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In this article, I argue that actors’ and actresses’ performances are key objects of analysis in addressing the affective and ethical challenges of extreme films. Breillat’s Fat Girl (2001) and its fictionalized making-of, Sex is Comedy (2002), incites an ethical engagement not merely in the sense of textual analysis, but requires a deeper investigation of the star, Roxane Mesquida. The reflexivity of the paired films – the latter as a staged re-enactment of the sex scene of the former, re-performed by lead actress Mesquida – results in an experience of an affective bleed: once we see the performative challenges Mesquida faces in the latter film, we return to the earlier and are doubly affected by both the horror of fictional rape, and the trauma the actress underwent to convincingly perform that violation. These two films pose the question of whether onscreen acts of physical and emotional violence manifest in the bodies of actors and actresses off-screen, and further, to what affective and ethical end. In agreement with Kath Dooley (2014, ‘“When You Have Your Back to the Wall, Everything Becomes Easy”: Performance and Direction in the Films of Catherine Breillat.’ Studies in French Cinema, 14: 2, 108–118), I claim that Breillat must place these demands on her performers in order for her critiques of patriarchy to gain their strength.

Studies in European Cinema 2015

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Sex is Comedy (2002)