Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

French and Francophone World Studies

First Advisor

Scullion, Rosemarie

First Committee Member

Blum, Cinzia

Second Committee Member

Ganim, Russell

Third Committee Member

Hope, Geoffrey R.

Fourth Committee Member

Racevskis, Roland


According to the latest Celluloid Ceiling Report, conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, only 7% of all directors working on the top 250 films in the United States in 2014 were women. These bleak statistics no doubt replicate the condition of women in countless other national cinemas. It is, therefore, critical that more attention be given to the women who do manage to succeed in the male-dominated film industry. In my dissertation, I examine the work of two major French women filmmakers, Catherine Breillat and Claire Denis, who have resisted the kind of marginalization and even erasure of women’s presence which this data represents, achieving along the way distinction not just in the French, but in the global cinema context. I analyze their work primarily through the lens of auteur theory and the Cixousian notion of the feminine.

For the purpose of this work, I define an auteur as a filmmaker who has established a distinctive but evolving style as well as a set of thematic preoccupations across a significant number of films and a considerable span of time and whose films are recognizable no matter the subject they treat or the context in which they are made. At its inception, auteur theory signaled a radical break with the tradition of film adaptations and literary screenplays that either did not understand or did not care to exploit the specificity of the filmic medium. Yet, in spite of the revolutionary aspects of auteurism, it has remained somewhat regressive in its recognition of and engagement with gender problematics. The putative gender neutrality of auteurism is, in practice, an assumption of masculinity. Female film directors who achieve auteur status (a minority compared to the number of men given the same consideration) are then marked by their difference, they are not simply auteurs but female auteurs. While this designation is potentially limiting, I assert that it is, in fact, a valuable designation, since it has opened up a space for female filmmakers to rewrite dominant cultural narratives and from a feminine perspective. Claire Denis and Catherine Breillat consistently practice a feminine form of filmmaking, that is, filmmaking that opposes through form and representation, the logical, teleological narratives and adherence to patriarchal values associated with traditional filmmaking. While traditional, masculine filmmaking is designed to halt the proliferation of meaning, feminine filmmaking allows for ellipses, creates a space for the unsaid and the unknowable; it asks questions but does not answer them; it allows the reader or viewer to participate in the production of meaning. These are the kinds of films that Denis and Breillat are making and they need to be recognized for their exemplary artistic contributions as well as the space they have created for others to challenge the status quo in the film industry.


Auteur, Breillat, Catherine, Denis, Claire, Feminine filmmaking, French Cinema, Women filmmakers


v, 214 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 209-214).


Copyright © 2018 Stephanie Kupfer