Filmaesthetics and childhood

Leader: Dr. Bettina Henzler

ZeMKI Lab "Film, Media Art and Popular Culture" 

Funded by the DFG

The three-year DFG research project “Film Aesthetics and Childhood” is dedicated to the media-specifc aesthetics of childhood in the French auteur cinema. The aim is to explore flm aesthetic strategies to depict childhood and to convey the experience of childhood through flms: How do flms such as “Le voyage du ballon rouge”, “Les vacances de M. Hulot”, “La rentrée des classes”, “Abouna”, “Tomboy”, “Ponette”, “Les quatre cents coups” and others convey the experience and perception of childhood and children? To what extent are child actors mediators for the aesthetic and media specifc characteristics of flm? To what extent is childhood to be understood not only as an educational, sociological or historical category, but also as a film aesthetic category? The project thus contributes to cultural sciences and flm studies as well as to childhood studies.

Within the interdisciplinary feld of childhood studies, the category of childhood has been questioned since the 1980s as a cultural, historical and social construct. The paradigms established in traditional research on children and childhood (pedagogy, psychology and sociology) such as the progress of child development or the difference between child and adult were criticized with regard to the underlying normative models of society and subjects. Within this framework, especially angloamerican flm studies contributed to research on the construction of narratives and images of childhood in flms and the genre of the children’s flm which adresses a child audience. However, the specifc aesthetics and mediality of the flm has long been disregarded and has only been worked out in recent research on child actors and on spectatorship. The research project “Film Aesthetics and Childhood“ contributes to the closure of this research gap and establishes a flm aesthetic and film historical orientated research on childhood in the German research landcsape.
Film as an audiovisual medium is suited to integrating the various aspects of childhood as defned in the context of childhood research: Childhood is shown in flms as a cultural construct, as a category of self-reflection by adults, and as a physical experience of children. In contrast to the dominant research on narratology, themes and motifs, childhood is investigated from a phenomenological
perspective with regard to acting and the (physical-affective) flm experience, as
well as the aesthetic principle of movement, seeing, speaking and playing. In addition to deconstructivist research approaches, which examine childhood as discursive, culturally typifed construction, the project shows that especially auteur
flms apply specifc aesthetic strategies to deal with children as embodied individuals and childhood as a biographical as well as anthropological experience.