Towards an Apotropaic Cinema: Feminist Posthumanism and Representation in Tár, She Said, and Women Talking

Friday, May 26 – 5

Ever since Agnès Varda’s 1994 coinage, cinécriture, combined with Hélène Cixous’ écriture féminine (from 1976), it has been possible to talk about a cinécriture feminine. With Audre Lorde’s famous observation (1984) that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” these ideas still determine the limits of what a meaningfully posthumanist, if not a genuinely feminist, filmmaking style might look like.

This paper compares three films, all from 2022, two by women filmmakers—She Said (Maria Schrader) and Women Talking (Sarah Polley)—and one by a male director, Tár (Todd Field, 2022), on the basis of their mutual yet diverse engagement with innovative approaches to cinematic representation. By the latter I mean both representation as the making present again of what is now absent (the profilmic event, the referent, etc.), and also the “political” sense of making space for heretofore under-represented faces, voices, identities—in this case, those of women. Not that women have gone un-represented in film in a certain sense; rather, these particular films all engage with the challenge of representing difficult, controversial or ethically problematic material in the audiovisual language of film through the deliberate and strategic avoidance of any conventional or expected tropes, effects, or scenic structures—most notably, something like the “male gaze”.

In short, each of the three post-#Metoo films in its own way meets the challenge of the violence at the core of its respective story by avoiding all explicit visual reference, instead exploiting sound, off-screen space, and especially editing, to allude to, suggest, or gesture toward that which cannot or, for various reasons, should not, be shown. In meeting this formal and stylistic challenge, each film also represents a different manifestation of an apotropaic feminist-posthumanist cinema, itself representative of a larger critique of an anthropocentric and anthropomorphic world, with the Humanist masculinist subject at its center, looking out from its privileged perspective on those others whose voices and identities—however indirectly or ironically—are now beginning to find expression.

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CA 🇨🇦 • Professor and Chair, English and Film Studies, WLU web || Full bio

Russell J. A. Kilbourn is Professor and Chair of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU). He publishes on memory, film, comparative studies, critical posthumanism, and postsecular cinema. His books include The Cinema of Paolo Sorrentino and The Memory Effect.

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