Le Fait Divers Revenant: Thierry Paulin

Beyond text, the opacity of Claire Denis’ J’ai Pas Someil (1993) offers a means of resistance to dominant regimes of representation. Like the archive, meaning is drawn from the interwoven  gaps, images, signs, subjectivity and the ongoing relationship between the author/collector (an “anarchist” according to Benjamin) and the components of the real life story (the “subversive protests” of the assembled items.)

Denis’ relationship to the ‘Paulin Affair’, the scandal of the Martinican ‘Monstre de Montmartre’, Thierry Paulin, who in the mid-80s along with his Guyanese accomplice and lover Jean-Thierry Mathurin was arrested for killing twenty-one old women in the eighteenth arrondissement of Paris, merits closer scrutiny. Paulin’s spectral presence as a ‘revenant’ is testament to his ‘monstrous’ representation, as the monster always returns and its threat lies in its ability to sprout an extra head, resurface and return in new and more dangerous forms.

In an interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Jousse & Strauss) after the release of the film, loosely based on the the Paulin affair, Denis talked of how she grappled with this particular fait divers, not seeking it out as a reference but rather accepting her inevitable relationship with the story. The story kept returning to haunt her: she realised she had met Thierry Paulin several times before he was arrested; a friend of hers died the same day as Paulin; she became interested in Baudrillard’s discussion of the affair. In an interview in Autrement in 1989, Baudrillard spoke of the serial killer in French society, on the fact that unlike the great French murderers of the epoque, the man who had provoked such headlines as ‘France a peur’, had today disappeared completely from public view.

Paulin’s mother still lives in France and his accomplice, Mathurin, was released from prison in 2009. Denis’ film, though it guards a distance from the real-life story (not wanting the mother to relive the past horrors), can be seen as a ‘revenant’, a new text or layering, which spurs new meanings and readings, offering the potential to incite debates still relevant today and inform the shaping of cultural values. While the French media bound elements of Paulin into one ‘monstrous’ body, Denis’ project is concerned with exposing the mechanisms of this body or social system and flagging up its constituent, arbitrary elements.

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