Performing Ethics Through Film Style

Levinas with the Dardenne Brothers, Barbet Schroeder and Paul Schrader

Edward Lamberti

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Uses Levinas and performativity theory to explore the ethical stakes of film style
  • Read the blog post Edward Lamberti on his new book ‘Performing Ethics through Film Style: Levinas with the Dardenne Brothers, Barbet Schroeder and Paul Schrader’
  • Presents a new approach to ethics and film, bringing film style into productive dialogue with performativity theory
  • Includes case studies from three significant filmmaking bodies of work
  • Demonstrates a synthesis of film theory, philosophy and textual analysis

Emmanuel Levinas’s ethical philosophy has had a significant influence on film theory in recent years. Proposing a relationship between Levinasian ethics and film style, and bringing it into a productive dialogue with theories of performativity, this book explores this influence through three directorial bodies of work: those of the Dardenne Brothers, Barbet Schroeder and Paul Schrader.

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List of Figures


Introduction: Textual Performances in Levinas and Film

Part I: The Dardenne Brothers: An Ethics Without Rest

1. Je Pense à Vous and La Promesse: From Describing to Performing

2. Levinasian Responsibility in Le Fils

3. The Kid with a Bike and the Reframing of Ethics

Part II: Barbet Schroeder: Devoted to the Other

4. Maîtresse: Direction Without Domination

5. The Ethical and the Juridical in Reversal of Fortune and Terror’s Advocate

6. Our Lady of the Assassins and Levinas’s Ethics as First Philosophy

Part III: Paul Schrader: An Unexpected Ethics

7. American Gigolo and the Ethics of Falling in Love

8. Levinasian Limits of Performativity in Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

9. Passivity and Responsibility in The Comfort of Strangers, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and Adam Resurrected

Conclusion: Levinasian Films in the World




Lamberti proposes that certain films by the Dardenne brothers, Barbet Schroeder and Paul Schrader perform the Levinasian ethical encounter in ways that involve the viewer in that experience and responsibility. This original intervention in the field of Levinasian ethics and film is sharply focused, compelling, and beautifully written. The book engages with debates about film as language, raises questions about film as performativity, and through close analysis shows how style creates ethical encounters with the Other.  Lamberti demonstrates how film can be performative Levinasian ethics, and this makes a substantial contribution to the understanding of the ethical possibilities with which film-philosophy is concerned.
Dr Lucy Bolton, Queen Mary, University of London
Edward Lamberti has a PhD in Film Studies from King’s College London and he works at the BBFC. He is the editor of Behind the Scenes at the BBFC: Film Classification from the Silver Screen to the Digital Age(2012).

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