I first started reading Cahiers du Cinéma – the venerable French film magazine started in 1951 by André Bazin and the future new wave directors – with its Top 10 films of the 2000s issue. There was David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive on the cover as their No. 1 film, and the list included such art-film stalwarts as Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Abbas Kiarostami alongside more commercial directors such as Steven Spielberg and Canada’s own David Cronenberg. (In their more recent Top 10 films of the 2010s list, the publication narrowed back toward art films with Holy Motors, Le Livre d’Image, Toni Erdmann and L’Étrange Affaire Angélica in the mix.) There is something about that earlier-aughts gesture that is at the heart of Cahiers. Its critics have an ability to distinguish the best of both the art house and the commercial cinema.
The five to seven lengthy reviews that populated each new issue of the monthly publication were coveted achievements for filmmakers whose work got released in Paris, where in an average month there could be more than 60 new releases. With exhaustive dossiers on the history of cinema, 10-page interviews with leading directors and serious journalism, each issue of Cahiers became demanding, essential work.
As Serge Daney, one of the magazine’s most influential previous editors-in-chief, once wrote, “To be able to love, you must be able to hate.” The publication’s writers take this to heart, their praises as exhilarating for intense admiration as their critiques are frightening for their violence. That is to say, the Cahiers staff was not always the best at getting along with others. So it was not too surprising when, this past week, the magazine’s entire team of writers quit in opposition to the new state of Cahiers ownership, solidified in January – 20 investors, many of whom are prominent film producers. The potential for conflicts of interest and the ensuing resignation of the editorial team have caused an uproar in the international film community.
Cahiers’ new proprietors, which include Grégoire Chertok, Eric Lenoir, Xavier Niel and Pascal Caucheteux – with Julie Lethiphu (from the Société des réalisateurs de films) as its new director – have put forward that they want Cahiers to now more resemble a luxury good. That it be fashionable, convivial and better support French cinema. It is a renouncement of what Cahiers stands for, and in his last issue, editor-in-chief Stéphane Delorme addresses this change as the symbolic end of the magazine. It is quite the jarring opposition from when he first started as the editor-in-chief in 2009 (after initially starting there as a critic in 1998). In his first editorial, he was quite excited and optimistic about the prospect of running Cahiers: “As long as cinema exists there would be neighbouring criticism to accompany it because films spark conversations.” And that a film magazine, “should evoke a desire to see films and to prolong them.”
The Delorme period had a great run, and each reader could probably list a greatest hits of their favourite issues. There was the history of poetic cinema, the one on emerging French directors, a special 700th issue on emotions, the history of female filmmakers, a special Agnès Varda issue, a theoretical dossier on what is the importance of film, three covers on Twin Peaks: The Return, a special Charlie Hebdo tribute and one on the death of Jacques Rivette. For regular readers, it was the quality and surprise of each new issue that kept them coming back.
But the 70-year history of Cahiers is dialectical. Every 10 years or so, the magazine drastically changes, usually in response to what has preceded it. This can be due to a new proprietor or a change of editor-in-chief. Delorme had become the 14th editor-in-chief when Cahiers was sold from Le Monde to Richard Schlagman at Phaidon in 2009. Its previous director was known for being too complacent with the French film industry and regularly highlighting middle-brow national productions.
It is still too early to tell what the future of Cahiers will resemble. As of yet, there is no news about who will replace the Delorme team, and a new group of writers will probably be parachuted in to start over in its ashes. But let their bold resignation be a reminder of their virulence and fierce rejection of the status quo and encroaching neoliberal policies that are further alienating people.
When I interviewed Delorme for my dissertation on Cahiers history, he told me that his goal as editor-in-chief was to make the world a better place. Films and criticism are political. This period of Cahiers argued for a more emancipatory relationship with the world through them.
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