The Images of Frustration – Criminality’s and Conformism’s Childhood or Creative Victory Over it

Claude Miller imagines or explains future shot


Mockery even at the shadow of gender uncertainty in dormitory of a summer boy-scout camp


Mark (one of the camp instructors) by putting on a mask of machoism tries to hide his own complexes

In “The Best Way to Walk” (1976) Miller deals with a topic most directors try to avoid – gender uncertainty in adolescents that can be the cause of so much anxiety and stimulate tormenting ordeals in those affected by feelings of confusion and ambivalence. Like men for centuries were afraid of women and for this reason have repressed them and on this repression erected/built their sense of masculine superiority and greatness, like the rich/strong countries have for centuries been repressing the poor/weak ones, so the ideological masculinity in men has repressed gender or/and sexual uncertainty and on this repression grew their machoistic power to self-assert, self-aggrandize and to subdue others.

Because for Miller as a director it was difficult to address the problem directly by observing teens, he modified the plot in a way that gender and sexual identity as a problem and militantly machoistic reaction on any ambiguity around it on part of other boys, are represented through the camp’s young instructors/teachers. This gives Miller the chance to show the conservative ideological agenda as an ideology in action.

Miller’s analysis of the cowardice of machoistic behavior and self-image in the film is profound and full of unique and artistically arranged psychological details.


David, the main character in “This Sweet Sickness”, doesn’t understand the difference between his imagination and reality, between his amorous projection into the object (target of his passions) when he is overwhelmed by his desire, and the right of Juliette to respond according to the truth of her feelings, not according to his wishes and expectations. His proneness to instantly lose himself in amorous abandon goes together with his impatient unconscious expectation of seeing her also losing herself in the cloud of erotic mutuality. He doesn’t have the ability to observe himself and her before giving himself to the wave of psychological excitement.


Even after he accidentally kills Julliette (undisciplined passion invites accidents), for David it is easier to imagine returning to the moments before her death than to become conscious of his psychotic inability to observe and control his passion.

In “This Sweet Sickness” (1977) Miller concentrates on the psychology of sexual obsession, personified by Gerard Depardieu’s David. Everybody wants to live and be happy, but people who are from childhood deprived of positive emotional contact with parents, want to live greedily, desperately, ecstatically, in frenzy. In “Sweet Sickness” Miller wants us to have frightening encounter with a frustrated, and for this reason exaggerated lust for fusing with the yearned object. We see crime committed in complete blindness and innocence, and how the behavior of the obsessed/possessed people, as we know in US too well in the behavior of many political leaders and Wall Street financial schemers, tends to be impregnated with prejudices, superstitions, illusions and endless blunders. Miller and Depardieu show the moment of amorous satisfaction as completely illusory, almost a hallucinatory experience, and shed light on the fact of how much absurdity in obsessed/possessed personality is projected into their criminal act.


Charlotte Castang, the heroine of “L’Effrontee” (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is emotionally not protected from the world. In her gaze we see the abysmal genuineness immediately involving the world. She is the personification of the aliveness of the world, the unity of the human and world’s existence.


Here we see Clara Bauman – Charlotte’s ideal, in the arms of her business manager (Jean-Claude Brialy), a person whose humanity is profitably exchanged for the success of his enterprise.

In “L’Effrontee” (1985) Miller represents the desire for intimate fusion not with psychologically “equal”, but with a “sublimated” object – a person who incarnates for the subject the ideal of achievement, success and artistic personality. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays an adolescent girl grown without a mother. Prone to melancholy, she is fascinated by a girl of her age who is worshipfully adored by everybody for being a famous pianist. Clara Bauman became Charlotte’s “best self” – her ego-ideal, her very soul embellished by her adoration.

By observing life of two girls we come to the conclusion that Clara, the prodigal child who practically works full time trying to upgrade her professionalism, is transformed by society into a sort of robot with shockingly standard emotional reactions while Charlotte is a miracle of vitality, emotional liveliness and intellectual curiosity. Through comparing the two girls Miller describes two directions in the development of society – instrumental and existential, orientation on achievement and success, on work and money and, on the other hand, on life and aliveness. Miller as if asks the viewers to think about what kind of future for human society they would chose – filled by financially successful conformists or people with a unique personalities and genuineness of the soul.


Janine (Charlotte Gainsbourg several years older than in previous film “L’Effrontee”) is ready to do everything to be accepted by the world. The desperate sincerity of her desire to live and be appreciated becomes part of her petty criminality and we, viewers, are torn between admiring her and reproaching her. Janine is a pure victim of a society that has corrupted her into manufactured dream of glamour, in the same sense in which some of our American soldiers abusing Iraqi and Afghani civilians are victims of fabricated wars (wars without authentic reason) that have corrupted them into the fantasy of their superiority, dream of being supermen with super-weapons.


Janine is trying hard to please her boyfriend – to let him, who is also a victim of the parental absence or indifference, to self-assert himself with her. She wants to make his life more cheerful. She identifies with him (she loves herself in him) and is happy by his happiness.

“The Little Thief” (1988) narrates how the success of mass culture in post-WW2 period with its entertainment, consumerism and orientation on popularity and success corrupts the soul of a young girl. Janine has been undernourished by parental love (by a caring environment) and finding herself between Hollywood glorious glamour and boutiques she is transformed into a greedy seeker of popularity trying to help herself by stealing cloth and cosmetics. Being traumatized from childhood, Janine is ecstatic to accumulate more and more experiences of successful self-assertion with people, and because she is personally charming and emotionally an authentic person her fight for acceptance becomes successful. But her success with men doesn’t include their real care about her. Her abandonment continues and finally leads her into a juvenile detention institution. Finally it’s only relations with art make her independent from symbiotic relationships with other people, things, images and ideas, from the need to be successful with others by any price. Miller’s conclusion is that post-WW2 so called democratic society is not able or interested to help people like Janine, only cultural education can. But it becomes less and less available.


Sophie Vasseur, the protagonist of “The Accompanist” (Romane Bohringer) who lives amidst poverty and hunger in France during WW2 – enters the theater where her future ideal – superstar Irene Brice entertains elegant public (those who are successful even under Nazi occupation) with her godly voice by singing the best pieces of Western chamber music.


Narcissism and triviality of Irene’s character (happily co-existing with her vocal talent), helps Sophie go through very important experiences of learning how not to become fascinated too quickly and easily, how not to become an appendix to her own idolatrous emotions. She also learns to differentiate between the image a person irradiates and the real personality. From idealistic girl she became more emotionally mature person capable to observe reality and to think about what things mean. In other words, she learned how to add invisible reality to what seems obvious.


After learning the truth about Irene that shocked Sophie, she becomes reserved, not allowing herself to get emotionally involved too readily.


In this shot Miller uses a realistic situation to make the heroes of the film dressed like the Soviet Russians of the same period. By this he helps the viewers to become aware that psychological idolatry is not just a matter of personal relations and love but exists in politics also – a Communist country as a typical totalitarian system is based on the psychological idolatry of its leaders, public figures, stars, and ideological concepts. Here we see Irene between her husband and Sophie, both of whom personify, in the film, the human common phenomenon of being psychologically idolatrous.

In “The Accompanist” (1992) Miller analyses two sorts of love – love for the “equal” objects of love, and love for the ideal projected into another person (which this person comes to represent for the subject). To have an ideal (and to be prone to project it into the other person) is unavoidable for those who dream of reaching an advanced form of human development and unconsciously look for role models. But there are traps on this noble road that must be understood and can be avoided. The film dissects the heroine’s “love” for and disappointment with her “ideal”, personified by the artistically talented but psychologically mediocre singer, that eventually lead to her growth as a human being. As always is the case with Miller, analysis of melodramatic knot is going together with analysis of political reality, and the personal is mixed with social.

“The Accompanist” is perhaps Claude Miller’s most impressive masterpiece. The film’s visual imagery is semantically complicated and elegant. In the audience the film generates endless questions that demand viewers’ concentration, thinking and remembrance of details. But returning to the film to clear the impressions, stylistic vignettes and meaning of various scenes and situations produces additional pleasures, sparkles of which are implanted into the narrative by the director in advance.

Films of Claude Miller are extremely valuable for everybody who has the ability to consider their present level of development as not ultimate but a prelude for future improvements, discoveries and transformations. Miller’s cinema is a call for our psychological and spiritual development and the aesthetic text-book to further our psychological/spiritual sophistication and humanization.