The Politics of Female Sexuality in French Cinema

The complexity and je ne sai quoi of French women in film.

When I first started to appreciate film, I was a freshman in college who ventured into film studies after buying the Criterion Collection release of Jean Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) in an empty Barnes and Noble. I bought the film because I had several unused gift cards, and because I thought the sleeve of the DVD seemed artistic and cool in an unapproachable way, and that my buying it would signal my own unapproachable, artistic vibes I was fumbling with at the time. Watching the film proved to be a similar experience, a type of "Oh…I get why it's groundbreaking" admiration coupled with my own envy for the sheer style, albeit the anarchist philosophy of the story and characters. I had discovered European cinema, the French New Wave and all of its cigarettes, Anna Karina, tracking shots, and later, as my budding film studies progressed, Italian Neorealism.

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I'll spare you my journey with Godard because my enchantment with European movies seemed strongest with female directors, the women who are now grouped in with the men of the French New Wave, the women who were there the entire time, writing and directing films about women. Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) is cited as a hallmark movie of the movement, but I suppose her addition to the male club is more of a glaring reminder of the directorial gender gap in the sixties onward. Cleo from 5 to 7 is about, in brief, a beautiful woman coming to terms with her expiration date, courtesy of a cancer diagnosis. Her existential crisis is a commentary on how women are told again and again that our bodies are the basis from which we are given value, power, and in Cleo's case, life. I always found the movie to be a poetic note for all women that our time is limited, but not measured by the elasticity of our flesh.

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I remember the lethargy I felt watching Chantal Akerman's Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1974), a film that features a mattress, a woman, and not much else. In the moments when Akerman leaves the camera static, the film exudes the energy of the young filmmaker exploring her own promiscuity and nuanced behavior. In retrospect, I think these films taught me how to write about feminism through the context of visual narratives, but I also realize—and certainly appreciate—that these films attempted to find power in characters who were aloof, or passive to their own budding agency. These directors were exploring the reality of the female body as a complex and unflinching force, and the intensity of discovering one's agency in a world eager to categorize, sexualize, and police that agency.

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It's hard to depict what a feminine power looks like when so much of cinema has been made by men for men, with women accessorizing the narratives and screens. Éléonore Pourriat's The Oppressed Majority (2010) attempts to subvert this familiar patriarchy by imagining a society in which men are cat-called, objectified, and harassed while walking down the street. It's a sharp, satirical enactment of the woman experience, with men starring as the leading ladies. It's not as simple as saying these directors celebrate womanhood or femininity (as so many superficial American films do); often, it's the inverse, with characters who are anxiety-ridden to extent of animalistic neurosis.

What are celebrated in these films is the need to want, the need to desire, and how indulging this selfishness is innately human. In order to want, something, or someone, or someplace has to become an object of affection (even obsession); and herein lies the violence—the female gaze, which has every close-up, panning shot, and sex scene of the male counterpart. I'm not sure there are enough American, female filmmakers who know how to depict the gaze of a woman without also enforcing the tropes used in familiar rom-coms and female-driven comedies. Not everyone is an exhausted mother of two, hungry for the perfect marriage and kitchen backsplash, prompted by their girlfriend to let loose for the weekend. French directors know how to depict the female gaze, and it's more visceral and powerful than Carrie Bradshaw looking for love in Manolos. Women in French cinema are sexual, and yet, their sexuality isn't marked by the outward expressions of their desire; instead, by the intellectual—sometimes physical—consequences of their conquests.

Feminine power, I've realized, is a woman at her most vulnerable, emotionally naked in front of the screen. The erotic fascination with the female body in Julia Ducournau's Raw (2017) is anything but glamorized, and still, it evokes a feminine rage that could be interpreted as a battle cry. What's depicted is a young woman's carnal craving for human flesh—a visceral metaphor for Justine's (played by Garance Marillier) sexual awakening. Flesh and meat bits aside, Justine's monstrous transformation is a visual depiction of her own inability to rationalize her desires. Justine acknowledges—like every human—that she is a part of a system, particularly the one of her body (made of bones, muscles, and organs that's susceptible to everything, including lust).

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Raw is hard to watch—and the blood and finger eating has a lot to do with that—but even harder to metabolize for its unflinching examination of how our bodies undergo (sometimes irrational) transformations, even mutations as a symptom of being human. Ducournau's film reimagines body horror in a feminist context; all the blood, aches, pains, and screams of the female body are simply the pangs of womanhood. And all the fleshy love bites are collateral for playing with the desires of the body. This isn't my attempt to add to the somewhat comical mystique of the French woman, whose parenting, style, skin care routine, and diet reign supreme to her sisters in the West; but, it is my commentary on setting new standards for feminist filmmakers in the States. Why start with the pretty frills of our narratives when the ugly frills are so much more compelling, so much sexier?

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Travel Tips

Three Things to Consider When Planning Your Vacation

There are plenty of things to consider when planning your vacation. Make sure you have all your bases covered by the time you buy your plane ticket!

Going on vacation is wonderful after months of stress and work. There's just one last hurdle before hopping on that plane: planning.

There can be an overwhelming number of things to consider when planning your vacation (COVID-19 not least), but putting them in an itemized list helps. Here's a quick cheat-sheet for you to get a jump-start on that.

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Remember Your Budget

If you make a budget, which you definitely should, stick to it. Don't spend more than what you can afford when you start vacationing. Vacations are meant to be relaxing, so saddling yourself with debt will only dampen the fun of your trip. How much are you spending on living accommodations, food, activities, travel? How much are you setting aside in emergency funds in case something happens?

Plan for the Length of the Trip

Are you going out of town for a few months, or do you only have a week off? How much time you have can affect where you can go and how much you can enjoy it. If you only have a week and a half for a trip, then it's best not to go somewhere that's a 16-hour flight away. Half the trip is going to be spent on planes, and the other half will be spent being jet-lagged.

Trip length can also affect how you have to deal with your home while you're away. If you're away for long periods of time, do you need to hire people to cut your grass? Do you need to hire house sitters or babysitters? There are even things to know if you need to board your dog. Keep all these in mind for extended vacations.

Consider the Weather

You never want to ruin your vacation by heading somewhere beautiful in its offseason. Depending on the time of year, most activities could be canceled due to weather restrictions. Some places are ideal for winter trips, and other destinations are made to be enjoyed during the summer heat. Plan accordingly, and don't show up in a swimsuit when it's 50 degrees outside.

That rounds up the basics, but there are plenty more things to consider when planning your vacation. Give yourself wiggle room if any unique considerations pop up in your planning process.

There has never been a better time to learn a language than right now. While we can't really travel, we can still get ready to explore the world and other cultures through film, music, and food. But the key to all of this is language. It can be hard getting started on your own and so we found the perfect solution: Rosetta Stone.

We've been loving hunkering down and digging into Rosetta Stone, a language learning app with many different languages, the best lessons, and an affordable subscription. It's flexible and made to work for you, no matter what level you're starting at. Jump back into French without dusting off your highschool books or pick up Mandarin with a clean slate.

Thinking about Rosetta Stone for your language lessons? Here are the answers to your most pressing questions:

What languages do they offer?

With Rosetta Stone, you can choose from 25 different languages including Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese. When you get the Unlimited Languages subscription you gain access to all 25 and can switch between languages. While you may be intensely learning German, you can take a break and pick up some conversational Korean — all in one app.

What are the features?

What makes Rosetta Stone's lessons really work are the incredible learning features.

Phrasebook will teach you short, useful expressions that are sure to come in handy during your travels, letting you see the practical application of what you're learning. Seek & Speak brings the fun back into learning by having you do a scavenger hunt for everyday household items and taking photos of them to get the translated name. Even in an app, Rosetta Stone turns any environment into a classroom.

TruAccent is a speech engine within the program that provides instant feedback on your pronunciation so you know if you're on the right track. You'll grow more confident about speaking aloud and it's like having an accent coach in the room with you.

How long does it take every day?

Rosetta Stone's lessons are bite-sized, so all you need is 5 -10 minutes a day to sneak in some practice and work towards your language goals. Of course, you can do more if you want but there's no regimented schedule or pressure to speed ahead.

How does it compare to in-person classes?

With the Rosetta Stone app, your learning is within your control and designed to move at your pace. The app will tailor to your particular interests, strengths, and weaknesses! Plus, with the recent explosion of online classes, most people have fallen away from in-person instruction anyway.

Rosetta Stone brings you expert teaching, fun engaging lessons, and a multitude of language options all on-the-go. Take your classes whenever and wherever works best for you, conveniently on the app.

Is it suitable for all levels?

Absolutely. When you first start, the app allows you to choose a study plan based on your experience level. So, if you're a beginner you can start from scratch and those with some proficiency can advance to where they're comfortable.

How much does it cost?

The Unlimited Languages plan works out to be $7.99 a month and grants access to all 25 languages, cheaper than Netflix. You get an education at a great value and the best part is no ads while you learn!

We look forward to our Rosetta Stone lessons and highly recommend it to anyone eager to learn a new language or even brush up on an old one. This program makes learning fun, practical, convenient, and most importantly affordable.

Say bonjour, to the go-to language learning app and have the world right at your fingertips!

Update: The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers: Up to 45% off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Language Access!

Like so many out there I haven't been traveling. With everything going on these days I've been staying home, which I love, but it does have me itching to travel. The international section of Netflix just isn't satisfying my travel bug like it used to (trust me, if it's been recommended I've watched it).

I was looking for another way I could travel without leaving home so I did the rounds of take-out food: Chinese, German, Italian, and Mexican. This was fun and tasty but a pricey way to explore the world.

A friend of mine suggested taking a prepping approach to travel and try Rosetta Stone: a language learning program that offers an annual plan with access to 24+ languages.

I've always wanted to learn a new language but have had trouble committing. I was a bit wary about starting Rosetta Stone but ultimately decided to give it a shot.

The Unlimited Languages plan works out to be $7.99 a month for 12 months (what a deal). While I was determined to learn Spanish in anticipation of my dream trip to Spain, this plan allows me to switch to any of the other 24+ languages.

I was excited to get started and use the app. I figured with all of the extra time I had until I could actually go on my trip, I'd aspire to be near fluent by the time it happened.

Jumping right in, I took a ton of lessons through their app and really binged the language. I loved the focus on conversational language, phrases, and vocabulary but after about a week I had burned myself out a bit.

I ended up pulling back and doing 10-minute lessons a day. This was manageable and easy to incorporate into my schedule whether it was by doing a lesson over my morning coffee or winding down right before bed. Learning in bite-sized amounts helped me digest the information and really process what I was being taught.

After a couple of weeks, I was getting really comfortable with Rosetta Stone and was actually enjoying the learning process… even though I wasn't a big fan of language when I was in school. What really set this experience apart for me was the Phrasebook and Seek & SpeakⓇ features.

Phrasebook teaches short, useful expressions that I know will come in handy on my trip. Seek & SpeakⓇ definitely brought the fun back into learning for me, as it has you do a scavenger hunt for everyday household items and take photos of them. Once you do this it gives you a translation of each item (I've never enjoyed looking for cucumbers in my fridge before).

Watching so many telenovelas I knew how important the accent is (in any language) but difficult without an in-person instructor. Rosetta Stone realizes that too and uses TruAccentⓇ. The speech engine within the program gave me instant feedback so I knew that my pronunciation was on the right track and it made me more comfortable speaking aloud.

Rosetta Stone turned out to be a great choice for me. Now I'm daydreaming about traveling and feel like when the time comes I'll be ready to. I'm so confident in my learning that I've branched out and have done some lessons in Italian and French! I'm thinking, after Spain… maybe Rome and Paris? My destinations list is endless now!

Honestly, with Rosetta Stone, I feel more inspired than ever to travel and all this inspiration is happening right in my home. I can't wait to take what I've learned on the road but until then the preparation is still incredibly fun and useful.

Update: The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers: Up to 45% off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Language Access!