The Elements and Effects of the Amour Fou Topos in Film
Obsession and mad love have always been at the core of artistic discourse. Besides the scandals that films like L’Âge d’or (1930), The Last Tango in Paris (1972) or Lolita (1962 and 1997) provoked, amour fou (mad love) stories are significant also from a different perspective: they can show us how society treats those who break taboos in order to live their passion. Protagonists of amour fou stories are excluded from the community, they are labelled ‘insane’ and turned into the ‘others’. As Kracauer pointed out, film is not only an aesthetic object; it also serves as a mirror of society. Through analysing societal techniques such as distinguishing between the ‘normal’ and the ‘perverted’ subject in fiction, we can draw conclusions on societal behaviour. The aim of my work is to describe the presentation of the amour fou topos in the filmic discourse. The main research question is: is the amour fou film a distinctive type of text? Are there ‘family resemblances’ among texts that treat obsessive crazy love in film? Or, in other words: is it possible to speak of a proper amour fou genre? My work is based on a classical textual or content analysis. To find out if we can speak of a proper genre, the mood, the setting, cinematographic means and the format of this film type have to be analysed (Grodal, 2000; Schatz, 1994). This will be supplemented by an examination of how diverse cine-cultures display this subject in a different cultural context in order to determine if we can speak of a relatively stable or even fixed transcultural genre. This first part is mainly based on structuralist film theory (Christian Metz and others) with a special focus on semiotics and narratology. But genre theory does not stop here. Many genres (thriller, comedy, horror) are identified by what the text provokes in the recipient (Carroll, 1999). Therefore, it is not sufficient to only look at what the text is and consists of but one also needs to focus on what the text does, or rather what it is likely to provoke. Consequently, the offers of identification and empathy that are found within the text have to be examined. These text-analytical outcomes (a model of the processes of emotional engagement in amour fou films) are supplemented by a research study with focus groups. These groups will be shown a selection of films that serve as case studies and are to be considered typical amour fou films. Qualitative interviews might show that amour fou films upset the audience and that a process of prior identification and empathy is systematically undermined in the second place. Withdrawal from the protagonist and distancing are keywords here, reactions that are triggered by the filmic text (such as display of violence, deviation, disgust, etc.). Furthermore, the thesis will explore how these types of films are and were covered by the media. Analysing press cuttings and film reviews will show how those films were perceived by the public. This will also help to classify amour fou films building on the hypothesis that these films are characterised by special receptions and treatments by the public (e.g. calls for censorship etc.). A phenomenology of constitutive and facultative criteria that define the amour fou film is one of the expected outcomes of this work. In addition, I hope to show how textual ‘offers of identification’ can be understood from a deeper level. Moreover, such an analysis will help to clarify whether the amour fou film can be considered as a subgenre of drama and, perhaps, a very peculiar polygenre of romance, erotic film and thriller. Finally, the purpose of my thesis is to connect this work to the social realities and to draw a link between society and aesthetical communication, something that addresses the question whether the amour fou film serves a particular societal function (such as catharsis).