This chapter aims to establish the intellectual context for the filmic corpus discussed throughout the book. Often the ‘feel-bad films’ have been compared with works of the historical avant-garde and the neo-avant-garde of the 1960s-70s. Some critics argue that the contemporary films simply repeat, and thereby undermine, the transgressions of the avant-garde; other critics contend that the films revitalize the avant-garde by reopening the path from transgression to emancipation. Underlying this dichotomy lies the agreement that transgression should lead to emancipation. In a polemical contribution to this debate, this chapter argues that the specificity of the contemporary films is to extend and explore the distance between transgression and emancipation. In some cases the distance is experienced as tragic (Dumont’s Twentynine Palms, Antoniak’s Code Blue, de Van’s In My Skin and Denis’s Bastards), in other cases it is explored in a farcical mode (von Trier’s The Idiots and Korine’s Trash Humpers). On the whole, the films do not promote an emancipatory project, but rather manifest a more ambiguous desire for such a project. The chapter concludes that this move from ‘a project’ to ‘a desire for a project’ is an important dimension of the contemporary cultural situation.
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