The Smiling Madame Beudet (1922) Gets a Facelift: Claire Denis’ Modern Portrayal of Female Desire in Friday Night (2002)

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2011



Luce Irigaray explains in her seminal feminist work, This Sex Which Is Not One, that women experience desire differently from men: "Woman takes pleasure more from touching than from looking, and her entry into a dominant scopic economy signifies, again, her consignment to passivity: she is the beautiful object of contemplation."1 Unlike men who enjoy gazing at the female form, Irigaray’s essentialist theory posits that women enjoy a pluri-dimensional experience activating the senses—especially touch. Visual art forms, like film, hence present a unique challenge to the expression of female desire. According to feminist film theory pioneers Laura Mulvey, Mary Ann Doane and Teresa de Lauretis,2 hegemonic culture stems from a system of gazes objectifying the woman while affirming the male position of powerful and active subject. As Mulvey states, "In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness."3 In other words, gender divisions of desire/power generate a creative conundrum that has long been the following: how can cinema, an inherently visual art form that traditionally appeals to the male gaze, convey the multiple and varied dimensions of feminine desire?