Colin Davis on the films of Renoir


[Thanks to Toril Moi for this tip]

Scenes of Love and Murder: Renoir, Film, and Philosophy

Colin Davis (Professor of French at Royal Holloway, University of London) has a new book out, entitled Scenes of Love and Murder: Renoir, Film and Philosophy, which puts Renoir’s films in dialogue with the writings of Cavell (among others) and will surely interest many readers of this blog. Here is the publisher’s description of the book, followed by the endorsement of William Rothman. To go to the publisher’s webpage for the book, click here.

Jean Renoir (1894-1979) has long been considered one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema. Films such as La Grande Illusion (1937) and La Règle du jeu (1939) rank amongst the masterpieces of film art. This book examines his films from the 1930s in the light of recent developments in philosophical film criticism. With reference to thinkers such as Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Girard, Derrida and Cavell, it argues that Renoir’s work engages with and elucidates some of the great philosophical questions. In particular the films are shown to reflect on the nature of murder and its links with desire, community, ethics and the mystery of other minds. Although the 1930s end for Renoir in political disillusionment, his final film of the decade, La Règle du jeu, intimates a new accommodation with the enigma of the unknown other. It points toward the possibility of welcoming what remains alien to the self rather than violently eradicating it.

‘In his previous books, Colin Davis found his voice as literary critic and theorist by entering into fruitful conversation with major texts of French theory. Graced by the lucidity that is his hallmark as a writer, Scenes of Love and Murder, Davis’s eye-opening study of the films of Jean Renoir, focuses on five of the director’s works of the 1930s, and makes a seamless transition to writing about film. Embracing Stanley Cavell’s understanding of film as a medium of philosophical thought, Davis poses the question, What knowledge do Renoir’s films offer to whomever is willing to receive it? Davis finds in these films a respect for difference, for otherness, respect both for the other’s mystery and for its own power to communicate what it wishes known. To follow the pathways that lead to this conclusion is to encounter a compelling new way of viewing, and thinking about, the work of one of the cinema’s greatest directors.’
– William Rothman, University of Miami

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