Beugnet on the vampire in French cinema: “hovering at the border of the real and the virtual”


Another article I really enjoyed! Beugnet writes:

“It seems uncannily fitting that, at the junction between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as the borders of the ‘old’ Europe become more porous and expand to reflect the emergence of a richer, but also more unstable, concept of European identity, the figure of the vampire should make a discreet reappearance, returning to haunt the film worlds of a number of contemporary French directors. Seductive and repellent, hovering at the border of the real and the virtual, the figure of the vampire epitomises the inhuman ability to materialise and disseminate itself seamlessly through time and space (also the privileged ability of the cinematic image, even before the advent of digital technologies and the Internet). In its contemporary guises, it comes to typify the emergence of a transnational era, conjuring up anxieties which represent but also exceed and, indeed, contradict its original role in the stigmatisation of a fantasised Eastern Europe. This article suggests that, beyond the evocation of age-old tropes and new forms of xenophobia, the return of the vampire on the margins of French screens hints at a diffuse, collective unease about the nature and effects of globalisation. The vampire’s presence stigmatises globalisation as an obscure force, a kind of virus spreading through the fabric of traditional (national) values and thriving on their [-p.78] illusory nature. But vampirism also operates at the level of form. It inscribes itself in the structure and material appearance of the films: certain sequences appear drained of light and images, picture and sound sculpted out of dark matter. This article looks at how the uncertainties of the transnational are thus seemingly absorbed and worked into the body of the films themselves, and ultimately turned into a creative flow.” (pp.77-78)

The films she looks at include: Docteur PetiotLa Sentinelle, Irma Vep, Pola X, Trouble Every Day, Demonlover, La Vie nouvelle and L’Intrus.

In these works the environment inhabited by the vampire, as well as the figure of the monster itself, still evoke, albeit distantly, a rich tradition of Gothic literature and film. However, in the image of the ubiquitous master character that still acts as its matrix, the French vampire film has outgrown its initial Anglo-Saxon references and Germanic beginnings to become a truly transnational sub-genre. […] Against a backdrop of conflicting local, national and global values, the vampire thus draws renewed fascination from its paradoxical status as a timeless yet contemporary figure. In contradiction with the enlightened rationalism of French modernity, the vampire harbours the shadow of a near-forgotten world of superstitions and archaic fears; yet at the same time, with its endless powers of metamorphosis, it appears destined to thrive within the new global era ruled by transnational flows and the seemingly irresistible law of universal, deregulated greed.
It is tempting, initially, to claim that today’s vampiric figures are but a continuation of the metaphor associated with early tales of vampirism and, in particular, that they stand for what Stephen Arata calls the ‘anxiety of reverse colonisation’ (Arata 1990, p. 622). They could also be related to the contemporary phenomenon identified by Max Silverman as ‘new racisms’ (Silverman 1999, p. 40), [….] For this corpus of films, however, these explanations are not fully satisfactory since the figure of the vampire, whether male or female, victim or attacker, remains elusive. Positioned at the border with the abject, between the visible and the invisible, the real and the virtual, the vampire retains the capacity to fascinate and repulse but, more than ever, it defies traditional notions of collective identity. It lends its features to the Westerner as well as the Eastern Other, to the insider as well as the foreigner, to both exploiter and exploited, and thus may be read as an allegory of the threat of exploitation on a global scale (Demonlover, La Vie nouvelle) or of the illusory nature of collective identity, based [-p.79] on the systematic burying of shameful episodes in the histories of nations (Pola X, La Sentinelle). Ultimately, however, the presence of the vampire can be understood as a figure, a cinematic construct that infuses the texture of the films themselves. Unrestricted by the human frontiers of space and time, it slips through the porous borders of genres and media, through a film’s diegetic spaces as well as its ‘skin’ (the texture of the images). It thrives on the limitations of the human condition in today’s ‘society of the spectacle’, a society in which people are caught within a web of manufactured desires and endlessly recycled, lifeless images.” (pp.78-79)

I’d quote more, but that would be rude – really interesting article!

Ref: (all emphases in blue bold, mine) Martine Beugnet (2007): Figures of Vampirism: French Cinema in the Era of Global Transylvania, Modern & Contemporary France, 15:1, 77-88

Abstract: “Based on a corpus of recent French films, this article looks at an intriguing phenomenon: the reappearance of the figure of the vampire. Unfettered by spatial and temporal limits, the vampire has always epitomised the inhuman ability (which it shares with cinema) to reproduce and disseminate itself seamlessly. It thus thrives in an era of intensified transnational circulation and deregulated greed. This article suggests, however, that vampirism in its contemporary guises, operating as a symbolic presence and permeating the very texture of the films, conjures up anxieties that exceed and, indeed, contradict its original role in the stigmatisation of a fantasised East European Other.” (p.77)


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