Marion Cotillard Doesn’t Exist

The video essay form is well suited to performance studies, as many pieces featured on this website have shown. This particular video made by Elena G. Vilela and published by the Spanish journal Tecmerin at first looks like an addition to that specific subset of video essays, but there’s a lot more and a lot of different things going on here. As Vilela makes clear in the accompanying statement, this video is a riff on the language and mechanisms of cinema. It is an exercise in “metacinema” and that genre’s capacity to manipulate and assign new meaning to existing footage. Marion Cotillard Doesn’t Exist (and This is the Proof) playfully and creatively jumbles up the actress’s filmography to make her – and us – question what is real, what is cinema, and what is real cinema.


To achieve all of the above, Vilela uses the remix approach. No less than 27 feature films were sourced to make this montage. But the main strategy that this video essay uses is borrowed from another art form: this piece continues the tradition and tropes of the theater of the absurd.


As is often the case in the theater of the absurd, this piece’s stated theme is existentialism. (It literally questions if Marion Cotillard does even exist). Like the theater of the absurd, it engages in formal experimentation to destabilize and question the prevalent formal conventions. (More precisely, this video is a play on the formal possibilities of editing: an experiment along the lines of Kuleshov’s montage antics that changed the meaning of shots by altering their context). Like the famous absurdist play Six Characters in Search of an Author by Pirandello, this piece questions the relationship between director and actor, between creator and creation. Like absurdist theater its next of kin is surrealism, as witnessed in its chipping away at the fourth wall and the narrator’s direct address of the on-screen actress. This video essay even has the (almost) circular structure that is a familiar characteristic of many absurdist plays – an ouroboros biting its own tail. Finally, like the theater of the absurd, this piece hides its meaning behind a seemingly nonsensical veil.


In adapting those absurdist strategies, Elena G. Vilela has crafted a fine example of performative criticism: a video essay that reveals its intentions not through what it says, but through how it does so.