Some Thoughts on Ince’s Study on Mia Hansen-Løve

by: , June 14, 2021

© Picture from the book cover

In June 2020, Kate Ince’s article entitled ‘Ethics, Gender and Vulnerability in the Films of Mia Hansen- Løve,’ was published in the journal Film-Philosophy. It examined several of the director’s films as case studies for twentieth and twenty first century theories of vulnerability. Her present study, The Cinema of Mia Hansen Love: Candour and Vulnerability (2021), from Edinburgh University Press, explores similar ideas, but does a great deal more than simply build on the earlier study. Instead it deserves praise as the most comprehensive critical study on Hansen- Løve, documenting the beginning of her career in film-criticism and acting, and how that came to affect the film-making practice. 

One central question stimulated by Ince’s methodology is: what would an expert in film history who comes to the same work from a different philosophical tradition, or from outside of philosophy completely, make of the films? Predominantly, the book convinces us that we need to draw on philosophy to interpret Hansen-Løve’s oeuvre. Ince cites the film director’s statement of an inextricable link between cinema and philosophy: ‘philosophy is philosophy and cinema is cinema but it is true that for me, at least, it is the only way; it is my way to handle these questions’. (152) Ince supplements Hansen- Løve’s statement by proposing candour and vulnerability as integral to the philosophy put forward by the films. 

The book is organised into six main chapters, alongside an introduction and a conclusion. The first main chapter, entitled ‘Fracture Familiale,’ makes the case that the precarious nature of the nuclear heterosexual family in many of Hansen-Løve’s films is to be understood through alterations in ‘family structure’ that seem ‘typical of late twentieth-and twenty first-century western societies, where the number of adults living alone has been rising steadily for decades, cohabitation has become as common as actual marriage, and divorce rates are as high as 50 %’. (21) ‘Vulnerable People,’ the second chapter, develops this argument with a focus on individuals in each film. The third is about how work can be a safeguard against a postmodern crisis in secularism as replacement for religious faith, which is reflected in the title: ‘Adversity and resilience: the post-secular ethic of vocation.’ 

In the second half of the book Ince expands on the arguments through close reading and sophisticated use of theory, which allows us to see how Hansen-Løve’s film technique enriches the subject matter of her films. The fourth chapter, ‘Candid camera, or an aesthetic of transcendence,’ looks at how Hansen-Løve’s ‘certain spirituality, in the form of a clarity and power of emotion and intense romantic or family love,’ is inspired but different from ‘the film philosophies of Bresson and Rohmer’. (86) The fifth is a very detailed overview of the music in Hansen-Løve’s films, while the sixth draws on the philosophy of time and cinema in Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze to articulate Hansen-Løve’s unique use of time. 

Ince cites ‘manifold changes to French masculinities,’ correlated with greater recognition of gay rights and for a less heteronormative understanding of law, enshrined in modern French legislation—the PACS in 1999, and the legalisation of gay marriage in 2013—in order to claim that Hansen-Løve’s ‘cinema’ is one ‘in which men are more often vulnerable than not, and heteronormative masculine ideals therefore no longer hegemonic’. (52-53) Nothing else becomes hegemonic in the place of heteronormativity, but Ince elucidates the struggle to find a vocation experienced by many of Hansen-Løve’s central characters. It is partly this decentring of heteronormativity that gives the films their vitality. 

Gay liberation, the legalisation of civil union and gay marriage are evidently both progressive. However, Ince mentions another more vexatious point of historical context: 

The rise of neoliberal economics from the 1980s onwards reinforced the trends away from large families and extended families living in the same household and towards small nuclear families, single-parent households and single-person households, which at the time of writing number approximately one-third of the total number of households in the EU. (22-23) 

The failures of family, especially fatherhood, in Hansen-Løve’s work, must indeed be understood as part of a neo-liberal economy. Yet Ince is also sensitive to the more personal situation in each film, where, of course, it seems unlikely that characters conceive their vulnerability within specific historical change. 

Mia Hansen-Løve has now directed six feature length films that have been released to the general public. Ince rightly states that this denotes a ‘remarkable achievement for a woman in any film industry’: ‘[i]t is one equalled by very few other French women directors, and the mark of a productivity that is even more impressive when we consider that Hansen-Løve is only just forty (she was born in 1981) and that her seventh film is being released as she reaches that birthday’. (2) Moreover, Ince points out, the films have had ‘consistent critical success’.(2) In addition to having made an impressive number of films, Hansen-Løve’s work has a striking coherence. This is one of the conditions that makes an entire critical book possible so early in the director’s career. It is interesting to wonder if this monograph marks the end of one highly complex phase in the director’s career, which leads to the related question of whether there will be more studies about later phases in their work. 

It is attention to Hansen-Løve’s preference for ambivalence that makes Ince’s study a rich book to read. It is hard to identify definitive subject positions or attitudes in the films which make criticism about the work so appealing and urgent. From the beginning of her career, Hansen-Løve possessed a confident idiom resulting in a recognizably individual style. Although inevitable in a study that puts Hansen-Løve into the context of twenty-first century modernity or post-modernity, Ince does not discuss Hansen-Løve in relation to other filmmakers. This could be the central area in which more scholarship might be done. Ince argues, using Hansen-Løve’s dual heritage as French and Danish for evidence, that these are not films singularly oriented within French cinema, even though they respond to changes in French culture. For that reason, it would be interesting to make more international comparisons. I think, for example, of the British filmmaker Joanna Hogg. Although the trajectory of their careers is very different, both Hogg and Hansen-Løve spent a period of time having an apprenticeship in film directing, then began making their own work with a very sure sense of their aims. 

In the sixth and final chapter, entitled ‘The Rivers of Time,’ there is a discussion of Heraclitus’ image of the fluctuations of time articulated with the impossibility of stepping into the same river twice. This parallel is enriched, as Ince demonstrates, by Hansen-Løve’s use of Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling’s song ‘The Water’ in Goodbye First Love (2009). Both Ince’s study and Hansen-Løve’s film are highly sophisticated and complex, amenable to changes in our perspective, therefore never identical on each reading. Finally, Ince adds to our knowledge that Hansen-Løve makes extensive use of dialogue out of commitment to ‘phonocentrism,’ which is the ‘capacity of speech to convey truth’ so heavily challenged by Jacques Derrida and other thinkers of deconstruction (96), a cinematic approach to dialogue that is also, Ince suggests, unfashionable at the moment. This is one of the numerous encouraging, excellent reasons Ince gives us to remain committed to Hansen- Løve. 

Book info: Ince, Kate (2021), The Cinema of Mia Hansen-Løve: Candour and Vulnerability, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (176 pages). 


Ince, Kate (2020), ‘Ethics, Gender and Vulnerability in the Films of Mia Hansen- Løve,’ Film-Philosophy, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 104-121.

Ince, Kate (2021), The Cinema of Mia Hansen-Løve: Candour and Vulnerability, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 

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