French cinema's new 'sexual revolution'? postmodern porn and troubled genre

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This article proposes and examines a selection of interpretative strategies for viewing the type of sexually explicit art film made by French directors Catherine Breillat, Patrice Chéreau, Gaspar Noé and the team Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi, over the past five years. To contextualise the relevant debates, political work on pornography, produced mainly by feminists in the 1970s and 1980s, is placed in dialogue with recent deconstructive gender theory and postmodern philosophy. While this hybridisation of theory problematises what pornography is, my readings of the films demonstrate that the cinematic medium may call into question our habitual ways of seeing sexuality. This is done by means of denaturalisation of the sexual spectacle (Romance, 1999) or generic collage and the dislocation of ideology from genre (Baise-moi, 2001; Irréversible2002). I conclude that, rather than being pornographic films, these problematic works constitute specifically cinematic interventions into wider contemporary cultural debates about the status of gender, sexuality and subjecthood at the turn of the twenty-first century.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-280
Number of pages16
JournalFrench Cultural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Breillat, Catherine, Despentes, Virginie, Film, Gender studies, Noé, Gaspar, Pornography, Postmodernism, Trinh Thi, Coralie

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