Beyond the spectacle of suffering: Agnès Varda's L'Une chante, l'autre pas and Rewriting the Subject of Abortion in France

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In the first essay, Melissa Oliver-Powell’s “Beyond the Spectacle of
Suffering: Agnès Varda’s L’Une chante, l’autre pas and Rewriting the Subject of Abortion in France” addresses the complexities of anti-abortion rhetoric in France. Placing Varda’s 1977 film in the historical context of
French nationalistic anxiety about low birthrates in the twentieth century, Oliver-Powell argues that the film deconstructs polarized narratives about abortion. While dominant cultural representations of
abortion typically depicted it as the result of female irresponsibility or
traumatic victimization, Varda’s film rejects the binary concepts of villain
and victim and questions the presumption that women always suffer
when exercising their reproductive choice. Oliver-Powell situates Varda
alongside the 343 eminent French female cultural leaders who composed a famous 1971 Manifesto publicly declaring themselves criminals for having had illegal abortions and presents simultaneous histories of French feminism and French cinema. Varda’s film constructs a
feminist representation of abortion that avoids foregrounding women’s suffering and instead emphasizes empowerment and solidarity. Its
narrative features two women friends, both treated unjustly by France’s
abortion laws, who participate in the movement for reform over a fourteen-year span. Varda represents the interplay of motherhood with women’s lives as a continuum, not a disruptive episode, and she blends documentary-style devices with imaginative musical interludes: she shows
actual women seeking abortions in Holland and includes songs about
abortion, pregnancy, and motherhood. Oliver-Powell claims that Varda
dramatizes unprecedented representations “of female friendship without
pathology, of abortion without guilt, death or persecution, of motherhood without objectification. . . .”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-42
Number of pages28
JournalFeminist Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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