Haptic visions of unstable bodies in the work of Claire Denis
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In 2004 French writer/director Claire Denis remarked that her films are sometimes unbalanced, a comment made with reference to her eighth feature film, L'intrus (2004), which like the earlier Trouble Every Day (2001), and her most recent film Les Salauds (2013), features protagonists involved in graphic acts of murder and/or torture. Denis offers little psychological depth to her protagonists in these films, preferring to keep the focus on the surface of their bodies. As characters move through rituals of killing (Trouble Every Day), heart transplant surgery (L'intrus), or episodes of sexual transgression (Les salauds), stylized cinematography and mise-en-scène breaks down the line between object and subject, keeping the spectator close to the graphic and gory action unfolding on screen. This article explores the frequently irrational, out of control and mutating bodies featured within these confronting works. Considering Vivian Sobchack's writings on ‘self-touching’ and Laura Marks' theory of ‘haptic visuality’, I investigate how these films engage the audience using a sense of touch, as well as sight and sound. I argue that Denis has subverted traditional patterns of film viewing by employing stylistic approaches that attempt to destabilize her protagonists' bodies, and by extension, that of the embodied film spectator.
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