Assessment 3: Critical analysis of Léon for Auteurism and genre

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Assessment 3: Critical analysis of Léon for Auteurism and genre theory During this essay I plan to analyse the film Léon, by using the concepts of auteurism and genre, I also plan to show how due to auteurism they tie together and it is difficult to explore on concept without the other, within Léon.

When analysing Léon it is important to understand and be sure of what is meant by the term auteurism.

Auterism is when a film is more likely to be made meaningful when it is the product of its director. The film is likely to be an expression of the director?s personality; this personality consistently showing itself in a thematic and/or stylistic design through all/most of that director?s films.

Auteurism was never intended to be a theory and it is a frequent misunderstanding to refer to it as auteur theory. The term auteurism originated from France; originally Cahiers du cinema in the 1950?s proposed it as a policy not a theory.

In French film criticism before the 1950?s auteur referred to the author who wrote the script or the artist that created the film. By the work of Cahiers the latter sense replaced the former and the term auteur changed to embody an artist whose personality was woven into the film.

The director of Léon is French film director Luc Besson. Besson?s film directorial debut came in 1983 with Le Dernier Combat, since then Besson has only released seven other films.

Although Besson owns a production company, scripts, produces and directs his films (All of which consistently share themes), he prefers to think of himself not as an auteur but a ?metteur-en-scene? this means a part of the production team. Despite this modest statement I would argue that Luc Besson IS an auteur, although he works with a fairly consistent crew, he is a constant source within these crews (Which are prone to change) and he is the main source of the styles of films.

Proof of this auteurship is in the way that his films, according to S. Hayward, share a continual theme: ?? All of Besson?s films have as a central theme escape from the constraints of the social world?? Within Léon the use of sets and décor reduce the city to the level of an ugly, violent and hostile city. Nobody fits into this décor, which brings about the repeated theme of escape that Besson uses throughout his films.

Léon holds many of the themes that reoccur in Besson?s films, this makes it one of the best examples of auteurism applied to Besson, as S. Hayward states: ??In Besson?s film-world we are presented with the death of Utopia ? in effect, the death of the free spirit and free love of the 1970?s; society is represented as a force that kills love but sells sex. Sex is everywhere, gone is the concept of pure love which, Besson claims, is the message of Léon?? Almost all of Besson?s films seem to be a comment on society, the protagonists of his films are either unable or are unwilling to join society. This is often shown through the mediums of violence and technology (The two being strongly linked). Violence is embodied rather than verbalised, it is embodied not just by anyone, but by the main protagonist. Léon for example, shrouds himself in weapons and eventually explodes. Violence is not restricted to either gender; this is shown in the film Nikita, where the main protagonist is female, yet actively violent through her mentality and ?career?, Mathilda herself has no qualms about killing and is eager to learn Léon?s trade. Within Besson?s films, technology is treated as an extension of violence: high-powered automatic weapons, telescopic lenses and cameras are all examples of the technology present and utilised by characters in various Besson films. S. Hayward reinforces this concept by saying: ??Technology stands as a metaphor for the conformity and control and the policing of social norms, all of which are institutionally sanctioned. It is against this that Besson?s heroes and heroines revolt?? Besson?s characters never succeed in adapting to society. Their revolution against society takes firstly the form of aggression against norms (e.g. Léon is a hitman, through this occupation he revolts against society) and secondly by violence against the self (Léon inevitably kills himself). Léon is not alone in his self-harm; Nikita (of Nikita) disappears, Jacques Mayol (of Le Grand Bleu) dies rather than resume a ?normal? life.

Critics often describe Besson?s filmic style as neo-baroque. Besson?s work is indeed neo-baroque, excess, stylisation and violence are all hallmarks of Besson?s work.

The baroque originated as a 16th century Italian architectural style, the term ?baroque? has now developed to include any similar art form and especially any art form characterised by vigorous, restless or violent movement. The baroque is also about excess.

By applying the filmic style of neo-baroque to Léon, it becomes easier to genre identify it.

Besson is well known for blending genres together to make films that are hybrid-genres, an example of this is Subway, which is a melodrama, a musical and a thriller.

Léon is a melodrama, thriller hybrid. In terms of neo-baroque, it combines excessive drama in the form of melodrama and excessive violence in the form of its central theme and characters embodiment of violence. Its reasons for being a melodrama, thriller hybrid are slightly more complex. T. Sobchack defines genre films as thus: ??The genre film is a structure that embodies the idea of form and the strict adherence to form that is opposed to experimentation, novelty, or tampering with the given order of things. The genre film, like all classical art, is basically conservative, both aesthetically and politically?? By applying Sobchack?s definition of genre to Léon it is clear that Léon is not a specific genre film and thus not any specific genre; it is like all Besson films, a mixture of genres, because Besson?s films are notoriously stylised, which prevents them from being conservative.

Léon is a melodrama / thriller hybrid. It can be identified as this through analysis of plot and iconography.

If we attempt to define genre in Léon by means of iconography it is made difficult, because of the way in which there is so little. A part of the iconography that is significant is the use of dialogue. There is very little dialogue; according to T. Grodal, shortness of dialogue is a common feature in Melodrama?s: ??Peter Brooks (1985) has characterised melodrama by the term ?muteness?, which indicates that an interior life which cannot be fully verbalised is expressed through excess, stylisation, and gesture?? Melodrama show excess through emotion, (as mentioned earlier Besson specialises in the use of excess) bodily excess is shown through woe (Sobs, tears). The audience is presumed to be passive women. Melodramas are frequently associated with women because of their gender and sex-linked pathos, and their naked displays of emotion.

Susan Hayward refers to melodrama as being: ??About generational and gender conflict and repressed desire, all of which get played out in the claustrophobic environs of the domestic sphere?? Family melodramas show the potential conflict within the family environment of the male (embodying capital production) and the female (embodying reproduction). The genre attempts to gain understanding of the family and the subordination of women and the suppression of her desire. However, because the male no longer finds himself in the environment of production, but in the home, which is the females site of suppressed desire and reproduction, he feels threatened and this presents the potential for conflict. A compromise is needed or conflict and violence will reign, the male has to feminise and function on terms that are appropriate within the home, while the female must repress sexual desire. As a result, in order to protect ?the family? desire is repressed: sexual desire for the female, while the male fears castration through his submission to feminisation.

Thrillers however, are a masculine dominated genre that play with the concepts of paranoia and unlike melodrama?s they aren?t based so much in the domestic sphere, but in the city streets.

Léon however has a strong absence of family within it (Mathilda?s family is removed at the beginning of the film). There is no continuum of a domestic environment; much of the mise en scene of the film takes place on the streets of New York and in various apartments, except at the beginning of the film, in the scenes with Mathilda?s family.

In the scenes we are shown of Mathilda?s family, we see that they are a dysfunctional family and that conflicts and clashes are a constant. This is because no compromise has been made between the male and female, thus repressed violence and desire are unleashed. The repressed violence and desire takes the shape of Mathilda witnessing her parents having sex. The witnessing of sex between parents by a child is to witness sex as a form of violence used by the father upon the mother. The display of sex is a metaphor for the father worsening conflicts through violence. Mathilda feels alienated from her family and displaces her feelings of alienation in two main ways. The first is by turning her alienation in on herself and causing self-harm, she smokes (physically hurting herself) and truants from school, which inevitably results in the head mistress phoning the home to find out why she has absconded from school. Mathilda then announces her death over the phone, which is a verbalisation of a wish fulfilment. The second displacement of her alienation is through substitution, she becomes the surrogate mother to her brother, this is her way of attempting to cover gaps in the dysfunction around her. Mathilda can never be her brothers? mother and is doomed to fail, this is because the position of mother is not rightfully hers (and she does fail her brother dies). As I mentioned earlier, the family needs to repress desire and violence in order to survive, and because Mathilda?s family has not reached a compromise, the family is destroyed in an explosion of violence provoked by Mathilda?s father. The brutal death of Mathilda?s ?son? results in her claim to family being removed, because her role as mother has been taken away, Mathilda reacts in two ways. Firstly she seeks revenge for her loss, and secondly she suffers a confusion of her ideologies and her gender role. Signs of her confusion of gender role take the form of her view of Léon, to Mathilda Léon becomes the father she never had, the brother she lost and the lover she desires. To Léon, Mathilda becomes his daughter, mother and chaste lover. Mathilda?s role however is contradictory, because she occupies both sides of the gender divide. As daughter to Léon she obeys him in his teachings and accepts his disciplines. However, she orders him to teach her and has the means and capital to pay and to hire him in the same way that Tony (Léon?s Mafia boss does), this capital and ability to command Léon is typically a male trait. Mathilda is restored to a position of femininity by adopting a position of mother to Léon, she nurtures him (She buys him, supplies him with milk) and teaches him to read and write (Léon?s illiteracy infantises him). When Mathilda considers herself ready, she attempts to kill Stansfield, however she fails through inexperience and is held captive. Léon is restored to being her father figure, by firstly reading a note she has left for him (Making him no longer infantile) and then by actually rescuing her and killing her captives. Léon is lover to Mathilda in three ways, firstly by being her substitute brother, in doing so Mathilda misrecognises him as the object of her desire. Secondly through psychodynamics? and the Oedipus complex, by loving him as a substitute father she is misrecognising her father as the object of her desire and caught doubly desiring him. Besson intended for Mathilda and Léon to be chaste lovers in a pure sense, Léon actually being twelve years old (This being shown through his need for nurturing, his awkward child like dress sense, illiteracy, he is simple minded, naïve, lacks a strong grasp of language and he is asexual). By making Léon a twelve-year-old within a forty-year-old body, Besson thought justified the love relationship between Léon and Mathilda: ?? I chose to talk about two twelve-year-olds, even though one is actually 40?? Léon does not take up his place as lover until it is to late, since the social order of things does not allow for Léon and Mathilda to be lovers, he must be punished and thus dies, he sacrifices his material body for the love they cannot have.

The very etymology of ?melodrama? is drama plus music. Throughout Léon there are references and the presence of music. There is the constant melancholic presence of Eric Serra?s music score, at one point in the film Mathilda pretends she is learning the violin and that Léon as well as being her father is a music conductor. Stansfield has an obsession with Beethoven, when he murders Mathilda?s family he tells her father he did it in a style reflecting that of Beethoven?s music.

Because of the constant threat of conflict between the forces of production and reproduction, there is a sense of paranoia in melodramas. This sense of paranoia is ever present in the thriller. The thriller aspect of Léon, not only relates to melodrama through paranoia, but also acts as a means of escape from the home of the melodrama to the streets of the thriller. Léon and Mathilda spend a great deal of time outside of the home, especially after the death of Mathilda?s family. The thriller also embeds a strong sense of tension into the atmosphere of Léon.

Léon stands as one of the best examples of a combination of Besson?s ideologies; these ideologies and the uniqueness of them to Besson, not only influence the theme and story of Léon, but as this essay reveals, the style and genre of the film too.

Bibliography: Books: 1. Caughie, J., ?Auterism: Introduction?, in Caughie, J. Ed. Theories of Authorship (Routledge: London, 1981) pp 9 ? 16.

2. Hayward, S., Luc Besson, (Manchester: Manchester university press, 1998).

3. Grodal, T., Moving Pictures: A new theory of film genres, feelings and cognition (Oxford: Claredon Press) page 259 4. Sobchack, T., ?Genre Film: A Classical experience?, in Grant, B K. Eds. Film Genre Reader 2 (Austin: University of Texas press 1997) pp 106 ? 107 5. Carroll, N., ?The Moral Ecology of Melodrama?, Interpreting the moving image (Cambridge: Cambridge University press) pp 166 ? 178 6. Hayward, S., ?Directors and Stars: Luc Besson?, in Hill, J. and Church G, H. Eds. The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (Oxford: Oxford University press, 1998) pp 494 ? 496 7. Branston, G. and Stafford, R., ?Making Films Outside the Mainstream?, The Media Student?s Book, Second Edition (London: Routledge) pp372 ? 377 8. Leach, J., ?North of Pittsburgh: Genre and National Cinema from a Canadian Perspective?, in Grant, B K. Eds. Film Genre Reader 2 (Austin: University of Texas press, 1997) pp 487 ? 488 9. Austin, G., Contemporary French Culture (Manchester: Manchester University press).

Film sources: 10. Léon, Gaumont / les films du dauphin, 1994, Luc Besson 11. Nikita, les films du loup / Gaumont / Gaumont production / Cecchi Gori Group / Tiger Cinematografica, 1990, Luc Besson Internet sources: 12. Characters and Themes in Luc Besson?s ?Subway?, ?The Big Blue?, ?Nikita? and ?Leon?,, 20 / 11 / 02 13. Léon (1994) (aka the professional),, 10 / 11 / 02 14. Neo-baroque?,, 21 / 11 / 02