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Born out of the modern cinema, the cinematic form of the essay film abandoned the canons of fiction and documentary films in order to explore an unknown territory defined by cinematic subjectivity and thinking. The essay film has accomplished a fascinating evolution to shape a form which thinks. During the last two decades of the 20th century, the postmodern thinking and culture, along with the development of video recording technology, have enabled the consolidation of the essay film. In the beginning of the 21st century, this essayistic practice has known a great proliferation due to the digital revolution, which has facilitated the experience of subjectivity and intimacy in this filmic form. The researcher Lourdes Monterrubio will carry out the EDEF project at the Institut ACTE and under the supervision of Prof. José Moure. The EDEF proposal aims to accomplish an innovative and challenging analysis of the enunciative devices of the francophone essay film from a semiotic-pragmatic approach and through an interdisciplinary and intermedial study from its first materialisations in modern cinema to the very present. The research will analyse through which audiovisual procedures the cinematic thinking materialises. It will show how identity (individual, gender, social, political, cultural, artistic) thinks through cinema, and how European francophone culture has thought itself in the past and thinks itself in the present. The research will accomplish the policies of the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) dimension specially regarding public engagement, gender perspective, open access and science education. Thus, the EDEF project will carry out a deep and challenging analysis, never conducted before, that will contribute to enhance European scientific excellence in Film Studies and its interdisciplinary research.

State-of the art



The most outstanding research studies devoted to the essay film have established its definition –the audiovisual expression of the thinking process and self-reflection of subjectivity– and specificities –the issues related to its genealogy, historical path and bond with the literary essay–, allowing the consolidation of this research area (Liandrat-Guigues & Gagnebin, 2004; Weinrichter, 2007, Alter & Corrigan, 2018). Prof. José Moure (2004), the research supervisor, offers a definition and characterization of the essay film that constitutes a fundamental starting point of the EDEF project. Besides, a very extensive corpus has been identified and analysed from diverse approaches (Bacqué et al, 20165). However, no research work has addressed a specific analysis of its enunciative devices as the key element of its different study levels. Firstly, the EDEF project aims to offer an unprecedented typology of this enunciative devices from which the essay film and its thinking process are generated, allowing to understand its semiotic-pragmatic functioning. For that purpose, the research project will use and deepen two related concepts: speculative thinking and parataxic structure (Josep Maria Català, 2014, 2019), which embody the methodological eclecticism of the essay film; and interstitial thinking (Laura Rascaroli, 2017), as “a method of filmic thinking that exists and thrives in gaps”. Secondly, the research proposal aims to study the functionality of the different enunciative devices concerning the topics discussed and the artistic movements to which the works belong. In this regard, Timothy Corrigan (2011) proposes a classification of several essay film forms (called intermedial forms in the research) based on what he calls its modes. However, this classification results in a thematic study of the essay film that do not analyse the relationship between enunciative devices and themes addressed. Two more recent works study concrete themes in relation with the essay film –thinking process, politics and utopia (Papazian & Eades, 2016)–, and its practice by non-Western filmmakers (Hollweg  & Krtic, 2019) but again without any focus on the enunciative devices. As for the artistic movements using the essay film, Nora M. Alter (2019) –world cinema history– and Bertrand Bacqué (2015) –French cinema– propose historical analyses of this filmic form that do not address either this relationship with the enunciative devices. Thirdly, the EDEF project will analyse the functionality of them in relation to the spectator’s reception. In this respect, the research will deepen David Montero’s work (2012) about the dialogic aspect of the essay film and Rick Warner’s (2018) concept of twoness. Finally, the research will be able to describe the evolution of these enunciative devices, from modern cinema to the very present.


The EDEF research project establishes four main scientific objectives:


O1. To establish a typology of the different enunciative devices of this audiovisual form, describing their functionalities to generate a subjective cinematic thinking (WP3).


O2. To analyse the functionality of each enunciative devices of the essay film regarding:


a) the artistic movements to which the work belongs to

b) the topics discussed (WP4)


O3. To analyse the functionality of each enunciative device regarding the spectator’s reception. (WP7).


O4. To analyse the evolution of the different enunciative devices at all these different levels throughout the more than a half-century existence of the essay film and to present the final conclusions of the research (WP8).



The methodological starting point of the EDEF research is a semiotic-pragmatic approach on the cinema enunciation that will meet its different interdisciplinary aspects in order to achieve the already presented objectives.


O1 (WP3). Establish the typology:


a) the audio-visual materials used: film, video, photography, animation;

b) the filmic procedures: voice over and voice in, following Michel Chion (1982) and Alain Boillat’s (2007) works; sounds and music; intertitles and subtitles; new footage and found footage Christa Blümlinger’s (2013) work on found footage techniques;

c) its intermedial forms: letter (Monterrubio, 2018), diary, travelogue, (self-)portrait13, etc., following an intermedial approach (Río Novo & Vieira, 2011; Bretèque et al., 2012) regarding linguistics, literature, plastic arts, photography, etc.


Describe the functions of each enunciative devices in the generation of a subjective cinematic thinking: reaffirmation – subtraction – erasure; objectivation – deautomatization – fictionalisation; intensification –deintensification; rational – emotional, etc.


O2 (WP4). To analyse the functionality of each enunciative device of the essay regarding:


a) the artistic movements they belong to: modernity, militant cinema, postmodernity, contemporary cinema;

b) the topics discussed by the essay films: autobiographical, artistic, social or political.


O3 (WP6). To analyse the functionality of each enunciative device regarding the spectator’s reception:


a) the spectator’s role inside the essay film;

b) the spectator’s critical thinking considering the role of the essay film as a social, political, cultural, gender equality and artistic developer that fosters this critical thinking.


O4 (WP7). The study of the evolution of the different enunciative devices will imply the final analysis of the other work-packages research results and the conclusions of the research project.


Transversal action (WP5). The specific and unprecedented study of the Swiss francophone essay film (Romand essay film) and the Belgian essay film. One-month stays in Lausanne and Brussels will allow the researcher to work at the cinema archives of both countries (Cinémathèque Suisse, Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique) and to establish direct contact with the national filmmakers. 


Work packages

WP1. Project management


WP2. Training activities


WP3. Typology 

                Task 1 – Audiovisual materials

                Task 2 – Intermedial forms                                                  
                Task 3 – Filmic procedures    


WP4. Artistic movements and topics

               Task 1 – Artistic Movements                                                                                                        
               Task 2 – Topics  

WP5. Romand and Belgian essay films

               Task 1 – Romand essay film. Short visit Lausanne        
               Task 2 – Belgian essay film. Short visit Brussels  


WP6. Spectator’s reception    

                Task 1 – Spectator’s role                                                                         
                Task 2 – Critical thinking    


WP7. Evolution and conclusions

                Task 1 – Evolution                                               
                Task 2 – Conclusions      



The interdisciplinary nature of the project implies the implementation of, and the research on, different concepts from different disciplines:


1. Philosophy (WP3): concepts of identity, subjectivity and reflexiveness, using Dominique Chateau’s works (2011, 2016, 2020) and Jacques Rancière’s (2003) concept of the sentence-image: “The sentence is not the sayable and the image is not the visible. By sentence-image I intend the combination of two functions that are to be defined aesthetically” .


2. Cultural Studies (WP4 and WP5): concept of francophony, following the research perspective of the collective volume Francographies (Bainbridge & Chanrley, 2010). and applying it to the cinematic practice.


3. Sociology (WP4): concept of social identity, following Richard Jenkins’ (2014) and Jean-Claude Kaufmann’s (2004) works and Jean-Pierre Esquenazi’s (2006) concept of a sociological semiotics, understanding the films also as “facts of society”.  


4. Reception theory (WP6): concept of critical thinking, using Rancière’s (2008) description of the emancipated spectator: “spectators who play the role of active interpreters, who develop their own translation in order to appropriate the 'story' and make it their own story”, and the research results of the volume Making Sense of Cinema (Reinhard & Olson, 2017).


Gender dimension

In order to accomplish the RRI policy of gender equality, the EDEF project will consider this dimension in the three spaces that the analysis includes: the filmmaker, the essay film and the spectator. Following the work Feminisms (Mulvey & Blackman Rogers, 2015) which studies feminist film theory in film culture from a contemporary point of view, the project will analyse if there is a gendered subjectivity in the essay film authorship and the possible differences in this dimension in women’s works, following Anne Eakin Moss’ work (2016). The research will also study the representation of the woman in the essay film and the possible presence of a gender bias. Finally, the proposal will also consider the gender dimension in the reception of the film. he research. The EDEF project will include specific dissemination and communication actions (see M6.1 and CS8) of this research dimension.


© 2020 EDEF

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and Innovation programme under the Marie

Skłodowska‐Curie grant agreement No 896941

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