The Moving Image: Reconfiguring Spaces of Loss and Mourning in the 21st Century

26 February 2010 - 27 February 2010

CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge


Download the Moving Image conference poster.

Registration for this event is now closed.


Anna Elsner (Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge)
Richard Armstrong (Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge)

Conference summary

The past twenty years saw increasing cinematic investment in grief and mourning at the multiplex and at the art house, exemplified in releases ranging from high profile blockbusters – Schindler’s List (1993), Deep Impact (1998) - to modest arthouse titles – Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), Three Colours: Blue (1993), Festen (1998), Morvern Callar (2001). This efflorescence took place against televised wars and genocides in Kosovo, Rwanda and Iraq, and the events of 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’. The decline of Communism made the closing years of the 20th century seem to many like an era of endings, fuelling millennial anxieties and emphasizing the transience of institutions and human life alike. This conference is informed by the paradox that, whilst death for the contemporary individual seems remote from quotidian consciousness, in recent years, experiences of human demise seemed to be omnipresent in all forms of media representations – from the art house movie to internet memorialization. Many of these treatments seemed to hint at cinema’s special affinity for presence and absence, which is why this conference aims to address the aesthetic and institutional origins and characteristics of this efflorescence of ‘mourning films’ after trauma studies and in the wake of the Benjaminian ‘age of mechanical reproduction’. Drawing on papers from fields such as history, psychology, anthropology, sociology, counselling and architecture, and theorists from Mulvey, Deleuze, Frampton, and Kübler-Ross and William Worden, this conference asks whether the identification of a genre defined in reference to a very specific field of representation throws light upon the use of the moving image in other educational and institutional settings such as academic departments of psychology and social work, and the grief therapy session and whether, in an era so reticent about death, the moving image could be seen as a space in which issues around loss can be explored.

Do the aesthetics of mourning in the moving image have precedents in older cinematic genres, or in ideas about death? What light do mourning films throw on contemporary manners and mores around death and mourning? Can we speak of aesthetics which are peculiar to mourning on screen? What psychoanalytical or therapeutic value does the film of mourning have for those in the audience who have experienced loss? Do films treating this experience have any functionality in grief counseling? The question of whether releases emerging from internationally dispersed institutional and aesthetic fields might constitute a genre in their own right will cogently inform many of the contributions to this conference. What might the identification of the mourning genre tell us about how genres get elaborated and reproduced? Has this ‘genre’, like the western and the melodrama, given rise to a pantheon of directors or stars?

Issues considered in the conference will consist, but not be limited, to the following:

The aesthetic treatment of grief and mourning in the moving image;
The moving image as a site of expression, elucidation and relief;
Historical attitudes to death embodied in public ritual, art and memorialization;
Death and the modern community;
Testamentary, journalistic and literary reflections on death and loss;
Therapeutic and psychoanalytical accounts of bereavement and mourning;
The subversive or fugitive representation of death;
The ‘mourning film’ as a genre.

Accommodation for Delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

Conference sponsors

This event is generously supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), The French Embassy, the Society for French Studies, the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University and Lenore Ruben.


Administrative assistance: Anna Malinowska (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)


Friday 26 February


09:00 - 09:30
Registration at CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge

09:30 - 09:45

09:45 - 11:00
Jay Winter (Yale University)
Moving images: From silent film to film silences in war films, 1914-2009

Chair: Richard Armstrong (University of Cambridge)

11:00 - 11:15
Coffee and tea

11:15 - 13:00

Panel I: Imaginary Memories

Chair:  Emma Wilson (University of Cambridge)

Marion Schmid (University of Edinburgh)
Phantoms of the Present: Mourning and Memory in Chantal Akerman's 'Histoires d'Amerique' (1989)

Colin Davis (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Film as Shipwreck: Acting-Out and Working-Through in Jean Renoir's 'The Woman on the Beach' (1947)

Colin Murray Parkes (Author; Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist, St Christopher's Hospice, Sydenham and Consultant Psychiatrist, St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney)
Death Games – What are the Rules?

13:00 - 14:00
Lunch at CRASSH

14:00 - 15:45

Panel II: Histories of Mourning

Chair: Isabelle McNeill (University of Cambridge)

Lisa Downing (University of Exeter)
On the Fantasy of Childlessness as Death in Psychoanalysis and in Roeg's 'Don’t Look Now' (1973) and von Trier's 'Antichrist' (2009)

Jenny Chamarette (University of Cambridge)
Mourning a Life not yet over: Agnès Varda's spectral bodies and temporalised spaces

Emma Wilson (University of Cambridge)
Museum Spaces in Palliative Art: Mariana Otero's 'Histoire d'un secret' (2003)

15:45 - 16:00
Coffee and tea

16:00 - 17:30

Panel III: Spectrality

Chair: Olga Smith (University of Cambridge)

Alex Dougherty (University of Cambridge)
'God's Funeral': Tragic Space and Cinema

Laura McMahon (University of Cambridge)
The Justice of Images: Derrida and Nancy on Film

17:30 - 18:15 Drinks Reception at CRASSH (sponsored by The French Embassy)

Dinner at King's (for speakers and chairs)


Saturday 27 February


09:15 - 11:00

Panel IV: The Living Dead

Chair:  Marie-Christine Clemente (University of Cambridge)

Max Silverman (University of Leeds)
Loss and the concentrationary Image

Kristian Feigelson (Université Paris 3)
Theresienstadt, living among the dead...

Libby Saxton (Queen Mary, University of London)
Grief, Horror and Filiation in 'La Question Humaine' (2007)

11:00 - 11:20
Coffee and tea

11:20 - 13:00

Panel V: The Lamentation

Chair: Axel Bangert (University of Cambridge)

Omri Grinberg (Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Walter Benjamin Fellow, PAIDEIA, The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden)
A Flooding Thirst – Grieving Space in 'Atash' (2004) and Noah's Ark

Ariella Azoulay (Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan)
Civil Lament and Political Imagination (with screening of short film)

13:00 - 14:00

14:00 - 15:45

Panel VI: Resurrection

Chair: Amanda Minervini (Brown University)

Richard Armstrong (University of Cambridge)
La ‘Diva du Deuil’: Towards a Pantheon of Mourning Women

Song Hwee Lim (University of Exeter)
Slowness, Nostalgia, Cinephilia: Tsai Ming-liang and the Discursive Death of Cinema

Martine Beugnet (University of Edinburgh)
Mourning in the Age of the Digital: Memory, loss and materialist filmmaking

15:45 - 16:00 Coffee and tea

16:00 - 16:45
Carol Mavor (University of Manchester)
Blue is the Colour of Impossible Mourning: Chantal Akerman's 'La Captive' (2000)

Chair: Anna M. Elsner (University of Cambridge)

16:45 - 17:15 Roundtable