Cinema and Audio-visual director CNC [Centre National du Cinéma et de l’image animée] (France)
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IN PRAISE OF CRITICISM
What makes film criticism even more fundamentally important than ever before is this new golden age of the silver screen we’re living through. There has never been such a huge number of images, films and series produced since the dawn of cinema 125 years ago. Beyond algorithms, this infinite amount of content needs to be supported, curated and channeled. Criticism is in fact the opposite of algorithms. Criticism allows us to gain a fuller understanding, gives context, helps build bridges. So, yes, criticism helps make films but goes even beyond that: it helps open our eyes. What defines a work of art in my opinion, whether a series or a film, is its mise en scene. Criticism reveals and explains this mise en scene to help film goers understand, watch and think.
Jean Collet, who taught me film criticism, used to say to me that criticism was a bit like psychoanalysis (it’s not a coincidence that both cinema and psychoanalysis emerged at roughly the same time). In fact, they both aim to shed light on what is concealed. Criticism aims to reveal the implicit, that which we can’t quite formulate so readily. It allows us to verbalise that which we hadn’t known or which we hadn’t noticed upon watching the film.
Going back to Heidegger’s paradox about art allowing truth to be revealed, cinema uses fiction to reveal and express truth. This is why now, with the overabundance of works of art, criticism is all the more necessary to analyse the mise en scene of fiction and so it is essential to understand the world in which we live. This is the reason why the CNC recently introduced financial support for film magazines and books.
More generally, younger generations haven’t sufficiently been taught to decrypt images. This means that criticism should reinvent itself, beyond the written press. It should strengthen its presence on social media in order to reach out to younger generations.
This need to decrypt images also calls for public policies to favour and implement a solid film and visual arts education from a very young age, and this must involve criticism. Visual arts and images should be a compulsory subject at school in the same way music and fine art are. Decrypting images, omnipresent on all our screens and social media is essential, now more than ever, in order to decrypt the world around us. Visual arts education is an artistic, economic and democratic issue. The necessity of critically looking at art is what American philosopher Martha Nussbaum also calls “political emotions”. Criticism is vital because it is an interpretation of our world, “a political emotion.”