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21 May 2018: Sex, Politics, Art and Revolution: French Cinema in 1968


1968 was a year of revolutionary turmoil all over the world, from anti-Vietnam war, feminist activism and civil rights protests in the USA to student demonstrations in Japan and Mexico and uprisings in Poland and Czechoslovakia. In France, student protests and a general workers’ strike brought the country to a standstill in May 68, marking a key moment of social, ideological and generational rupture.

The cinematic output of that tumultuous year offers a fascinating insight into the spirit of the time and the lines of tension that defined it. To mark the 50th anniversary of the events of May 68, this talk will survey the major French films released that year and look at their contrasting visions, from the politicised cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and the radical experimentations of the Zanzibar group, to the surrealist-inflected fantastique revolt of Jean Rollin’s The Rape of the Vampire and the formal games of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Man Who Lies. The talk will also discuss the ambivalent portrayal of sexual liberation in Claude Chabrol’s icily cruel Les biches, as well as its intertwining with the popular and avant-garde art of the period in Roger Vadim’s take on ground-breaking comic Barbarella and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Op Art-inspired masterwork La prisonnière.

Virginie Sélavy is a film scholar, writer and editor. She is the founder and editor of Electric Sheep, the online magazine for transgressive cinema. She was the co-director of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies – London for three years. She edited the collection of essays The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology, and contributed to Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin, World Directory Cinema: Eastern Europe and Film Locations: Cities of the Imagination – London. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Sight & Sound, Rolling Stone France, Cineaste and Frieze. She is currently working on a book on Sado-Masochism in cinema.

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