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Paris vs providence: Framing the crystalline city in Jean Renoir’s La Chienne (1931)

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In Cinéma 2: l’image-temps (1985), Gilles Deleuze remarks that Jean Renoir’s pioneering use of deep space makes manifest a cracked crystal of time that structures the director’s oeuvre. Deleuze states that within Renoir’s crystal, characters constantly negotiate a tension between the ‘dead roles’ of the past and the possibility for the creation of a genuinely new future. Deleuze’s analysis, although insightful, suggests that Renoir’s mise-en-scène articulates the cracked crystal’s temporal properties regardless of the narrative setting. Drawing on Renoir’s photography of Paris in La Chienne (1931), this article demonstrates the import of setting, specifically urban topography, towards Renoir’s dialectic of imprisonment and escape. In La Chienne, formal tensions between Renoir’s mise-en-scène of the theatre and Paris foreground the city’s role as an active catalyst of the characters’ individual trajectories in a world where social identity remains crucially unfixed. Central to this analysis is the motif of the frame, which is appropriated in conjunction with deep space and off-screen space in the city in order to emphasize the impossibility of confining urban narrative to the rigid confines of the proscenium arches that bookend the protagonist’s drama. This article ultimately argues that Renoir’s crystalline image is not only the product of camera techniques and characterization, but also of the mutually affective relationship between urban physical and social space.
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Keywords: Paris; cracked crystal; deep staging; framing; l’image-temps; off-screen space

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: National University of Ireland, Galway

Publication date: 01 March 2016

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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