15

I watched this interview with Céline Sciamma and was struck by the way she answered a question about the "male gaze" vs "female gaze".

Male interviewer: "Do you think there's something like a 'female gaze', and do you think about it while filming?"

CS: "Well, yes, I think there is a male gaze, and so, there is a female gaze. But I think we should be talking about the male gaze, mostly, because we, as female, have been growing in that world. I've been raised in a heterosexual world, so my imaginary - it is heterosexual. And so I know male gaze by heart. I've been defined, I've been moved by male gaze, been excited by male gaze. So we're in the position where we can be anything, as female - as an audience, and as artist, because we know both worlds. We have our experiences. There is no female imaginary because there has not been that many -- there's not a corpus. There's not been that many female artists, so that we can say there's this female imaginary. But women have been imagined by men, so they're in charge of our images."

Interviewer: "Still?"

CS: "Still, of course."

The whole interview is great (at least, the answers are). There are a lot of quotable moments from both Céline and Adèle (who is also a very intelligent and interesting person). I admire Céline's work and her ethics so much.

But the "female imaginary" - I think about this a lot, that there isn't a female artistic legacy from which we can pull images, archetypes, dynamics. We have to create new ones - or revive very old ones. For example, the scene in Portrait de la jeune fille en feu where the women are singing around a bonfire. Céline has said in interviews that this was one of the images that compelled her to make the film. With this scene, she wanted to show how women who were persecuted as witches, and the stereotypes and stigmas associated with witches, were really no more than this -- women living their lives, doing rather ordinary things. Having fires when it's cold and singing together and maybe doing drugs and just having a fun time. That's all. So she takes this image of women singing around a fire, an image we have been taught to fear and despise - and turns it into a powerful image of desire, an image female viewers can take home, put in their pocket - and have this powerful image with them from which to draw strength. And of course there's so much more going on in just that one scene, that is only one aspect. There is so much complexity and meaning. I find her stories so thrilling in that way.

And as she touches on, in film there is no distinctly 'female' body of work (yet!). This discourages me frequently, as a writer and aspiring filmmaker, when I am looking for ways to tell stories that are not just copying traditional male methods. You have to hunt so hard to find films made by women, and so often they are still sticking to male-approved storytelling devices and structures. The number of films made by women who are telling stories in an original way, a female-centered way, is still very small. (I hope, someday, to contribute what I can to growing this pool of stories and images of female power and desire.)

I would also put Chloé Zhao in this category of innovative female filmmakers. Her work inspires me just as much as Céline's does. Do you women know of any female filmmakers/storytellers like this - whether contemporary or from another time? I would love to hear about who and what inspires you. And of course I would love to hear any thoughts & feelings women may have about the above quotation.

I watched [this interview with Céline Sciamma](https://youtu.be/RxMGkM-lL5c?t=19) and was struck by the way she answered a question about the "male gaze" vs "female gaze". > Male interviewer: "Do you think there's something like a 'female gaze', and do you think about it while filming?" > CS: "Well, yes, I think there is a male gaze, and so, there is a female gaze. But I think we should be talking about the male gaze, mostly, because we, as female, have been growing in that world. I've been raised in a heterosexual world, so my imaginary - it is heterosexual. And so I know male gaze by heart. I've been defined, I've been moved by male gaze, been excited by male gaze. So we're in the position where we can be anything, as female - as an audience, and as artist, because we know both worlds. We have our experiences. There is no female imaginary because there has not been that many -- there's not a corpus. There's not been that many female artists, so that we can say there's this female imaginary. But women have been imagined by men, so they're in charge of our images." > Interviewer: "Still?" > CS: "Still, of course." The whole interview is great (at least, the answers are). There are a lot of quotable moments from both Céline and Adèle (who is also a very intelligent and interesting person). I admire Céline's work and her ethics so much. But the "female imaginary" - I think about this a lot, that there isn't a female artistic legacy from which we can pull images, archetypes, dynamics. We have to create new ones - or revive very old ones. For example, the scene in Portrait de la jeune fille en feu where the women are singing around a bonfire. Céline has said in interviews that this was one of the images that compelled her to make the film. With this scene, she wanted to show how women who were persecuted as witches, and the stereotypes and stigmas associated with witches, were really no more than this -- women living their lives, doing rather ordinary things. Having fires when it's cold and singing together and maybe doing drugs and just having a fun time. That's all. So she takes this image of women singing around a fire, an image we have been taught to fear and despise - and turns it into a powerful image of desire, an image female viewers can take home, put in their pocket - and have this powerful image with them from which to draw strength. And of course there's so much more going on in just that one scene, that is only one aspect. There is so much complexity and meaning. I find her stories so thrilling in that way. And as she touches on, in film there is no distinctly 'female' body of work (yet!). This discourages me frequently, as a writer and aspiring filmmaker, when I am looking for ways to tell stories that are not just copying traditional male methods. You have to hunt so hard to find films made by women, and so often they are still sticking to male-approved storytelling devices and structures. The number of films made by women who are telling stories in an original way, a female-centered way, is still very small. (I hope, someday, to contribute what I can to growing this pool of stories and images of female power and desire.) I would also put Chloé Zhao in this category of innovative female filmmakers. Her work inspires me just as much as Céline's does. Do you women know of any female filmmakers/storytellers like this - whether contemporary or from another time? I would love to hear about who and what inspires you. And of course I would love to hear any thoughts & feelings women may have about the above quotation.

4 comments

I love "Portrait de la jeune fille en feu" so much! I've seen "Water Lillies" which also heavily features the themes of looking and being looked at; something women and girls know very well, particularly the latter. I don't think the interviewer was particularly good and I liked how both Sciamma and Haenel corrected him. "Portrait" has very few male characters, none of import, and so the film is mostly women in their private lives - I think that IS the female gaze, or at least an example of it. It's insular, cozy, even familiar, though the film takes place centuries ago. In contrast, it is very obvious when a male gaze is featured in a film or story because it alienates the female audience. It is predatory by nature. Simultaneously, even though we are objectfied by the male gaze we have also internalized it, having been bombarded with it for millenia. So when I watch something like "Portrait", it takes my breath away to see the nuances of my lived experiences.

I think I'm starting to ramble but I love this movie so much and want everyone to see it too!

I agree, the interviewer is terrible. I love their answers to him though. He keeps trying to bait them into saying something he can dismiss and they make him look foolish instead. Very satisfying to watch them shut him down hahaha

Yes I love the way Portrait feels so “cozy”. In another interview Sciamma says she wanted to make a period piece but shot using very modern techniques (I’m paraphrasing), I wonder if that contributes to that effect. It feels like an old tale yet also very contemporary and, as you say, “familiar”.

It really is powerful to have even just those quiet scenes where the women aren’t doing much - just living. We are safe inside the story with them. I like what you said about how the male gaze ‘alienates’ and ‘bombards’ the female audience, because that is so true of male storytelling, where they aggressively force their message of the story onto the audience. Portrait is the total opposite. We are invited into the story and are equal with the characters, experiencing what they experience, and it’s about feeling, not about having some kind of “truth bomb” dropped on you by some male “auteur” who thinks he’s so wise. It’s a different kind of tension than is found in “male gaze” stories and it’s a far more pleasurable tension in my opinion.

I could ramble about this movie forever too!

I agree with everything you've said!

about having some kind of “truth bomb” dropped on you by some male “auteur” who thinks he's so wise

David Lynch and "Mulholland Drive" and "Blue Velvet" come to mind. Again, both films are about looking and being looked at, and "Mulholland" has even been lauded as being female centric when it is nothing but soft core pornography for the male gaze! I feel so ripped off having been told "Mulholland" was a must see masterpiece. At least "Blue Velvet" was proper horror.

Anyway, in the interview with Sciamma, I didn't understand what she meant by "female imaginary". Does she mean "imagery"? In your OP, you touched on the trope of women singing around a bonfire as the patriarchal archetype of a coven of witches, which I did not pick up on while watching the film, despite the obvious reference to flying ointment later on! What a powerful scene, particularly the singing. I wanted to be there at that bonfire!

Can you recommend a Zhao film to start with?

Every woman was raised by a mother and has been raised by a woman's perspective in the first years of her life. It is the work of heterosexist society and men to induct us to disbelieve and look down on our mothers and sisters.

Also I do find it kind of gross that Sciamma dated Haenel when she knew her when she was a little girl (saying this as a lesbian!)