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Renoir's Automaton, Vigo's puppet: Automatism and Movement in La règle du jeu and L’atalante

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-549
Number of pages14
JournalFrench Studies
Issue number4
Early online date24 Aug 2016
E-pub ahead of print24 Aug 2016
Published1 Oct 2016


King's Authors


Renoir’s 1939 film La Règle du jeu incorporates several automata as indexes of the alienated status of the class it depicts, including the orchestrion which the main protagonist Robert de la Chesnaye unveils as the ultimate piece in his collection. This focus on machines is as much an expression of the film’s 18th-century philosophical and aesthetic references as it is a revelation of an anachronistic relation to the machine as such, and to the form of movement it embodies. In a key scene of the film the display of the orchestrion falters, revealing a deathly repetition which the moribund pseudo-aristocracy cannot accommodate. The opposition drawn by Lacan between automaton and tuché in his 11th seminar, as well as Deleuze’s intimation of the ‘crack’ in the filmic crystal that Renoir’s cinema deploys, illuminate this moment as the event of pure repetition. In contrast, Jean Vigo’s 1934 film L’Atalante depicts a human-machine relation that allows for forms of connection and innovation of a more organic nature. Across these representations of automatism and movement, the cinema of the 1930s explores patterns of alienation and of historicity, for which the theses of Walter Benjamin provide a powerful interpretative framework.

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