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French connection
A legendary film critic is remembered at Harvard

Ask most Americans to name a film critic and they’ll probably come up with Roger Ebert. Pauline Kael, if you’re lucky. Maybe Mr. Moviephone. Ask someone French and chances are he or she will cite Serge Daney.

Who? Not so long ago, Serge Daney was France’s leading film critic, writing for Cahiers du cinéma, Libération, and his own magazine Trafic in a career that began in the volatile, early ’60s and ended with his death in 1992 at the age of 48 from AIDS. His introspective, witty, often profound ruminations on cinema, television, and other aspects of popular culture delighted and infuriated readers and shaped the way people in France and Europe regarded the screen. He is, however, largely unknown in this country, and almost none of his work has been translated into English.

To help rectify that oversight the Harvard Film Archive, with the help of the French Consulate, the Minda de Ginzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University, Vive les Arts, and Cahiers du cinéma, has programmed "Serge Daney: L’homme cinéma," an ongoing three-week tribute that began January 9. Included are screenings of Daney’s favorite films (from Les enfants du paradis and Nuit et brouillard to Psycho and Annie Hall) as well as a showing this Wednesday of Serge Daney: Itinéraire d’un ciné-fils/Serge Daney: Journey of a Cine-Son, a three-hour television interview with Daney made shortly before he died, and an all-day series of panel discussions next Thursday.

This last was originally listed in the HFA catalogue, rather ominously for some of us, as "After Film Criticism: A Symposium in Honor of Serge Daney." "The title of the symposium has been changed to ‘Beyond Film Criticism,’ " says Frédéric Martel, head of cultural and academic services at the French Consulate in Boston and one of the organizers of the event. "It’s not ‘After’ in the sense of ‘the end of film criticism.’ Our world is changing, and the role of the critic is as well. Pauline Kael is dead and she has no successor. It’s not pessimistic to look at the reality of the situation. But there is a future of film criticism in new contemporary ways. In any case, we have to look at this in our debate."

Among those who will speak in the symposium will be Professor Dudley Andrew of Yale University and critic and editor Jean-Michel Frodon of Cahiers du cinéma, as well as journalists from France, the US, and Germany. (Full-disclosure advisory: in the midst of preparing this preview, I was invited to participate as a moderator.) Martel continues, "We will ask three main questions: the history of film criticism from the ’50s to Serge Daney; the comparison between European and American film criticism; and the future of film criticism. It’s an overview quite large for a one-day symposium."

What are some of the insights that the legacy of Serge Daney can bring to such issues? "Daney is a son of the New Wave and a son of the ’60s," Martel explains. "Cinema was his life, and he found a very moving way to connect his own story with the larger picture of the history of cinema. This is why he used the expression ‘ciné-fils’ — which means ‘cine-son,’ as if he were the last film critic left in a time when cinema is changing, with television, video, and now DVD and the Internet. Daney is becoming an important figure in France and Europe as a public intellectual, a kind of new Gilles Deleuze or Roland Barthes. It’s important to bring his work to the US now."

"Beyond Film Criticism: A Symposium in Honor of Serge Daney" will take place next Thursday, January 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Minda de Ginzburg Center for European Studies, Adolphus Busch Hall, 27 Kirkland Street in Harvard Square; call (617) 495-4700.


Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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