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Gender Panic: The 'garce' and the 'Good Girl' in Postwar French Cinema

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sarah Leahy


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There are two opposing images of women that emerge in the immediate post-war period in France: on the one hand, the ravaged yet victorious figure of Marianne who gives succour to the reborn Republic, and on the other, the abject figure of the femme tondue (the shorn woman) – women accused of ‘horizontal collaboration’ and punished publicly for their transgressions against the fatherland. Both images define women corporeally, emphasising their bodies as spectacle, and would appear to attest to a dramatic polarisation as regards the representation of femininity, and women’s sexuality in particular. This polarisation occurs at a time when women have received the right to vote for the first time, and are about to be recognized in the 1946 Constitution as equal citizens, and can be seen to extend to the cinema of the period. Alongside a small but significant number of ‘feminist’ films (Burch and Sellier 1996, 237) we also note the return of the ‘garce’, a staple figure of French cinema in the 1930s who had been eclipsed during the Occupation years to make way for more edifying representations of femininity: from the self-sacrificing, often tragic maternal woman (Gaby Morlay in Le Voile bleu), to the enterprising, modern young woman embodied by Danielle Darrieux (Premier rendez-vous, Decoin, 1941) and Micheline Presle (Falbalas, Becker, 1944). However, as Burch and Sellier point out (1996, 225), the garce reemerges in the post-war years in an even more virulently misogynistic incarnation – epitomized in films such as Panique (Duvivier, 1947) and Manèges (Yves Allégret, 1949). The opposition of dangerous female and her male victim can be seen to cross many genres and is evident in the work of almost all major directors (Quai des Orfèvres, Clouzot, 1947; Le Diable au corps, Autant-Lara, 1946; Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, Bresson, 1945; and to a certain extent, Rendez-vous de juillet, Becker, 1949), even some such as Becker and Autant-Lara who had previously been associated with a more positive representation of women. Through an examination that will focus in particular on Viviane Romance in Panique and Suzy Delair in Quai des Orfèvres on the one hand, and of Claire Mafféi in Antoine et Antoinette on the other, this chapter will discuss how the representations of women in the French cinema of the immediate post-war years reflect anxieties surrounding the reconstruction of national identity after the defeat and occupation, anxieties that are displaced onto the female body which comes to stand in for the nation: violated or treacherous, resisting or collaborating.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Leahy S

Editor(s): Hipkins, D; Plain, G

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: War-Torn Tales: Literature, Film and Gender in the Aftermath of World War II

Year: 2007

Pages: 105-122

Publisher: Peter Lang

Place Published: Oxford

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9783039105526