The female ‘metaphysical’ body in poetic realist film

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Although the tension between the real and the immaterial has been discussed in relation to poetic realism, arguments have focused mostly on setting, avoiding the centrality of the human body in the articulation of this dichotomy. Because of Michèle Morgan’s mysterious ontological status in her films, her body is of particular interest: is her presence physical or metaphysical? On the one hand, due to her ethereal, enigmatic femininity, she is almost an effacement of corporeality. Whilst this contributes to the mystery inherent in poetic realism, her youthful, slim body also characterized the ‘modern woman’, a historically grounded and more embodied notion of femininity. This tension is explored through an analysis of Remorques (Grémillon, 1941) (though other films, such as Le Quai des brumes (Carné, 1938), are also considered). Her body is analysed in relation to a range of signifying elements, but primarily through reference to her fresh, non-theatrical performance style and its similarities/differences with the acting of her films’ other stars (especially Madeleine Renaud in Remorques) who came from diverse performing backgrounds. This highlights not only the importance of star bodies to the physicality (or otherwise) of poetic realism, but also the ideological discourses at stake in its representations of the female body.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-73
Number of pages17
JournalStudies in French Cinema
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Metaphysical
  • Michèle Morgan
  • Performance
  • Poetic realism
  • Stardom
  • The body
  • The modern woman

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