Serge Daney at Cannes 1984

The Daily — May 10, 2021
Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Wim Wenders, and Dean Stockwell at a press conference in Cannes for Paris, Texas (1984)

Starting today, Laurent Kretzschmar and Srikanth Srinivasan are presenting fresh translations of the more than twenty reports Serge Daney filed from the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, when Dirk Bogarde presided over a jury that included Isabelle Huppert, Stanley Donen, and Ennio Morricone, and Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or. Each text will appear on the day it was published in the left-leaning newspaper Libération thirty-seven years ago. Kretzschmar has been posting translations at his blog Serge Daney in English for more than fifteen years now, and Srinivasan has most recently been concentrating on translating books by critic and filmmaker Luc Moullet.

Daney is one of the most vital figures in the history of film criticism in France, and if he’s underappreciated in the English-speaking world, it may be because, as Jonathan Rosenbaum has suggested, his writing is “too theoretical for Anglo-American film journalism, yet also too journalistic for the academy.” Daney began contributing to Cahiers du cinéma in the mid-1960s. In 1973, he and fellow critic Serge Toubiana took over editorship of Cahiers and, as Richard Brody writes in Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, “purged it of the most rigid ideologies of its Maoist years, and adopted a catholic, open-minded view of the cinema, based on a revived but wary cinephilia, in an effort to articulate an auteurism that would be politically aware and self-questioning.” In 1981, Daney left Cahiers for Libération, and in 1991, just one year before AIDS took him at the age of forty-eight, he founded Trafic, which to this day remains one of the most respected film journals in France.

Over the next two weeks, we can look forward to Daney’s first impressions of films by Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray, Werner Herzog, John Huston, Leos Carax, Jerzy Skolimowski, and Theo Angelopoulos. “Though understandably uneven, it’s really a remarkable and lively set of articles with very little trace of festival fatigue or complacency,” writes Srinivasan. “Keep an eye out for ‘Twice Upon a Time in America,’ a double review of new films by Sergio Leone and Wim Wenders, which, in my opinion, is one of Daney’s finest ever pieces.”

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