Welcome to our new faculty member Vanessa Brutsche, Visiting Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies with a specialization in the intersections between spatial theory, the politics of memory, and historical violence in French and Francophone literature and cinema. Her broader interests include 19th–21st century literature, film history and theory, Holocaust and memory studies, and theories of space, place, and geography.
What have you most enjoyed about the courses you’re teaching at William and Mary so far?
This semester I’m teaching FR393, “Flânerie on Film: Urban Space in French Cinema,” which explores not only various representations of the modern city in French cinema, but also how cinema has been used at times to critique or theorize new forms of urbanism and the changing politics of space. I’ve especially enjoyed the opportunity to visit so many historical moments (from the late-19th century to the present) and read different kinds of texts with this class, including cultural history, sociology, philosophy, and critical theory.
Of course, one of the best parts of teaching this class is getting to rewatch the films – ranging from avant-garde, surrealist films to classics by major filmmakers like Renoir and Godard. I find it thrilling that films made decades ago can still feel radical to students watching them for the first time, even though we live in such a media-saturated culture. That defamiliarization of what we are surrounded by every day – moving images – can lead to truly exciting and productive class discussions.
I’m also currently teaching Intermediate French (FR201). The thing I enjoy the most about teaching at this level is getting to witness the students’ progress – which happens so quickly! – especially because they are typically so focused on getting through the semester that they don’t realize how far they have come. It’s exciting to hear their use of the language get progressively more sophisticated.
Now that you’ve been here a few months, how has your time at William and Mary been so far?
My time so far has been wonderful! everyone is incredibly welcoming. I’m continuously impressed with how open, inquisitive, and talented the students are, and the motivation they bring to the classroom. I’m also very much enjoying being a member of the Modern Languages & Literatures Department, in which there is such a strong sense of community across the diversity of languages and cultures represented.
How do you approach teaching cinema and film to students who have never taken a course on it before?
I try to strike a balance between introducing the vocabulary and methodological tools that are specific to the study of cinema and addressing the analytical questions that advance our class discussions. In my current course on cinema and urban space, this has been somewhat facilitated by the fact that we began with the first films produced in France (by the Lumière brothers in the 1890s) and have progressed through film history more or less chronologically. Seeing how certain techniques develop as the technology advances and as filmmakers experiment with the medium allows a lot of formal qualities to stand out in early cinema that we otherwise take for granted in more recent, narrative cinema – like the effects of montage, or how our point of view is constructed by framing and camera movements.
What are your current research projects?
As a literature and film scholar, I specialize in modern and contemporary France, with an emphasis on 1945 to the present. My current research focuses on the intersections between critical theories of space and the memorial legacies of historical violence. The book project I am working on explores how the language of what was called the “concentrationary universe” appears in texts and films to describe the conditions of modern life, at a moment when France’s urban landscape was undergoing massive changes. Overall, my work is dedicated to understanding the ways in which writers and filmmakers refused to allow the camps to be remembered solely as a thing of the past, closed off in space and time, and instead insisted on the political and ethical urgency of continuing to grapple with the phenomenon of the camps.