Masculine Singular

French New Wave Cinema

Masculine Singular

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 10 b&w photographs Published: March 2008

Author: Geneviève Sellier

Translator: Kristin Ross

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Film

Masculine Singular is an original interpretation of French New Wave cinema by one of France’s leading feminist film scholars. While most criticism of the New Wave has concentrated on the filmmakers and their films, Geneviève Sellier focuses on the social and cultural turbulence of the cinema’s formative years, from 1957 to 1962. The New Wave filmmakers were members of a young generation emerging on the French cultural scene, eager to acquire sexual and economic freedom. Almost all of them were men, and they “wrote” in the masculine first-person singular, often using male protagonists as stand-ins for themselves. In their films, they explored relations between men and women, and they expressed ambivalence about the new liberated woman. Sellier argues that gender relations and the construction of sexual identities were the primary subject of New Wave cinema.

Sellier draws on sociological surveys, box office data, and popular magazines of the period, as well as analyses of specific New Wave films. She examines the development of the New Wave movement, its sociocultural and economic context, and the popular and critical reception of such well-known films as Jules et Jim and Hiroshima mon amour. In light of the filmmakers’ focus on gender relations, Sellier reflects on the careers of New Wave’s iconic female stars, including Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot. Sellier’s thorough exploration of early New Wave cinema culminates in her contention that its principal legacy—the triumph of a certain kind of cinephilic discourse and of an “auteur theory” recognizing the director as artist—came at a steep price: creativity was reduced to a formalist game, and affirmation of New Wave cinema’s modernity was accompanied by an association of creativity with masculinity.


Masculine Singular offers a rigorous and multi-faceted study of the New Wave, integrating an analysis of the socio-cultural and economic factors leading to the movement’s emergence, extensive reception analysis, and close readings organized around specific filmmakers, key films, and ‘star figures.’ . . . Within a French film scholarship that has been remarkably hostile to feminist interventions, Masculine Singular offers a strong, clear and nuanced analysis indispensable to feminist film scholarship.” — Julianne Pidduck, Canadian Journal of Film Studies

“[A] provocative, convincing book that puts the new wave in an altogether new light. It seems guaranteed to generate discussion for years to come. Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.” — N. A. Baker, Choice

“[Sellier’s] patiently researched and persuasively argued volume should immediately become a standard work on the reading list of anyone teaching New Wave cinema. . . . Sellier’s overall thesis is fresh, timely and hard to ignore.” — Douglas Morrey, Modern and Contemporary France

“By creating a feminist social history of the New Wave through a subtle weaving of sociology and film critical analysis, Sellier is truly a pioneer. Her historicizing of the movement that changed the course of film history has earned this powerful book a place on that pantheon bookshelf of indispensable feminist theoretical texts.” — Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, Cineaste

“Countless books and essays have ruminated on the cinephiles' fixation with this particular period in cinema's moody history, but Genevieve Sellier's remarkable work, Masculine Singular (translated by Kristin Ross), towers as one of the most accomplished. . . . Focused on an essential era, Sellier’s book is essential reading.” — Michael Dalton, M/C Reviews

“For students of film history, the book provides valuable critical perspectives on a brief, but revolutionary movement.” — Rick Taylor, Feminist Review Blog

“Francophone French cinema studies have been curiously blind to issues of gender over the years, in stark contrast to Anglophone work where gender studies is one of the more dominant paradigms. A notable exception to this is Geneviève Sellier. . . . The current volume therefore sits in a coherent and extraordinarily committed trajectory. . . . It is an important book as there has been. . . .” — Phil Powrie, Journal of Gender Studies

“Sellier writes engagingly and with a ferocious intellect. . . .” — Erich Kuersten, Bright Lights Film Journal

“Sellier’s fascinating new book is essential reading for students of French film history and specifically the New Wave. For those who regularly teach courses on the New Wave, Sellier’s book offers a way to help students deconstruct some of the aura surrounding the period and better appreciate the cultural and aesthetic contradictions of French society in the late 1950s and early 1960s.” — David Pettersen H-France, H-Net Reviews

“Sellier's Masculine Singular explores the implications of masculinity within national film culture, and shows how the French New Wave was formed as a political protest by men (in particular the Cahiers critics and young filmmakers) against the growing women's rights movement in France that blossomed in the 1950s. . . . [It] illustrate[s] the significance of re-thinking film through the lens of masculinity.” — Michael Brian Faucette, Scope

“This excellent study aims a well-targeted and sustained critique at the representation of gender in French New Wave film. . . . Sellier’s style is trenchant and clear and facilitates a lucid and powerful demoythologizing of the New Wave. Originally published in French, the monograph is ably translated by Kristin Ross, herself an expert on post-war French culture. . . . this book is an elegant and energetic reassessment of the sacred cows of French cinema, and a very necessary tonic to the accepted wisdom on this most ‘over-mediatized ’ period of French film history.” — Guy Austin, French History

“Thanks to this unwavering translation, Geneviève Sellier’s bracing exposé has stripped the New Wave of its stylish attire to reveal an unappealing male body. Vigilant and determined, she has trolled a sea of French criticism to net her evidence.” — Dudley Andrew, Yale University

“This remarkable book will change readers’ view of New Wave cinema. Geneviève Sellier approaches this key movement in French cinema from an original perspective, developing a nuanced yet incisive argument about the links between masculinity, auteurism, and filmic representations.” — Ginette Vincendeau, author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Geneviève Sellier is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Caen. Her books include Jean Grémillon: Le cinéma est à vous and La Drôle de guerre des sexes du cinéma français, 1930–1956 (with Noël Burch). Kristin Ross is Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University. She is the author, most recently, of May ’68 and Its Afterlives and Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: The Aesthetic Doxa on the New Wave 1

1. A New Generation Marked by the Emergence of Women 11

2. Cinephilia in the 1950s 22

3. Auteur Cinema: An Affair of State 34

4. Contrasting Receptions 41

5. The Precursors 70

6. Between Romanticism and Modernism 95

7. Nostalgia for a Heroic Masculinity 128

8. The Women of the New Wave: Between Modern and Archaic 145

9. Jeanne Moreau: Star of the New Wave and Icon of Modernity 184

10. Brigitte Bardot and the New Wave: An Ambivalent Relationship 199

11. The Independent Filmmakers of the Left Bank: A "Feminist" Alternative 210

Conclusion: The New Wave's Legacy: "Auteur Cinema" 221

Appendix One: Box Office Results 225

Appendix Two: The Press 227

Notes 231

Bibliography 245

Index 253
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4192-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4175-8