"[Oral critique] is more efficiente than [written critique] because more
capable, more abundant, and more sincere or more severe, but one cannot exist
without the other one. (...) Debates should not take place behind closed
André Bazin, 1943
Film criticism is spelling out a visual medium into textual commentary, and the radio is a medium exploiting sound and words without the easy support of images. Audio criticism seems the most absurd way to illustrate a visual art, as suggested like this ironic teaser created for the TV broadcast of La Marche de l'Empereur / The March of Pinguins / The Emperor's journey on CANAL+.
When we read or listen to a film description our imagination automatically adds images to figure the big picture and that's how false expectations are built up prior to film viewing, as a correct representation of the film is dependent on the accuracy of the critic's description. While it's not the best adapted medium, there is little conflict of interest in the radio industry (TV being a client of the distribution circuit), thus the voice of radio criticism enjoys more freedom of content and tone.I know the reader of this english-written blog will not be interested in these 3 weekly french-speaking shows but what I review here is the mode of expression of group radio criticism to contrast with the print mode of columnists or bloggers.
Let me know what radio shows you listen to, their mode of expression, and where I could download them if available online. Thanks
Le Cinema l'après midi
(France Culture) SAT 1:40-2:30pm
Le club des cinéastes / The club of filmmakers.
Hosted by Claire Vassé (critic), a 50 minutes long show gathers 4 or 5 filmmakers to discuss 3 films back and forth. The films are ones opening commercialy in theatres, or being released on DVD, or showing soon in a retrospective, but already accessible. This is not a preview recommending films that only critics had access to. Sometimes the films echo eachothers with certain similitudes other times they clash, the debate questions each film successively but also transversally.
These non-professional critics deconstruct the making of the films with the insights of their personal backstage experience in this trade. Movies as seen by people who make them, a biased but much informed minority audience with an intimate relationship with the work accomplished. A very auteuristic viewpoint, in the french tradition of critic-filmmaker. Even if they tend to show respect to their friends and masters preferably, the large spectrum of films reviewed and the confrontation of the independant personalities of this panel keep the discussion away from complacency and is often more violent and emotional than print critics pan.
Filmmakers (who are not there to sell their own film for once) evaluate the projects of their peers and break into reflexions on cinema, technique and significance, rather than reviewing the plot. Their vast culture recalls great auteurs by way of citations of other films, on-set anecdoctes, literary references aplenty. Cinema in lights of other arts, and its cultural role in society are recurrant concerns.
The selected films are judged as subjectively as in the press by the combination of a polyphonic debate creates a somewhat balance ground to assess high and low aspects of the production, the directorial choices and the social implication of the narration. Although each takes a turn to give their opinion, ultimately the confrontation, dissent, controversy force everyone to moderate their stance in an informal conversation mending fences or asking for a deeper justifications.
Once a month they invite a filmmaker (not part of the club) to discuss their work. One filmmaker interviewed by other filmmakers.
Rotating members of the club :
- Mathieu Amalric - actor, director
- Luc Béraud - director, screenwriter
- Pascal Bonitzer - screenwriter, director, actor
- Catherine Breillat - director, screenwriter, actress
- Emilie Deleuze - director, screenwriter (yes, daughter of philosopher Gilles Deleuze)
- Claire Denis - director, screenwriter
- Vincent Dieutre - director, screenwriter
- Philippe Grandrieux - director
- Christophe Honoré - director, screenwriter
- Philippe Le Guay - director, screenwriter, actor
- Claude Miller - director, screenwriter, actor
- Emmanuel Mouret - director, screenwriter, actor
- Brigitte Rouan - director, screenwriter, actress
- Marie Vermillard - director, screenwriter
(France Culture) SAT 6:30-7pm
Hosted by Michel Ciment (Positif) a distinguished critic of the french cinema press with a comprehensive erudition of world cinema invites guests to discuss 1 film or 1 oeuvre. Sometimes the filmmaker if it's a current release, or scholars who published a related biography. An elaborated discussion on the interview mode, with pertinent and profound questions saving however much room for the guest's voice. Always a great selection of films, mostly high-brown cinephilia, intellectual discourse, theorical issues. Fascinating source of knowledge.The show is only 30 min but focuses on a single film to get deeper under the surface of omnipresent selling arguments. This only covers 4 films per month, and like in his monthly magazine Positif (opposed to the weekly newspapers), implies a picky selection rather than a full coverage of the weekly releases.
Le Masque et la Plume
(France Inter) SUN 8-9pm
This most famous founding radio show celebrated its 50th anniversary of weekly critiques on air in november 2005! Alternating one week for cinema and one week for Theatre and Literature, the show hosted by Jérôme Garcin, recorded live with audience, puts the spotlight on the cultural must-see. A panel of 4 cinema critics from the french press (popular press, newspaper and cinema magazine) reviews about 5 films from the fortnight releases. This covers only 10 films per month, but the selection isn't elistist: from low-brow/popular movies to high-brow/intellectual indies. So the reactions are often loud and strong. But again in this form the group of multiple voices help to self-moderate each position. The conversation is easygoing and straightforward, spontaneous ideas and rough language, sarcastic controversy and mockery are frequent to trigger the laughter of the audience. In spite of the informal tone (worded more loosely than in their respective column), the level of critical judgement is mostly well thoughtout and backed up by sound arguments.
Adding to this collegial form of viewpoints confrontation, the show lets the audience reacts freely to the discussion of the films debated, to give their own impressions or to ask questions directly to the critics. And the radio audience sends emails to comment the show, these are read live in the following show.
Allowing the audience to participate, within a restricted speaking time, influences the discussion among the critics who are subject to polite corrections and snide remarks from their public. Something that never happens to a print columnist. A dose of self-derision lights up this panel, conscious of the image conveyed by their personality, thanks to the feedback.
This is the same type of collegial MovieClub organized by David Edelstein on Slate, only it happens all year long, and the oral dialogues are more interactive than through a compilation of written emails.
For this 50th anniversary party they invited authors to the show to give them the opportunity to criticize the critics, and it was a very interesting moment. A playwrighter said he expected and welcomed critics to evaluate the technique objectively, to inform the subtext of the play with the cultural background and the distance the critic has that the dramatic author might not have. But most of all the author wants to read the personal impressions the critic experienced, and if (s)he liked the play or not. Other authors complained the critics panned without watching the work they talked about, or that they didn't know anything about criticism, refusing to be tougth how they should do their work. Authors welcome the artistic judgement of their achievements but don't like revisionist advice like "this should have been done that way", "This is how it would have worked better"...
Rotating team of critics :
- Sophie Avon (Sud-Ouest - daily newspaper)
- Alain Riou (Nouvel Observateur - general magazine)
- Michel Ciment (Positif - monthly cinema magazine)
- Jean-Marc Lalanne (Les Inrockuptibles - culture weekly magazine)
- Pierre Murat (Télérama - culture weekly magazine)
- Danièle Heymann (Marianne - weekly general magazine)
- Sophie Avron (Sud Ouest - daily newspaper)
- Eric Neuhoff (Figaro Madame - fashion magazine)
p.s. each show is available online after each broadcast, archived for a week only until next show (see links)