Comfort Food: Gastronomy and National Self-fashioning in Twentieth- and Twenty-first Century French Literature and Film

Holm, Jennifer, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Blatt, Ari, Department of French, University of Virginia
McGrady, Deborah, Department of French, University of Virginia
Lyons, John, Department of French, University of Virginia
Cesaretti, Enrico, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

This project demonstrates how authors and filmmakers harness gastronomy as a tool for sculpting national identity. During times of national anxiety, food and eating provide metaphors for exemplifying threats and addressing consequent fears. During the interwar years, Marcel Rouff uses food as emotional and psychological sustenance for a population in need of resuscitation in his novel La vie et la passion de Dodin-Bouffant, gourmet. Rouff’s emphasis on regional terroir and the simplicity of good French cooking unite the French people in their common past and orient them towards the future, in an almost spiritual turn. While gastronomy may be an ideal means of projecting a superior identity on the international stage, it may be a divisive force within the nation. I propose a new reading of Luis Buñuel’s 1972 film, Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie and Marco Ferreri’s 1973 film La grand bouffe which examines gastronomy as the subject of critique at the culmination of the Trente Glorieuses. Playing with the notion of binging and purging, Ferreri and Buñuel strip gastronomy down to its base and call for a culinary tabula rasa in a discourse that anticipates the most recent nouvelle cuisine movement. And, in the struggle to retain the core of what it means to be French in the face of cultural dilution, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s hit film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain mobilizes culinary nostalgia via quintessentially French foods and culinary spaces to shape an ideal France. These authors and filmmakers both problematize and reinforce the stereotype of France as a gastronomic powerhouse as the increasing globalization of culture over the course of the last century has worked to dissolve it. develops the larger cultural implications of food in France and reveals gastronomy as a malleable cultural touchstone resistant to national and international change.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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