By Bill Marshall
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Les Sœurs Brontë also belongs to an unusual corpus in French – and 24 andré téchiné by extension European – sound cinema (the practice is standard, of course, in Hollywood, as we have seen), namely that of a historical or literary ﬁlm set, and whose origin lies, in another country, in this case Britain. The most famous example is possibly Marcel Carné’s Drôle de drame (1937), set in nineteenth-century London. In 1985 Jacques Rivette adapted Wuthering Heights for the screen (Hurlevent, 1985). Given that much discussion of the heritage ﬁlm of the 1980s has centred on national identity (Higson 2003, Austin 1996), it is intriguing to consider such examples of ‘cross-heritage’ movies (a term I prefer here to ‘transnational’, which would indicate a truly international story with a multinational production team, such as Ridley Scott’s 1492 Conquest of Paradise of 1992).
In an interview in 1977, Téchiné invokes the baroque painting, Rubens’ Exchange of Princesses (1621–25), in which one ﬁgure is becoming the copy of the other (Frenais 1977). Téchiné in fact got the title of his ﬁlm from the work by Severo Sarduy, the Cuban poet and cultural theorist exiled in Paris and close to Roland Barthes and the Tel Quel group. His Barroco (1974) was one of the ﬁrst contemporary appropriations of the baroque as an alternative cultural resource to the instrumental reason of modernity and its progressive periodisation, and is particularly relevant here for its discussion of the baroque city.
In a series of edits that establish Gilles’s decision to follow Hélène and Elise’s meeting with Rudel, the ﬁlming momentarily becomes very abstract, as the seemingly endless whirling couples are shot against a black background which then fades back to the rather kitsch backdrop depicted earlier. There are shades here of Max Ophüls’ La Ronde (1950) of course (itself an adaptation of an Arthur Schnitzler play, a writer greatly admired by Téchiné), but in fact the scene goes to the heart of the question of the nature of this ‘new realism’ in Téchiné’s work.