Student Profile

Annabelle Doherty


Doctor of Philosophy

Thesis Title

Living the Past through French Heritage Film: Historical Thinking and Cinematic Cultural Memory


Dr Michelle Royer

Thesis Abstract

This thesis examines the French heritage film, a contemporary genre of historical film, which like other nations’ heritage cinema is often neglected or dismissed as providing “historical thinking” or encouraging a deep understanding of the past or “critical gaze” upon history. In comparison to precursor or parallel genres designated as “serious historical film”, the genre is traditionally regarded as a mere costume drama of fantasy, “romance and adventure”, presenting “history as spectacle” for audiences’ entertainment and “visual pleasure” in a surface and trivial reconstitution of the past. In terms of cultural memory, French heritage cinema is typically confined to being either a reflection of present socio-political and economic contexts or a celebratory cinematic vehicle of nostalgia. My study sets up however the hypothesis that French heritage cinema encourages historical thinking. I propose that the “corporeal effect” of heritage cinema’s cinematographic language through its “visual and aural sensuality” stimulates spectators to acquire a complex, multi-layered, multi-faceted “cinematic cultural memory” of historical events, figures and landscapes. I argue that the enhanced embodiment effect of recent filmic technologies immerse audiences into a vividly real, high-definition, stereo surround sound, virtual world, giving spectators the sensation of a past not directly lived. Addressing the dilemma of French heritage film incarnating simultaneously auteur/art-house and popular cinema, I consider the role of auteurism and stardom in the formation of cultural memory. My corpus includes: Life and Nothing But (Tavernier: 1989), A Very Long Engagement (Jeunet: 2004), Madame Bovary (Chabrol: 1991), Camille Claudel (Nuytten: 1988) and La Reine Margot (Chéreau: 1994). The films’ reconstitutions are considered against scholarly historical texts, autobiographical novels and memoirs, archival films, photos and period objects, in order to determine how the authenticity, historical realism and fidelity to the past are impacted by filmic technologies, auteurism and stardom.

Professional and/or Community Engagement

Co-ordinated Birkbeck French Cinema Club during undergraduate BA French degree at the University of London
Alliance Française French Film Festival Regular Attendee

Conference Presentations

Annabelle Doherty, “Digital Tableaux of Cinematic Cultural Memory in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement” (paper presented at Australian Society of French Studies, University of Sydney, September 2010)

Annabelle Doherty, “Superimposition and Cultural Memory in Claude Chabrol’s and Jean Renoir’s Adaptations of Madame Bovary” (paper presented at Studies in French Cinema, Kings College, London, April 2011)

Annabelle Doherty, “Cinematic Cultural Memory and Auteurism in Claude Chabrol's Madame Bovary” (paper presented at Australian Society of French Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, December 2013)

Annabelle Doherty, “The Cinematic Cultural Memory of World War One through Filmic Technologies of French Cinema” (paper presented at UK Society of French Studies, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, June-July 2014)

Journal Article

Annabelle Doherty, “Digital Tableaux of Cinematic Cultural Memory in the French Heritage Film: Un long dimanche de fiançailles”, Australian Journal of French Studies 49.2 (2012): 196-207.