The author in the cinema

Image: Marco Buti


Commentary on the book by Jean-Claude Bernardet

Currently, talking about cinema implies referring, in one way or another, to the idea of ​​author. It is current currency in the media, in the voiceover of TVs, in special rooms, etc. Thus, the importance of auteur cinema and the attribution of authorship power to the director entails an immediate value that needs no introduction. The book therefore starts from evidence, however, to rob it of its naturalness, exposing it to an investigative process.

Jean-Claude Bernardet studies the diffusion of the idea of ​​the author since the 1950s, starting from the group of young critics gathered in the Cahiers du Cinema, and which, later in the early 1960s, would lead to New wave. The “authors' policy” – the doctrine of this group – has as its starting point the notion of camera-style (literally camera-pen), conceived by Alexandre Astruc, in an article for “L'Écran Français”, of March 30, 1948 (The first issue of the Notebooks is dated April 01, 1951).

Astruc's intention was to endow cinema with an abstract and intellectual statute similar to that of writing. The goal was to overcome the hallmark of a fairground show, the semi-circus origin of cinema, in order to make it a work of thought and ennoble it as an art; or, according to Bernardet, in terms of the time, to prepare him for works similar “for their complexity and significance to the novels of Faulkner or Malraux, the essays of Sartre or Camus”.

Two more doctrinal elements are disseminated by the group: the apology of the director's personal expression and the reference to North American cinema. French cinema at the time was opposed by the Notebooks while permeated by literary, theatrical, etc.

In short, aestheticization and cinephilia, colloquiality and personalism aimed at forming the public and forging new consumption patterns, provided the vectors of this sectoral modernization project – whose ties with pop, evident in the adherence to narrative patterns of mass culture, such as the film B and the comics stemmed, I think, from the reference to the idea of ​​consumption, key to both.

In the critical method of Notebooks, close to Mauron’s “psychocriticism”, and drawn, through Bazin, from Mounier’s Christian ontological personalism, “moral” will be a key term. In addition to the collective and industrial matrix of the film, and the diversity of the works of the same director, it is important to decant the redundancies and “make a latent metaphysics emerge (…) considering the work of the cinematographic author in the same way as that of that painter or poet esoteric". Every author brings, therefore, a “matrix”, to be sought by the filmmaker and the critic, and which conditions the dramatic course of the films, unifying them in a work.

Bernardet, in some of the most vigorous pages of the book, exposes the mysticism of this view. And it records oppositions such as Sadoul's: "The Cult of Personality - Film Authors and Films by Authors" ("Les Lettres Françaises”, 17.07.58). Drouzy, who conceives the film as “the fruit of a production framework that involves both the director and the producer”, preserving “the marks of this production relationship”, is also highlighted by Bernardet.

The American critic John Hess judged the New wave “a conservative movement whose function was to distance social reality from cinema”. In this line of reasoning (after emphasizing: “the method that won – at the time and with profound repercussions even today – is the authors’ policy”), Bernardet states that the “romantic” mark is evident in the idea of ​​an essence of cinema, manifested in the works of great authors.

In addition to the first chapter, “French Dominion – The 50s”, in which he details and discusses this order of ideas, the book contains two more chapters, whose construction – the second more documental, the third more concise, without being vague – subsidizes and unfolds the critical vein exposed by the first. Thus, Chapter 2 compiles the effects of the ideas of Notebooks in film criticism in Brazil, in the 1950s and 60s. Paulo Emílio and Glauber stand out in this cast, due to their reflective power; the first, by criticizing “young pedants and right-wingers from Notebooks; and the second, by re-elaborating the idea of ​​the author, fused with collective history, as a political factor of national liberation.

In the 1970s, as shown in chapter 3, “The decline of the author”, through a summary of the French debate generated by critical theories of the subject, the idea of ​​the author left the scene, targeted by the post-68 movements and by the structuralist criticisms that came, in this case, from the Marxist magazine Cinéthique and also the new group of Notebooks. Indeed, anyone who consults a good and comprehensive compendium of film theories, such as The Cinematographic Discourse – Opacity and Transparency, by Ismail Xavier (Paz e Terra, 1977), notes that he overlooks the idea of ​​an author – at that point in frank disrepute. And he does so without reason, given the conceptual precariousness of the authorial cause, pointed out by Bernardet. How to explain its symbolic restoration in the general imagination now?

The subtle closing of the book, after stating that “a new subjectivity emerges (which is not our subject here) (...) and seems to give way to a recovery of ideas from the glorious era of politics (the authors)”, points out, the from Barthes, for the author as “spectator's fantasy”. Considering that the book begins with the paradigmatic definition of the author of the Nouveau Larousse Illustré (“GOD, who is the first cause”), Bernardet's conclusion situates the author as an imaginary construction, as an abstract symmetrical inversion of the abstract spectator.

* Luiz Renato Martins he is professor-advisor of PPG in Economic History (FFLCH-USP) and Visual Arts (ECA-USP). Author, among other books, of The Long Roots of Formalism in Brazil (Chicago, Haymarket/ HMBS, 2019).

* Originally published, under the title “Who needs an author?”, on Journal of Reviews, no. 03, on 05.06.1995.



Jean-Claude Bernardet, The Author in Cinema – The Policy of Authors: France, Brazil 50's and 60's. 2nd. Edition. Sao Paulo, Sesc, 2018.

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