Harris, will take place today at 4 p.m. in 60 Carson Hall.

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