Une fille comme toi

Une fille comme toi
by Jan Baetens

JPB Books, Paris, France, 2020
48 pp., illus. 300 b/w & col. Trade, €20
ISBN: 978-2365680325.

Reviewed by
Edith Doove
January 2021

As explained on the cover of the book, from 1955 to 1965 film experienced another form now largely forgotten, the so-called film photo novel. Une fille comme toi  explores this genre in an original, oulipian and thus so-called non-creative way. Incorporating all major French and Italian film stars of the time, such as Brigitte Bardot (who can also be found on the enticing cover), Sofia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Kim Novak, Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Pierre Belmondo, Bernard Blier, Jean Marais, Gérard Philipe and Lino Ventura, “to name but a few”, historian and film photonovel specialist Jan Baetens lets unravel a story that literally plays with clichés. It quickly becomes clear that the female protagonist of this “film”, the common girl from the title, actually has many faces, if not that of all the female actresses just mentioned. This assures for a surrealist whirlwind of a story that is, obviously, about finding love, which - and here I am not betraying anything shocking - is eventually found. But this retake of the film photonovel not only comments on itself and its sugar sweet romanticism directed on women’s magazines in which women were not yet allowed to talk for themselves. Baetens places it as a sort of mise en abime within a setting that’s a collage in itself and in which he also advertises for other “non-creative” publications or is being interviewed, only to be interrupted by a second photonovel.

Baetens’ review of Ross Goodwin’s travel book The Road is well chosen as it refers amongst others to Rosalind Krauss’ and Stanley Cavell’s concept of the transfer of media. Through this same means the film photonovel has indeed become an art form in itself, adapting big film hits such as Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954), Rebel Without a Cause (Nicolas Ray, 1955), Notti de Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957), or Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Louis Malle, 1958). It’s however not only a case of a transfer from one medium to another in which images come to a standstill, isolated and accompanied by speech balloons, but also a transfer between languages. As Jean-Pierre Montier in his review of Baetens’ anthology The Film Photonovel: A Cultural History of Forgotten Adaptations (University of Texas Press, 2019), included in this volume states, there’s something emotional about reading Grace Kelly and James Stewart exchanging in Italian before they embark on a long kiss (that in the photonovel obviously lasts forever). But photonovels could also be clear reinterpretations as in the case of John Ford’s Stagecoach or Chris Marker’s La Jetée. From the interview with Baetens we learn that from his collection of about 1500 photonovels he selected 300 images to build his own interpretations. We can only hope that there are many more to follow. With the current closing of cinemas this might become a new craze. To be ordered in all good bookstores as Baetens suggests at the end of his review of Comme un Roman-Photo: Cafés noirs et idées claires by Lia Rochas-Paris.

Une fille comme toi  is the fifth volume in the wonderful collection Uncreative writings of JPB Books, after De l’amour by Frank Leibovici. L’ecriture sans l’ecriture by Kenneth Goldsmith, Are you here? by Hans Ulrich Obrist and A, A novel by Derek Beaulieu. As again indicated on the cover of Une fille comme toi, the term “uncreative writing” was actually introduced by Kenneth Goldsmith to indicate this new form of writing based on the selection of fragments leading to discovery and rediscovery which is certainly the case here.