Cinema and Contact
The Withdrawal of Touch in Nancy, Bresson, Duras and Denis

Laura McMahon

Moving Image 2


1 June 2012  •  188pp

ISBN: 978-1-907975-03-5 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95


Drawing on the work of contemporary French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, Cinema and Contact investigates the aesthe­tics and politics of touch in the cinema of three of the most prominent and distinctive filmmakers to have emerged in France during the last fifty years: Robert Bresson, Marguerite Duras and Claire Denis. Countering the domi­nant critical account of touch elaborated by recent models of embodied spectatorship, this book argues that cinema offers a privileged space for understanding touch in terms of spacing and withdrawal rather than immediacy and continuity. Such a deconstructive configuration of touch is shown here to have far-reaching implications, inviting an innovative rethinking of politics, aesthetics and theology via the textures of cinema.

The first study to bring the thought of Nancy into sustained dialogue with a series of detailed analyses of films, Cinema and Contact also forges new interpretative perspectives on Bresson, Duras and Denis, tracing a compelling two-way exchange between cinema and philosophy.

Laura McMahon is a Lecturer in Film and Visual Culture at the University of Aberdeen.


  • ‘Makes a persuasive case for the links between these directors... Many of these readings are very sensitive, and the breadth and precision of McMahon’s knowledge of continental philosophy is certainly impressive.’ — Douglas Morrey, Modern and Contemporary France 20.4 (September 2012), 517-18
  • ‘Cinema and Contact contributes productively to a growing field of film-philosophy exploring the intersections between Nancean philosophy and cinematic aesthetics. McMahon’s work should be of great interest to film scholars looking to introduce themselves to the philosophy of Nancy and the multiplicity of ways that it touches upon and diverges from the embodied and tactile aesthetics of French cinema’ — Kathleen Scott, Frames Cinema Journal Online
  • ‘A hugely promising first book. McMahon’s sophisticated analysis treats the films of Robert Bresson, Marguerite Duras and Claire Denis as generators of theoretical propositions which she puts in critical dialogue with those of the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy... This is as much a contribution to philosophy as it is to film studies.’ — Jo Labanyi, Screen 54.2, Summer 2013
  • ‘Warmly recommended to anyone who is seriously enthusiastic about encounters between cinema and philosophy. It is a highly intelligent and eloquent performance, and certainly an original contribution to the field.’ — Tarja Laine, New Review of Film and Television Studies 11.3, 2013, 390-93
  • ‘Cinema and Contact stages a succinct yet bracing encounter between film and philosophy, each illuminating the other, making an original contribution to the theory of touch in cinema.’ — David Heinemann, Modern Language Review 108.4, October 2013, 1289-90 (full text online)
  • ‘Laura McMahon’s lucid and tightly-organised set of arguments address what might seem at first glance to be a very tricky problem of critical architecture... The convincing way in which significant aspects of the work of these three cineastes are woven together in such an attractive fashion turns the overcoming of the apparent difficulties into a triumph.’ — Geoff Brown, L'Esprit Créateur 53.1, Spring 2013, 167-68
  • ‘While this tome is aimed primarily at film theorists, others may also find its approach to spectatorship thought-provoking and a reasonably effective way of grappling with filmmaking techniques many viewers may be prone to consider as just plain confusing.’ — Joan M. West, French Review 86.6, 2013, 1250-51

Bibliography entry:

McMahon, Laura, Cinema and Contact: The Withdrawal of Touch in Nancy, Bresson, Duras and Denis, Moving Image, 2 (Legenda, 2012)

First footnote reference: 35 Laura McMahon, Cinema and Contact: The Withdrawal of Touch in Nancy, Bresson, Duras and Denis, Moving Image, 2 (Legenda, 2012), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 McMahon, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

McMahon, Laura. 2012. Cinema and Contact: The Withdrawal of Touch in Nancy, Bresson, Duras and Denis, Moving Image, 2 (Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (McMahon 2012: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 McMahon 2012: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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