JCM312/Claire Denis (Discussion)

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Colonialism and the Republic of Cameroon

Historical context: Chocolat was shot in Cameroon in the 1980s and the flashback is set in the late 1950s. Europeans (Germany) first colonized Cameroon in 1884, with France and Britain taking control as a spoil of war after World War I. The people of Cameroon began to advocate for independence in the 1950s, which was finalized by France in 1960 and Britain in 1961.

  • Group 1: How does Chocolat, according to Mayne, show the Cameroonians' desire for independence?

Sexual politics in Chocolat

  1. Group 2: Considering the sexual politics of the gaze, how does Chocolat splice the politics of race and colonialism onto it? See the scene where Protée helps Aimée dress, in particular.
    How does this fit in with Richard Bjornson's point (quoted by Judith Mayne, 35-6):
    Regarding Cameroonian author Ferdinand Oyono's novel Une vie de boy [The Life of a ‘Boy’]: the Europeans "want to regard the houseboy as a 'thing that obeys,' but his potential for unmasking their pretensions makes them fear that he is actually a 'person who sees.'"
    Mayne also writes, "Where Chocolat departs from those cliches [about colonial Africa] is in its refusal to grant the fulfillment of the sexual wish.... Their [the colonial wives] objectification of black men is obvious [when they talk about how handsome Protée is], but it also speaks to one of the key elements of virtually all of Denis's work: objectification is one of the ways in which people engage with their own situations, and for white women who function as wives and mothers in contexts that are isolating, fantasies about African men are one of the ways in which they attempt to create a world of their own." (39-40)
    • How would the film have been different if Protée had given in to Aimee's advances? How would it have been different if Mungo Park had accepted France's invitation for a drink in the modern-day story?
  2. Group 3: Mayne: "By making the film a story about a white woman's attempt to reconnect with her past, the film evokes memory, to be sure, but it also explores the nature of seeing and being seen, of listening and silence." (40)
    • Both in the present and in the past, How does France see and how is she seen? Does she principally listen and be silent?
  3. Group 4: In what sense does Mayne suggest that France may be a femme fatale?

All groups

  1. How does France compare/contrast with Mona, in Vagabond? With She in Hiroshima Mon Amour?
  2. How is the representation of the past similar/different to Hiroshima Mon Amour?
  3. Just because a film is made by a woman does not mean it will necessarily be feminist. Do you think that Chocolat is pro-feminist? Why or why not?
  4. If, indeed, it is a feminist film, into which category does it fit? (These categories may overlap.)
    1. Documentary
    2. Socialist Realist
    3. Women's cinema as counter cinema


External links