Female Director Spotlight: Claire Denis Doesn’t Show Us the War, but the Aftermath

In perhaps the most striking scene of Claire Denis’ debut Chocolat, we see Proteé – the “houseboy” of a French civil servant in the colonialized Cameroon of the late 50’s – working on a generator in a small hut. After a while, he notices that someone is observing him. It’s France, the infant daughter of the civil servant. There is a somewhat hard emotion palpable in the air. France asks Proteé if one of the parts of the machine is hot. Without stirring an emotion, the man presses his hand on a tube. France tries to do the same but cries out as she realizes the tube is in fact incredibly hot, and leaves her hand burned. Proteé’s hand is burned to a much more severe degree, but he doesn’t flinch. He just looks at her. There is nothing more to say. He leaves into the night and never comes back.

This scene is a crucial component to understanding Claire Denis’ cinema, which has separated itself from the majority of European auteur cinema and moves on its very own heady and uncompromising path.

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