If I’m quick, this might even go up on the blog before Bill Marshall’s Cinéma-Monde conference on ‘Film, Borders, Translation’ that starts this evening with a screening at the MacRobert of Chloé Leriche’s 2016 film Avant les rues. The conference continues over the next couple of days, with participants from across the UK, North America and Australia, and papers from three French at Stirling colleagues. David Murphy will be talking about ‘Filming the First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966’, Elizabeth Ezra will give a paper entitled ‘TransFormations: Cinema’s Uncanny Origins’ and, as for me (Cristina Johnston), I’ll be talking about the ‘ruptures, cooperation and paradoxes’ of Franco-Iranian cinema.
It’s a busy time for conference over the next week or so, as Stirling is also running its annual Arts and Humanities postgraduate conference tomorrow on ‘Arts and Humanities Research Through a Gender Lens’ and our own French at Stirling PhD student, Fraser McQueen, will be there, talking about ‘Islamophobia as a gendered phenomenon in French radicalisation cinema.’ And then, next week, Fraser is off to the University of Birmingham for the SFPS Postgraduate Study Day where he’ll deliver a paper entitled ‘Borders between us and them in female radicalisation fiction.’
French at Stirling is delighted to announce that a series of films from the annual French Film Festival will be screening at the MacRobert on various dates over the course of November. Building on the success of last year’s festival screenings, the MacRobert’s Film Programmer Grahame Reid explains: ‘For the second year in a row, we are delighted to partner with French at University of Stirling and be part of the UK-wide French Film Festival to bring more screenings from the crème de la crème of French-speaking cinema than ever before!’
Screenings start this Thursday (2 November) at 7.30 with La Fille de Brest, followed by Patients on Thursday 9 November at 7.30. On Monday 20 November, there’s a screening of Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge and then, on Thursday 23 November, the screening of Mercenaire will be preceded by a public lecture by Professor Bill Marshall at 5.30 and a reception sponsored by Erasmus@30 and Stirling’s International Office. The season of French Film Festival films will come to a close with L’Amant Double on Thursday 30 November.
Full details of all the films and screenings can be found on the MacRobert Cinema webpages. All screenings are open to the general public.
As promised, these few weeks will see a series of blog posts profiling some of our current students, so we’re delighted to get a chance to post the next of these with this article by Stuart Close, who has just completed his first year with us:
“Salut! I’m Stuart Close and I’m studying a BA Hons French and Spanish at Stirling University. I started learning French when I was still in primary school and was exposed to strange (but great) French movies from an early age! I considered it my main subject all the way up to Advanced Higher where I was the only Advanced Higher pupil in my school for a year! After trying French at another Uni and not enjoying the way it was being taught, I looked elsewhere and found Stirling Uni. It was far enough from my home town of Dunoon to still give me what I felt was ‘the Uni experience’ and offered more of a broader study of the languages and cultures they belong to rather than the narrower focus of how I’d seen French taught previously.
I have now finished my first year of Uni and I’m happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The way French is taught here is that it’s broken into three segments: langage écrit (writing and grammar), langage parlé (and listening) and matière which focuses on French history, literature and film. Both the langage classes are well taught and engaging, and the tutors keep learning complex grammar rules and speaking out loud in a foreign language fresh and fun by sprinkling in stories of their experiences learning English or French. With the culture side of things, topics such as the First World War, or the French Revolution, are introduced and then you get to see the French perspective and writings or films to study on them. One thing I really enjoyed from Matière was getting to study a graphic novel (bande dessinée), Tardi’s Putain de guerre. I don’t think you would get this experience in any other language study and, as these are a big part of French culture, it was a welcome change from poems or short stories.
Overall, I would highly recommend studying French at Stirling. The relaxed and welcoming atmosphere in the classes often makes it feel less like a class and more of a club.”
Thanks to Stuart for taking the time to write this. We’re really pleased Year 1 has gone so well and look forward to updates as your degree progresses!
In May of last year, I was contacted by a colleague at St Andrews who asked if I would be willing to chair a discussion with Jean-Pierre Jeunet at the Byre Theatre. This ‘Conversation with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’, as it was billed, was being held to launch a new series of cultural events at the theatre, and I was asked to chair the event because I had written a book about Jeunet’s films (with the searingly original title Jean-Pierre Jeunet, published in the University of Illinois Press Contemporary Film Directors series in 2008).
I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, not because I would have to moderate a discussion in front of hundreds of people; not because I hadn’t thought much about Jeunet’s films since I’d published the book; and not because I would also be interviewing Reif Larsen, the author of the novel on which Jeunet’s latest film was based, but whose work I had not read. None of these things bothered me unduly: I was used to standing up in front of large groups of people; I could swat up again on Jeunet’s work in preparation for the interview; and Larsen’s novel looked as though it would be fun to read. No, what bothered me was the fact that I had never met Jeunet before, and I knew that when artists and critics meet, things don’t always go well. It’s one thing, as a scholar, to work on someone who is long gone—say, Shakespeare, or Méliès—and who, therefore, cannot contradict your interpretations of their work. But it is quite another thing to come face to face with someone about whom you have devoted an entire study, and who might not like what you have said about them.
But then I read Larsen’s book, and I loved it. (The book is called The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, a title changed in the film to The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet.) I enjoyed the novel for its own sake, but it was also immediately apparent why Jeunet had been drawn to it—it exhibits a quirky inventiveness, a boundless energy very similar to that found in Jeunet’s films. In fact, I learned while preparing for the interview that Larsen had been influenced by Jeunet’s work when he wrote his book, which makes for a kind of endless chicken-and-egg story if you think about it too long.
Meeting Reif Larsen an hour or two before the event on the 14th of October began to put me at ease. Both he and his wife, Russian literature scholar Katharine Holt, were extremely likable, and, since they also came from the US, we swapped stories about the Old Country, and about our experiences as expats in Scotland. But then Reif said casually, no doubt oblivious to the fact that he was confirming my worst fears: “Jean-Pierre can get a little funny at times. Don’t take it personally. He really hates academic interpretations of his work.” Great, I thought; just fantastic.
And indeed, when Jeunet himself appeared before our entrance on stage, our conversation was initially quite stilted. I asked him what he was working on at the moment, and he said, somewhat testily, “Sex.” I took his response to mean a film about this topic, rather than a personal exploration of the subject, though I was in no hurry to find out which of these two alternatives he intended. I imagined our interaction on stage as consisting of similarly halting exchanges, and began to think that maybe this event wasn’t such a good idea after all.
But here’s the thing: once we were seated on stage and began talking in earnest, Jeunet’s wariness melted away, and he was absolutely charming. We had a great conversation, which somehow seemed to flow quite naturally; Larsen and Jeunet already had a good rapport with each other, and the three-way dialogue format worked well. The time flew by. In other words, it was all good. Afterwards, we went to dinner at a lovely restaurant (which was also much better than I had expected), where I sat between Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Reif Larsen, and we talked about the works—the novel, the film, and even the scholarly book—that had brought us all together.
Some news on the research front from various Stirling staff members. David Murphy‘s article ‘The Emergence of a Black France, 1985-2015: history, race and identity’ was published in Nottingham French Studiesin 2015 (Vol. 54.3, pages 238-52). Aedín ní Loingsigh’s article ‘Tourism Devlopment and the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres’ was also published in the Irish Journal of French Studiesin 2015 (Vol. 15, pages 77-95) and her chapter on ‘African Travel Writing’ also came out last year in The Routledge Companion to Travel Writing, edited by Carl Thompson. And Cristina Johnston‘s chapter on ‘Tehran, Vienna, Paris. The Cultural Geographies of Persepolis’ has just been published in a Routledge edited collection on Bicultural Literature and Film in French and English (edited by Peter Barta and Phil Powrie).
A great afternoon of papers and discussions about the films of Céline Sciamma ahead on Monday 8 June, thanks to Divisional Research Funding from Literature and Languages at Stirling. A chance to talk about some fantastic films with a lovely group of colleagues. Speakers will include Clara Bradbury-Rance, Gemma Edney, Kat Lindner and Cristina Johnston, covering – between them – all three of Sciamma’s feature-length films. There will also be discussions around teaching Sciamma to teenage audiences thanks to secondary Modern Languages teacher, Finn Mackie.
The academic year is over at Stirling and the blur of the exam period means that this blog hasn’t been updated as often as I would have liked but hopefully the weeks ahead will offer an opportunity to put that right, starting with a review of Samba, written by Amy Wylie, one of this year’s graduating students. Amy was one of a small group of students who took advantage of our ‘French freebies’ scheme to go and see the film as a well-earned treat after the exams. Here’s her take on it:
‘Samba, by co/directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, is a film I was thoroughly looking forward to, after having seen the award winning Intouchables. Omar Sy and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a fantastic double act, depicting the story of a Senegalese man who has been detained and ordered to leave France; the country he has called home for the last decade. Alice, who has recently started working as an immigration advocate, handles Samba’s case and they develop a close bond, despite Alice having being warned by her co/worker to keep her distance. The subject matter is at times upsetting but there is also a great deal of humour throughout the film. One scene shows Samba and his Brazilian friend doing a striptease whilst suspended half way up a multi-storey building. The music is quite uplifting, including Bob Marley’s – Waiting In Vain and Syreeta’s – To Know You Is To Love You. Overall, the film was thoroughly enjoyable and one I would definitely recommend!’
We’re hoping to be able to run the French freebies scheme again next year. In the meantime, thanks to Amy for the review!