Sense, Sensation and Cinema – MA Film Studies

Question: What is the study of film and why do I do it? 

First of all, to study film is really to study life, in many ways, within defined time/space parameters. Studying the affective properties of films relies on close watching and noting personal (and universal) reactions via personal response and peer-reviewed texts. We have the luxury of being analysts, philosophers and theorists with the added benefit of the freeze-frame and rewind. We can also draw upon so many resources outside of film study; from literature, art, neuroscience and behavioural therapy, just to name a few. A film can be read from so many perspectives beyond reflexivity. It’s a treasure box of possibilities!

Recently, I watched L’Avenir/Things to Come (2016) from a perspective of reading “Words for a conversation: speech, doubt and faith in the films of Eric Rohmer and Mia Hansen-Løve” by Professor Fiona Handyside. (see ref). The text takes the point of view of ‘female becoming’ in mid-life and post-crises.

The film is highly dialogical rather than overtly visual; the scenes play out in ‘real-time’ without voice-over or flashback narrative. Why is this an important detail, and would I have really noticed this fact before studying film? I guess I would have called it an ‘intellectual drama’, or ‘sort of French film’ pre-study, but without being able to fully articulate why I thought that was so.

The director circumvents problems of misplaced attention to the wordy interactions of the female protagonist by endowing her with the profession of Philosophy teacher, thus her dialogues are ‘read’ as in keeping with her character. But there is also a certain satisfaction to be drawn by films which assume an intellectual competence on the part of the audience, in that we can understand the content and meaning behind her discussions and debates.

The film dialogue centres around Nathalie, from whom we get a certain sense of superiority of attitude, yet we also watch her trying to make emotional sense of her life unravelling around her. The main quality that I enjoy with this film is the slow sense of time; we are with Nathalie the whole way through the film, comprehending and simultaneously not understanding the sequence of events that begin to define who she is becoming, and ultimately setting her free.

I wanted to mention this film, firstly because it made me realise something I was forgetting:

To watch films, to really understand films, you have to first understand elements of yourself; although conversely, films can also teach you something about yourself that you didn’t really know, or teach you new things about the world, your attitudes, beliefs and desires. What I began to miss was my passion; in reading academic texts, (which unfailingly give me the tools through which to define my own academic practise), I was beginning to take on ideas and write about things which I felt were correct, and although I have an interest in everything I write about, the ‘spark’ was missing –  my “I” voice, the one whose ideas really want to be heard in the world.

So L’Avenir reminded me, by vague proxy, of who I am; of a similar age (but without the attachments that Nathalie loses throughout the film), and still ‘becoming’ – I felt Nathalie’s frustration, passion and continuing desire to keep on evolving. And it reminds me why, via study as a mature student, I will never fully satisfy my curiosity about life, the universe, and everything.


Fiona Handyside (2019) Words for a conversation: speech, doubt and faith in the films of Eric Rohmer and Mia Hansen-Løve, Studies in French Cinema, 19:1, 5-21, DOI: 10.1080/14715880.2017.1408981

Video: Curzon, “Things to Come clip – “Sick of it.” YouTube Video, 2016.