By Jan Baetens
Jean Cléder & Laurent Jullier
Analyser une adaptation. Du texte à l’écran
Paris : Flammarion, 2017 (« Champs Arts »), 410 p.
ISBN : 9782081395954 (15 euros)
For many years, adaptation studies have been the core business of film and literature studies. The often sterile debates address issues of fidelity as well as the progressive opening of adaptation studies to other media than just film and literature. Co-authored by two leading French film scholars with an impressive pedigree, Jean Cléder and Laurent Jullier, this important book helps reframe both issues, while breaking new ground in this vital field of research.
On the one hand, Cléder and Jullier propose to study adaptations as interpretations, that is, as new works that offer a certain point of view and a new perspective on the adapted work. A clever and nuanced answer to the many problems raised by fidelity discussions, since it avoids direct comparison of source and target, while at the same time keeping a creative relationship between both. On the other hand, Analyser une adaptation demonstrates the usefulness of sticking to close-reading and meticulous exploration of the verbal and the audiovisual, whose medium-specific features should not be discarded in favor of a more generalizing, for instance historical or cultural examination (which does not mean that the historical and cultural context of the analysis is neglected in this book).
The importance of this publication exceeds, however, these global and more institutional considerations, for Analyser une adaptation, which I hope will soon be translated in English, is really the book for which all film scholars, theoreticians as well as teachers, have been anxiously waiting (in that regard, I would like to compare the possible impact of this book to that of Jacques Aumont’s 1990 The Image, a game-changer in the field of visual studies). I would like to foreground here four qualities, each of them already remarkable in itself. First of all, this book demonstrates the possibility of making a technical, even microscopic analysis of adaptation, and it does so with the help of many, excellently chosen examples. The analysis of the “distance” between character and camera, an often -overlooked feature, is a significant renewal of the well-known but not always correctly understood close-up/medium shot/long shot approach. Second, the book succeeds in encouraging its readers to start loving this kind of technical analysis, sometimes considered boring or shallowly mechanic. Cléder and Jullier show very convincingly that extreme close-reading matters and that it discloses key aspects of film adaptations. Third, this book also offers a two-way approach of film and literature, paying as much attention to the verbal adaption of images as to the audiovisual adaptation of texts, thus creating (finally!) a more encompassing reading of word and image in the field of film studies. Fourth (but certainly not last), Analyser une adaptation is a work that proves helpful to both scholars and students. The former will find in it an invitation to rethink many of their concepts and perhaps attitudes. The latter are offered a hands-on approach of adaptation that will prove supportive in more than just the classes on cinema.