Reading Movies in Print

By Jan Baetens

On: Films à lire. Des scénarios et des livres, ed. by Mireille Brangé and Jean-Louis Jeannelle. Brussels : Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2019, 364 p., ISBN : 9782874496691

Movie scripts are weird. They are neither the works themselves (after all, movies are supposed to replace them), nor the simple blueprint of these works (for the production of the film does not necessarily program their obsolescence). Their status and nature become even weirder when one takes the decision to publish them and the studies collected in this fascinating volume, which complements another volume on scenario and adaptation by Alain Boillat and Gilles Philippe that I presented here a couple of months ago (see: These publications make very clear that this editorial practice is extremely widespread. Ever since the beginning of cinema as a cultural industry, scenarios have been issued in various forms and formats, ranging from movie magazines to specialized book series, and for widely varying reasons, hovering between art and commerce (published scenarios are a typical movie tie-in product, but they also cater to the needs of die-hard cinephiles).

Reading movies

In Films à lire (with a subtitle that nods to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men), Brangé and Jeannelle offer the first general overview of the emerging field of “scenarios in print studies”, which will set the standard for all research in the coming years. This book is ground-breaking for different reasons. First of all, it dramatically questions the very definition of the “scenario”, since a scenario in print, that is edited and made available to a non-professional audience, is very different from the technical meaning and practice of scenario, which still dominates most thinking in the field, be it theoretical (what is a scenario?) or practical (how to write a scenario?). A published scenario becomes a work on its own, exploring aspects of literary communication and artistic experiment that classic approaches of the scenario do not touch upon. In addition, the book also challenges all forms of homogeneity in its reading of the scenario. As clearly shown by the many examples of the collection, which contains almost twenty detailed case studies covering various periods and styles of film making in different countries, one should consider the scenario a network of many different types and genres that cannot be reduced to a single mold.

Yet this more open and context sensitive approach of the scenario, as made possible by the shift from the scenario to the scenario in print, is not restricted to the published texts. The most fascinating aspect of Films à lire is the invitation to simultaneously question the twin notions of scenario and movie themselves. In light of what happens when scripts make it into print –and this move is never an automatic or mechanical one–, all contributions help us rethink not only the work of the script writer, but also that of the film maker –both of them being a collective agent rather than an individual and moreover an agent working in conditions that cannot be separated from a large site of technological, legal, aesthetic, financial and highly subjective constraints.

The Screenwriter’s Bible

By Jan Baetens

Yves Lavandier, La Dramaturgie. L’Art du récit

Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2019


There are countless books on “how to write”, and the number of topics they cover, the types of audiences they cater to, the dreams and ambitions they may help or fail to realize, the styles they use, the tricks of the trade they offer (for free or for sale), the profiles of authors that take the risk of giving advice to future competitors, is even bigger. It should therefore not come as a surprise that many colleagues in cultural studies have taken the literary advice business–hovering between vocational training and personal development and many other things in-between or beyond these two extremes–as one of their favorite study topics.


Their job will become easier and I guess also more exciting thanks to the new edition of what is considered the screenwriter’s bible, the one and only that actually deserves this title: Yves Lavandier’s Dramaturgy, a seven hundred (large) page book that revisits the fundamentals of storytelling as defined by Aristotle in his Poetics, and that rethinks, enlarges, deepens, and illustrates them with examples of contemporary narrative from different media (theater, cinema, comics, television, fantasy, etc.).

Trained at Columbia University by František Daniel, Stefan Sharff and Milos Forman, Yves Lavandier is both author and script doctor, and his book is a brilliant synthesis of this twofold life-long experience. Of all the (yes, countless) books on scriptwriting and storytelling and how to do it, this is by far the best one I know of, and frankly the only one I have on my desk when asking questions about the relative qualities and problems of specific plot structures. Lavandier does not pretend to reinvent narrative theory; his major aim is to help writers, professional as well as non-professional ones, to solve the many questions that emerge when one tries to tell a good story. He does so by emphasizing the fundamental role of general, classic laws, often forgotten or discarded, and by illustrating them in an extremely original way.

Rather than exclusively focusing on positive examples, such as the inevitable: this is how Hitchcock shows the superiority of suspense on surprise, he also gives negative examples, highlighting what can go wrong when one forgets the basic rules of the game. These examples all are extremely convincing for three reasons: 1) they are all motivated by a larger theoretical framework (Aristotle’s poetics), 2) their number is close to infinite: almost every page of the book discusses various examples, 3) they also concern masterpieces and great authors: Lavandier is not afraid of drawing our attention to what goes wrong in this or that scene of, for instance, Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be (which is also praised as an example of nearly perfect dramaturgy), what could have been improved in this or that sequence by Hitchcock or Spielberg, or which detail or plot element should have been removed, modified, or simply used differently by Truffaut, Brecht or Chaplin.

Lavandier’s Dramaturgy is not a must-read: it is a must-use, for starting as well as for experienced writers. One of the many lessons one can learn from it, is that storytelling remains both very simple and highly mysterious. Anybody can do it, at any time, and anybody can always enjoy improving, provided one accepts to critically judge one’s own achievements.

Much More than a Franchise

By Jan Baetens

Laurent de Sutterjack sparrow

Jack Sparrow. Manifeste pour une linguistique pirate

Bruxelles, Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2018, 1128 p., 12 euros

ISBN : 9782874496479


If popular culture is culture for the millions, entertaining and easy to understand, many great readers and critics are well aware of the fact that this fundamental openness is not to be confused with shallowness or lack of sophistication. Popular culture has a lot to tell –not always of course, but this also applies to high culture, many forms of which are equally dead matter. The truth of drawing is told by Hergé as well as Rembrandt. If you want to understand the unconscious, a Hitchcock movie proves no less useful than Un chien andalou. And for the mysteries of the heart, it is not forbidden to prefer a romance comic to Jane Austen.

The Pirates of the Caribbean may not be compulsory viewing in serious film classes (and to make things even worse: this is a Disney franchise, based on a Disney theme park attraction, catering to Disney fans, etc.) but this brilliant and crispy essay by Laurent de Sutter shows that it is time to put all prejudices aside.

A specialist of law theory and prolific author and lecturer (will he be called one day the Belgian Zizek?), Laurent de Sutter explores in Jack Sparrow the theme of piracy from a linguistic point of view. For to be a pirate is not only to make the choice of a way of life that rejects the ruling order, based on fixed rules imposed by a ruling class. Such a pirate choice is only possible thanks to a special use of language, which de Sutter calls the pirate use, based on the radical combination of the fireworks of verbal performance and the denial of language’s referential function. In Jack Sparrow, de Sutter analyzes this piracy in a permanent braiding of the Johnny Depp character and a wide range of cultural theories on the role and nature of language in society.

It should not come as a surprise that Baudrillard’s ideas on seduction and Lacan’s rethinking of the relationship between truth and desire occupy a key place in his argumentation. These high-cultural references, however, do not hinder the joyful anarchy Laurent de Sutter is defending. His book is a roller-coaster of intellectual provocations and exhilarating formulas, of language transformed into a sound and image spectacle as well as high philosophy mixed with fun and laughter. Serious readers will not be changed into pirates after having read this book, but Jack Sparrow is definitely a work they are in need of.

Writing the Revolution

 By Jan Baetens

Écrire la révolution: De Jack London au Comité invisible

La Licorne, N° 131, 2018 (Rennes : Presses Universitaire de Rennes)

ISBN: 978-2753574960

Journal website:



History did not end after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and since 9/11 many new forms of historical consciousness as well as experiencing time and history have emerged, sometimes rather slowly, in the wake of theoretical efforts to restore the focus on our ever changing world, but occasionally also very abruptly and unexpectedly. In this new historical paradigm, the notion of “revolution”, that is the radical event, often unplanned or unforeseen, that suddenly breaks the continuous chain of moments, situations, contexts and frameworks, has achieved once again a central position –next to, for instance, the apocalyptic stance of much ecocriticism or the ongoing nihilism of no future movements.

Well-known and much appreciated for its thematic issues on all aspects of literary studies, the French journal La Licorne presents an excellent overview of the ongoing debates. It takes as its starting points the two perspectives on revolution that have been defended by respectively Jacques Rancière (“how to prepare as well as produce a revolution?”) and Slavoj Žižek (“what to do once the revolution is there?”). However, this double question is not addressed in abstract or general terms. The 246 pages volume edited by Émilie Goin and Julien Jeusette opens with an excellent discussion of what is at stake in the recent return of the revolutionary sensibility and its interactions with a wide range of social transformations and dismays and ends with three interviews of key agents in the field (Nathalie Quintane, Ana Bertina, and Leslie Kaplan –a selection that crosses media as well as generations). Yet the central part of the book is made of excellent close readings of works and authors that illustrate the various and more than once contradictory meanings of revolution as a concept but in the very first place as a practice, be it a real one or an imaginary or utopian one.

Although the French Revolution and its afterlife continues of course to remain at the very heart of any reflection on the idea of revolution, and not only in France, and although the interpretation of this Revolution is currently once again more leaning toward the extreme left version of it, this collection of essays has the great merit of including a certain number of themes and topics that provide us with a much wider angle. Next to excellent readings of, for instance, the revolutionary rhetoric of “Le Comité invisible”, the collective pseudonym of a group of authors calling for an actual revolution, and inspiring interpretations of texts on May 68, the issue contains meticulous interpretations of works that are less easy to pigeonhole on the ideological spectrum, such as for instance Döblin’s unsentimental novelistic report on the failure of the German revolution in 1918 or Antoine Volodine’s postapocalyptic prose. In addition, it also tackles works and authors that are clearly anti-revolutionary, such as for instance the French writers who travelled to Germany in the Nazi period, before and during the war, in order to study and praise what they considered a necessary counter-revolution, or the nowadays forgotten novel by Paul Nothomb, Un délire logique (“A Logical Madness”), in which the author tries to justify the betrayal of his World War Two resistant friends.

In conclusion: an important collection, not only for its intrinsic scholarly qualities and the great diversity of themes and angles, but also for its courage to foreground the importance of writing and literature. Revolution may be made by ideas, but to perform it, one still needs words, and those made by writers are vital in this regard.

This Is Not A Translation

By Jan Baetens

Paul Nougé & Paul Colinet & Louis Scutenaire

Ideas Have No Smell: Three Belgian Surrealist Booklets

Edited, translated and facsimilized by Michael Kasper; introduced by Mary Ann Caws

Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Press

Box set of three booklets and fold-out poster
ISBN 978-1-946433-13-8

This Is Not A Translation

My apologies for the silly title of this review, which is the umpteenth variation on a worn-out cliché, but this time it perfectly does the job since the new book by Michael Kasper, a fascinating American book artist and essential middleman in the literary dialogue between Belgium and the US, is precisely anything but a translation. Like all great Renaissance artists, Kasper approaches translation as a comprehensive process, which entails careful editing, editorial comments, creative rethinking and rephrasing of well-crafted translations, and an exceptional commitment to typography, page layout, and book design.

Content-wise Kasper’s work offers the first English translation of three short essential Belgian Surrealist works: Transfigured Publicity, by Paul Nougé; Abstractive Treatise on Obeuse by Paul Colinet; and For Balthazar, by Louis Scutenaire, which gives an excellent overview of both the diversity and the unison of Belgian Surrealism, as committed and transgressive as its better-known French counterpart, but much less concerned by questions of the occult and the unconscious.

The combination of the words “short” and “essential” is no oxymoron: Modernity has a preference for short forms, and Surrealism, certainly in the case of Belgian Surrealism, tends to favor the (shock) effect of the text, which does not leave room for lengthy and distracting developments. The aphorism, the short poem and the appropriated publicity slogan but also the estranging title of an apparently academic painting are thus among the preferred formats of the Surrealists, helping them to turn their texts into real arms.

As a printed object, Ideas Have No Smell adopts a form that perfectly fits this strategy. The facsimile version of the original publications (some of them handwritten) gives a good idea of the DIY philosophy of most Surrealist publications (an author like Nougé tended to reject publication at all) and highlights the identity of nonmainstream writing formats and radical messages. Moreover, the small size of the booklets and the folded poster with a reproduction 1926 handwritten sign of Nougé’s visual poems and the introduction by Mary Ann Caws offers a playful and clever example of the interaction between the part and the whole, that is between the whole that refuses to be a closed unity (the box is “open” and contains various heterogeneous items, exactly as in the Duchamp boxes) and a series of parts that each try to become a world in themselves.

Surrealism has suffered a lot from its recuperation by the cultural establishment. In many cases, it appears as silly and stereotyped as the Impressionist paintings that used to appear on the annual calendar of the postal services. Ideas Have No Smell: Three Belgian Surrealist Booklets is the perfect opportunity to question the limits of this recuperation and to (re)discover a literary and political movement that is far from having lost its relevance.

Relaunching the European Avant-Gardes

By Jan Baetens


The publisher calls it an “introduction” to the works, the authors, the currents, and the contexts of the European avant-gardes in the period 1905-1935 (three decades that in Anglo-Saxon criticism are often called “High Modernism”, a powerful streamlining of the exceptional dynamism and diversity of these years). But this is really not the best word to qualify the “portable guide” proposed by one of the leading voices in the field. Granted, the book offers more than everything one would like to know about both the so-called historical avant-garde and the many –isms that have come to illustrate it. But reducing the book to its encyclopedic or toolkit function would definitely neglect the real stakes of an intellectual that goes beyond the careful and lavishly illustrated presentation of its material.

First of all, one should welcome the refreshing and innovative way of organizing the currently available knowledge of the European avant-gardes. The book finds the perfect balance between familiar and new ways of structuring the information: on the one hand, it does not reject the classification in –isms (it is important however to mention that each of them is systematically described in the plural: not “expressionism” but “expressionisms”, etc.); on the other hand, it succeeds in building a new architecture or intellectual design, easy to unpack as well as stimulating surprising montage effects, which foregrounds three major perspectives: first that of the concept (the relationship or tension between art and avant-garde), second that of the places where avant-gardes appeared or that were created or reinvented by them (this section makes us travel from the café to globalized cultures), third that of time, for past, present and future do no longer mean the same after the avant-gardes have revisited these traditional frameworks.

Second, the book does not only showcase the ambitions and failures as well as the meaning and importance of the European avant-gardes. It also reshapes our idea of the avant-garde. Key in this regard is the systematic use of the plural, which also makes room for the “non-avant garde” aspects of the avant-gardes, often much closer to the core of European culture than we generally assume. But also the properly European dimension is rightly underlined as a factor of diversity: linguistic plurality, context-sensitivity, unequal development in time and place appear to be at the heart of the various avant-gardes, which cannot be understood in homogeneous or teleological perspectives.

Third (but of course not finally), this book is not just a suitcase that one opens to find answers to specific queries (the very detailed index will prove dramatically useful in this regard), it is also a door that one can open to discover new or never thought-of questions, less known or never disclosed examples (and here the exceptional iconography is vital), and simply enjoy the writing, a perfect mix of intellectual sympathy and critical distance.

Homepage of the book:

Homepage of the European network for Avant-Garde and Modernism studies:

A Reprint as well as a Novelty: The Castle 2.0

By Jan Baetens


Cover of the first edition

Le Château (“The Castle”) is a two hundred pages mute graphic novel by the Belgian artist Olivier Deprez. First published in 2002, this reinterpretation in expressionist black and white woodcuts of Kafka’s famous novel was immediately recognized as a masterpiece of modern graphic storytelling and had rapidly become a cult album. The longtime out of print status of the book dramatically increased its almost mythical standing, while slowly moving the work from the field of literature to that of visual arts (actually, the only way to access the material was to visit the regular exhibits of Deprez’s work, in Belgium as well as abroad).


The new edition of the book, superbly printed and including some minor edits and a strongly revised cover and flyleaf design, will finally enable a larger audience to discover and appreciate this milestone of the modern graphic novel, radically different from the prototypical features of this kind of narrative.


Cover of the new edition

At first sight, one may even have the impression that The Castle rejects most of the elements that distinguish the graphic novel from mainstream comics: no autobiographical voice or plot, no blurring of boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, no attempt to present a narrative that ties in with the daily life and the ordinary concerns of today’s reader. Instead, the book appropriates a very old technique (woodcuts, here directly inspired by the pioneering early 20th Century work by Frans Masereel, the founding father of the wordless graphic novel), and is not afraid of proposing a personal yet faithful adaptation of a literary classic (Kafka’s unfinished novel was only published in 1926, two years after the death of the author).

Yet form and content of Deprez’s work are stunning. The novel’s plot, an endless and open series of waiting and missed encounters, is both cleverly respected and completely reinterpreted in a new way of visual telling. Key in this regard are two elements: first the tension between figuration and abstraction, which appear as two sides of the same coin; second the multiple plays with rhythm, as determined by the fundamental “beat” of the page layout, which generally offers a combination of two large horizontal panels (the notion of “gutter”, the worn-out stereotype of comics analysis which always repeats the importance of the “gap” between panels, is reworked according to the more fundamental logic of montage, the basic unit being the page and the double spread, not the sequentially arranged individual units).

The reading of Deprez’s Kafka book can now finally take a new start. In combination with a series of upcoming exhibits (among them a retrospective at the Wittockiana in Brussels), this new edition will represent a major and lasting contribution to the field of graphic storytelling in print.

Oliver Deprez, Le Château. D’après F. Kafka. Brussels : FRMK

ISBN : 9782390220138

French Cartoon Art in the 1960s and 1970s

By Jan Baetens


Wendy Michallat

French Cartoon Art in the 1960s and 1970s

Pilote hebdomadaire and the Teenager Bande Dessinée



Launched in 1959 by René Goscinny and Jean-Michel Charlier, partially in reaction to the unfair labor conditions offered by the then leading comics magazines, Pilote is considered today the publication that made the bridge between traditional children and adolescent comics magazines such as Tintin or Spirou and adult comic journals such as Fluide Glacial and Métal Hurlant (which will even develop a US sister publication[1]). As the publication that translated and creatively appropriated some material of Kurtzman’s MAD magazine, Pilote also played a vital role in the transatlantic dialogue between US nonmainstream, if not underground production, and the new European comic artists.

Michallat2Although there exist quite some studies on the journal, the study by Wendy Michallat is the very first one to rethink its history in a broader perspective, not just that of comics culture, but that of culture at large. And the result is absolutely breath-taking. First of all because Michallat gives a very detailed yet nuanced and well written overview of the various periods of the magazine, whose history is one of nearly permanent crisis and eternal attempts to relaunch new formats and formulas in a publication niche that was much less profitable than it was often thought. Second, and most importantly, because the author succeeds in doing what other studies fail to do, namely explaining the systematic changes in the magazine’s policy.Michallat3

This explanation is not an a posteriori enumeration of hits and misses, but a scrupulous examination of the various contextual aspects that influence the zigzag transformations of the journal. As such, Michallat’s study is a model for all those who would like to write the history of a mass media form. More particularly, it takes into account issues such as:

  • The need to come up with a concept that is ‘in sync’ with social and political expectations (in this case the obsession with “education” in postwar France, which helped turn away from the pure entertainment of comics and introduce a more text-oriented magazine).
  • The competition with similar titles, which cannot be reduced to a matter of style and content, but has a lot to do with distribution networks and good or bad relationships with backing groups in society.
  • The legal constraints that burden the necessity to always change even a winning formula, in this case, the (in-)famous law of 16 July 1949 on Publications for Youth, censoring all publications depicting crime, violence and moral debauchery (initially a measure of protectionism, for the law helped ban all American import, it rapidly became a dangerous arm in the hands of all those eager to police this type of publications).
  • The necessity to find a place in the existing mediascape, for instance via new forms of collaborations with newspapers and radio stations (at that moment, just after the invention of the transistor, the dominating medium in youth culture).
  • The obligation to adapt to a rapidly changing cultural environment, for instance by taking into account that the comics medium during the sixties gradually became an important vector of the counterculture.
  • The challenges raised by the internal changes of the magazine format itself, torn between different and always unstable logics, as revealed for instance by the emergence of the comics album as the new hegemonic format.[2]
  • The labor conditions within a collective enterprise such as a comics magazine, which has to find a balance between the creative freedom offered to its collaborators and the basic obligation to make money (we shouldn’t forget that May 68 did not start in May 68, but had been prepared by a decade of growing unease with a mainstream culture that was no longer capable of keeping its great promises of the postwar period).

The great achievement of Michallat is that she shows the complex interaction between these (and many other) dimensions, which prove often mutually incompatible. She does so in a way that retells the whole story as if we were in the driver’s seat, facing problems as well as opportunities and having to take decisions whose consequences remain unsure. This approach gives the reader the impression that she is making history herself, including when it comes down to find an answer to failures and dead ends (even if the magazine will last till 1989, its life as a weekly ends in the early seventies, which is also the moment in which its influence in the field is reduced to almost nothing).

[1] Nicolas Labarre, Heavy Metal, l’autre Métal Hurlant. Bordeaux: Bordeaux UP, 2017, see :

[2] On this dramatic change, see the exhibition curated by the GREBD research group of the University of Lausanne:

Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing

A reading suggestion for the summer: Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing by Stuart Moulthrop and Dene Grigar and with foreword by Joseph Tabbi, described as “An exercise in reclaiming electronic literary works on inaccessible platforms, examining four works as both artifacts and operations.”

Many pioneering works of electronic literature are now largely inaccessible because of changes in hardware, software, and platforms. The virtual disappearance of these works—created on floppy disks, in Apple’s defunct HyperCard, and on other early systems and platforms—not only puts important electronic literary work out of reach but also signals the fragility of most works of culture in the digital age. In response, Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop have been working to document and preserve electronic literature, work that has culminated in the Pathfinders project and its series of “Traversals”—video and audio recordings of demonstrations performed on historically appropriate platforms, with participation and commentary by the authors of the works.

If you are still unconvinced, you should first read Jan Baetens’ review of the book. Quoting directly from the review:

The very classical, perhaps eternal, topic of the author speculating on, day-dreaming or boasting of the afterlife of her or his works, is something that the successive new media revolutions of the last decades are forcing us, as readers as well as writers, to reconsider in radical ways […] True, the loss of literary and other works is far from a new phenomenon (most works are almost immediately forgotten; many works are destroyed, by accident or on purpose; still others get simply lost), but the issue of their technical accessibility is becoming one of the major problems of our contemporary, electronic culture. […] If one decides that just moving ahead in order not to miss the next new thing and that just forgetting about the past is what matters, then technical obsolescence is not a problem. But if one believes instead that “we must struggle never to forget” (p. 237, last words of the text), then the situation becomes quite different (it should be reminded here that in cultural semiotics, as illustrated by the School of Tartu of Yuri Lotman, culture is defined as “non-hereditary memory”). The keyword of this book’s subtitle is therefore twofold: it is about preservation, but even more about the use of preservation, a way of saying that it should be read as a double warning: first, against the illusion of the very possibility of such an enterprise (nothing can be “really” preserved –– what is being preserved is always only a certain form or version of it); second, against the confusion between material conservation (which is a necessary step in the larger process but nothing more) and preservation in the broader sense of the word (which refers to the need of making meaning of the object of preservation, here and now but also in the future).

You can access the full review here.



Traversals: The Use of Preservation for Early Electronic Writing

by Stuart Moulthrop and Dene Grigar; foreword by Joseph Tabbi

The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2017
296 pp., illus 30 b/w. $45.00
ISBN: 9780262035972

Adaptation studies after the fidelity issue

By Jan Baetens

For many decades, scholars of adaptation studies have been quarreling on the flaws and merits of the so-called fidelity issue, that is the (biased) idea that the novel is always better than the film and that the value of a movie thus depends on its more or less faithful recreation of the original, whatever all these terms (recreation, faithful, original) may mean.

Current research has a more relaxed take on these problems, what does not mean of course that fidelity is no longer an interesting field of research. Simone Murray has done excellent work in the economic reframing of fidelity: the decision to select a work for adaptation and to rework it in a way that acknowledges the form and content of the adapted work is less determined by aesthetic than by financial issues (cf. The Adaptation Industry, 2012). Jean-Louis Jeannelle has foregrounded the necessity of making a genetic analysis of the adaptation process, making room for trial and error, if not for failures, censorship, and other types of obstacles (cf. Cinémalraux, 2014). Jean Cléder and Laurent Jullier, whose book Analyser une adaptation (2017) was reviewed here a couple of weeks ago, strongly advocate for the creative practice of adaptation as interpretation.


In this broader context, L’Adaptation. Des films aux scenarios (Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2018), a collection of essays edited by Alain Boillat and Gilles Philippe, respectively professor of cinema studies and linguistics at the University of Lausanne, can be seen as both an admirable synthesis of the abovementioned tendencies and a groundbreaking study that helps rethink the very process of adaptation.

On the one hand, one finds here many elements that were highlighted by Murray, Jeannelle, and Cléder and Jullier: a strong focus on the industrial aspects of cinema, a sharp awareness of the inevitable difficulties and dead ends of the adaptive process, and the healthy reminder that adaptations do not have to save the original but give it a new life –on screen and elsewhere. On the other hand, their work on the archive of a famous, although today not always much appreciated director, Claude Autant-Lara, a typical representative of the “French Quality” school of the 1940s and 50s, allows them to correct a certain number of historical errors and misunderstandings as well as to propose a different methodological and theoretical framework for the study of filmic adaptations. As an example of the former, I am thinking of their new reading of François Truffaut’s debunking of Autant-Lara and “French Quality” in his 1954 article “A Certain Tendency of French Cinema”. Their historical reconstruction clearly demonstrates how critically and ethically unfair Truffaut’s attack actually was, and how urgent it is to abandon the caricature of “French Quality” that the young Turks of the New Wave have managed to establish as an eternal truth. As an example of the latter, it is key to emphasize the work that this book is doing on the redefinition of the very process of adaptation. Instead of being a single process of changing words into images, adaptation is a multilayered and temporally very complex procedure that involves a great number of intermediary agents such as, for instance, the person that transforms the book into a filmable idea, the person that further transforms this idea into a shooting script, the person that writes and edits the dialogues –not to mention the many feedback and interaction processes between them that determine the making of a movie.

All the essays in this book, written by some of the best film scholars in French today, share these same convictions. Hence the exemplary cohesion of the book, whose use-value is increased by the exceptional stylistic and conceptual fluency of all the articles and the elegant layout. Currently the best that is being said and written on cinema in French, this book should be translated in English with no further delay.