In La Nuit de Varennes Ettore Scola calls into question the mode of classical representation in film. Scola achieves this on many levels. On the one hand, he has created a self-consciously classical film on the order of Velazquez’ famous Renaissance painting “Las Meninas,” a painting in which the artist has represented himself at work painting the figures of the King and Queen of Spain (Fig. 9). Scola, too, has made the equivalent of a filmic self-portrait. We don’t actually see the director in the film, but we become aware of the presence of the arranger, through a foregrounding of the filmic apparatus. Yet Scola goes even farther than Velázquez: he makes a film about the impossibility of continuing the classical system. He achieves this by a mise-en-scène of various types of storytelling that exhibit a whole panoply of narrator-narratee (storyteller to audience) relationships; and he chooses as a setting the moment of the deposition of a political authority—the end of the monarchy in France. The film is an Italian-French coproduction dating from 1982 which is loosely structured around the flight of Louis XVI (Louis Capet) from Paris in June of 1792 and his arrest the next day in Varennes. As in Velázquez’ painting, the King and Queen are thus literally present to stand in for the representation of authority. In the remarks that follow, I will make much of the fact that the French philosopher Michel Foucault chose the Velazquez painting for his study of the whole “mind-set” of classical representation; and I will show how Scola uses his own questioning of the classical mode to characterize our modern era of uncertainty.
I begin, therefore, by imagining two moments in this film as paintings in motion: cinematic modern-day versions of Velázquez’ “Las Meninas.” The first moment is this: unseen by the monarchs and unseeing, since she can only hear their voices in the chamber where they are being held captive, the Countess de la Borde participates in Louis Capet’s double decapitation: first by the agency of her look (she can see the bodies of the sovereigns, but not their heads); and secondly by her hearing the king read aloud the decree of the General Assembly: “En France il n’y a plus de roi”—France has a king no more. The partial view afforded the film spectator through the countess’s point of view underscores Louis’s severance from the right to represent the state. Voice and presence are henceforth dissociated.
The second moment occurs just afterward in the room into which the countess and her hairdresser, accompanied by Thomas Paine and the French chronicler and author of Les Nuits de Paris, Restif de la Bretonne, have retired. Here the countess is first recomposed by her servant into the fitting representation of a courtier, a process during which she looks out toward us and through the framing doorway as though at a mirror. Yielding to the pressure of Restif’s insistent curiosity, she agrees to reveal the contents of the two packages that she has brought with her on the trip, packages that he himself helped to carry for her at the Tuileries as she was departing. It is before another mirror, one integral to the diegetic space this time, that the parcels are unpacked to expose the garments that, taken together, represent the authority of the king. But they are now separated from him by time (the monarch wore this cloak of majesty at a military review in Cherbourg but is in no position to do so now) and space (the room where the garments are draped on a tailor’s dummy effectively cuts Louis off from the space of his royal representation). In the process of clothing the dummy, the hairdresser presents each piece reverently to the two men and to an offscreen spectator who occupies the place of the king’s subjects, a place now left unfilled.
Into that place, for one last time, steps the countess; a point-of-view shot that matches her glance momentarily obscures everything surrounding the king’s robes and bathes them in light. This metadiegetic moment (for nothing in the diegetic space motivates the change in lighting) assures our identification with the countess and hence our shared sorrow at the loss reenacted by this scene. On the countess’s last word and reverence—“Majesté”—we cut to the final scene of the film. This takes place on the bank of the Seine where Venetian entertainers manipulate a peepshow (one of the ancestors of cinema) depicting the beheading of Louis. These are the same storytellers that framed the film’s beginning with a recounting of the events from 1789 to 1792 that led up to the king’s flight. But by now we have “cut away” to the 20th Century: Restif de la Bretonne, the onlooker, climbs the stairs leading up from the quai de la Seine into the modern world of automobiles and pedestrian traffic. Scola’s historical narrative foregrounds the perspective it has had all along, the perspective of the present. The viewer is left with the startling realization that it is now up to him or her to reexamine all the dialogue and events of the film in terms of the film’s surprise ending.
This task is made all the more urgent by the fact that the “historical” events Scola presents, other than the attempted escape of the king, are largely invented: in the course of the film we are witness to the encounter, in a stagecoach plying its scheduled trip from Paris to Metz, of several writers and travelers: the aforementioned Thomas Paine, the French popular writer Nicholas Edme Restif de la Bretonne, and the Chevalier de Seingalt, otherwise known as Casanova. Such an encounter is purely fictitious: according to their own published accounts, Paine and Restif remained in Paris during the king’s flight, while Casanova was in Bavaria. The same liberty is taken with historical fact: Louis was not deposed at Varennes, but returned as king, as Restif describes in Les Nuits de Paris. What Scola dramatizes are the sentiments surrounding that return and the long-range effects of Louis’s flight, with, to be sure, the hindsight of history.
In La Nuit de Varennes Scola expresses the nostalgia for the classical world which the king’s flight irrevocably leaves behind. Flight compromises the king’s authority, even if he is not immediately deposed. Scola enacts what Foucault, in The Order of Things, describes as the representational system of classical order at the moment when the possibility of that order is lost.
The moment of loss is dramatized in the final reverence of the countess before the symbolic garments of the king. Our understanding of this scene can profit from a juxtaposition with Michel Foucault’s meditation on Las Meninas, the Velázquez painting he takes as the embodiment of classical representation. Many of the elements Foucault discerns in the Velázquez painting are present in this scene, though in a dynamic form. It is as though we were witness to the moment in which classical order itself comes apart, in the transition from classicism to modernism.
For Foucault this painting is emblematic of classical representation because its perspective converges on a single point, which is that of the absent onlooker.1 In Las Meninas Velázquez paints himself painting the king and queen, who are seen only as a distant mirror reflection on the wall behind him. The subject of the painting’s title refers to the Infanta and her retinue who are shown in the foreground of the painting, looking out toward the regents and toward us, the viewers. In the background, a courtier appears framed against an open doorway, on the threshold of the room.
For the purposes of my argument it is important that the “absent presence” in the Velázquez painting is filled by three figures, at once subject and object, each of whom can easily substitute for the other in what Foucault describes as “a never-ending flicker”—the sovereigns, the painter (who, since he paints himself, is looking at himself as model), and the spectator who stands in the sovereigns’ place. What Scola will do in this scene is to decompose that unity into its components, to substitute self-conscious presence, foregrounding (and hence undermining) in quick succession the apparatus, the spectator, and narrative authority.
In Scola’s scene, we begin at the position of the courtier at the right hand of the Velázquez portrait, as the countess looks out of the framed doorway as though into a mirror. We see her reflecting herself in us, the spectators, as she is composed into the shape of a courtier, the subject of the king’s authority. Her final moments as the king’s subject will henceforth be ours, through the processes of filmic identification.
It is in the dynamic nature of the film medium that the courtier, who in the painting remains on the threshold, about to enter the room, does enter; the countess traverses the “mirror,” bringing us as spectators empathically into the diegetic space (her place in the doorway is filled by her hairdresser) so that from an initial position of looking at her, we are now looking with her.
On screen left, Paine and Restif occupy the position of Velázquez in the painting; but where the painter looks out toward the space of the subject (be it the sovereigns, the spectators, or the painter himself), Paine looks offscreen toward the countess as though to probe the effect of the ceremony in which her servant first presents and then composes the king’s robes. Without ever relinquishing our identification with the countess, we now also identify with Paines look at her: we see ourselves looking at ourselves. Paines look toward her provides a stand-in for the spectator within the diegesis. Thus, we see ourselves looking at what she sees, which is the spectacle of the king’s robes. Yet, if with the countess we see them whole, as the totalizing representation of authority, we cannot help but notice that a mirror behind the servant doubles the image in which each piece is parceled out and presented as a fragmented vestige. The wholeness that the countess sees is thus shown to be an illusion, an amalgamation of separate parts.
In the “look” exchanged between the image of the clothed king and the countess, Scola reverses the classical system in which all things converge on the represented but absent presence; separated from the symbols of his authority, the king is instead a present absence. He is present only in the imagination of the countess who calls him into being. The film arranger participates in this game of illusions by staging a shot-counter-shot between the hallucinating countess and the tailor’s dummy. The countess imagines the dummy bathed in light. This light is entirely subjective, and therefore fulfills the opposite function of the light that streams in on the scene painted by Velázquez, and which underscores its codes of realism.2 This king is presently invisible to all but her. The astonishment of the countess (and her exclamation, “Majesté”) puts her in the role of the infanta of the Velázquez painting for whom the king is truly the sort of “bon papa” the French people are on the verge of repudiating.
Where then is the camera corresponding to the painter’s brush, palette, and scaffolding? In fact the apparatus of cinema is everywhere present in this scene: in the metadiegetic lighting that disturbs the film’s prevalent realism, in Paine’s glance at the offscreen space, in the exchange of “looks” between the dummy king and the countess, as an over-the-shoulder shot of the clothed dummy toward her registers a spectacle the real king cannot see. Scola seems to say that the modern viewing experience necessitates a self-consciousness in the apparatus. In the scene immediately preceding the one I have just described, the voice-off of the imperfectly seen monarch becomes the object of the countess’s and the spectator’s desire to see more, opening up what Marie-Claire Ropars has called a “fissure in the enunciation.” We long to see the figure of the king actually speaking the words that we hear, in the manner of classical cinema. As Ropars explains, “excluded, the synchronous voice becomes the object of desire and the bearer or factor of negation: desire of presence, a match between the voice that is heard and the being who is perceived.”3 The pathos of this scene, the sense of nostalgia it conveys, lies in our realization that the voice has forever separated from the person, who will never again speak as king. No longer able to determine events, the king will be determined by what others say about him; it is the dawn of the age of scribblers like Restif who will impose their own narrative point of view on the perception of history.
Scola has marshalled the cinematic apparatus to produce a mise-en-scène of the modern separation of the subject from classical representation, and he has chosen the very moment at which this separation was first made. Consciously or not, he has also chosen one of the natural subjects of cinema. The storytelling capacities of the stagecoach travelers enable him to explore various other ways of positioning the subject in narrative, turning La Nuit de Varennes into a parable for the forces that determined the emergence of modernity.
The three positions Scola explores are exemplified by Thomas Paine, Restif de la Bretonne, and Casanova. Among these, that of Casanova is perhaps the most interesting, because the treatment of him parallels that of the king; it is as though he were the king’s feminine image. Scola presents us with an aging lover whose body and voice are decaying (Fig. 10). To the beautiful widow who spontaneously offers herself to him, he replies: “It is not this old man who takes your breath away, but his name, his reputation, his past. All that which today exists no more.” Casanova’s is a fragmented body, onto which he grafts the vestiges of representation for the sake of that story which is his past. His costume is not the cloak of royal authority but the accoutrement of seduction: braided coat, make-up kit (“le nécessaire”), and wig. The women in the stagecoach are seduced by the story he represents, which is the story of desire and seduction itself. So he plies his way through the world, dropping aphorisms as he goes; this is the Casanova of the memoirs, and not one whom any of the travelers would have been in a position to know. Scola makes of this lover in his twilight years the very embodiment of the classical narrative that will experience an eclipse in modern times. Here too the feeling is one of nostalgia, as the aging pleaser makes a charming case for a type of storytelling that is now outmoded.4
Anyone who has looked into Casanova’s memoirs must be struck, I think, by the way in which they dramatize what Ross Chambers has called “narrative seduction.”5 In tale after tale the writer explains how fate and circumstances deprived him of the company of the woman whose favor he had won; unlike the myth of Don Juan which posits the subjection of woman by man, Casanova’s success with women consists in conversation and identification with her.6 In the film as well, Casanova is always the seduced rather than the seducer, Mastroianni sending back to the spectator the mirror of his or her own stance as seduced narratee. The persona the writer of the memoirs presents is that of a naive and sincere lover continually thwarted by the wicked world of husbands, political authorities, and jealous rivals.7 Scola follows this suggestion, making Casanova into an object of desire, more stereotypically feminine than masculine; a radical student scornfully addresses him as “Madame Casanova.” Restif’s first look at him parallels the typical mode of filming women in Hollywood melodramas who have undergone a “feminine metamorphosis”; the camera starts at the shoes, then moves up to catalogue the successive charms of legs, waist, bust, and head crowned with a hat.
It is not by chance that Scola chooses Casanova as the personification of classical storytelling. He exhibits that undivided consciousness of the classical writer who never questions his centrality to the story. Everything revolves around him; like the king in the Velázquez painting, he is the point and focus of the representation. And, although the stories appear to be about Casanova’s experiences with others, they evoke the personality of the storyteller himself.
Yet just as Scola dramatizes the precise moment when political authority vacillates, there is trouble in the house of fiction as well. Casanova’s repeated insistence on his failing charms and the transparency of his masquerade leave some doubt as to whether the classical mode of address is destined to last very much longer. An old man, he repeatedly nods off in mid-sentence. At one of the inn stops, his attempt to show Restif how he entertains at court is cut short by his glance at an old woman who ignores him. During this scene, the extradiegetic music playing the catalogue of women from Mozart’s Don Giovanni provides an ironic counterpoint to the seducer’s failing powers.8
As though in anticipation of modernism, Scola has Casanova address us, the spectators, beyond the grave, in order to explain why his fellow travelers have not had the opportunity of reading his memoirs: “It is important to explain that my name was virtually unknown in France at this time. My very popular memoirs were not published until after my death, which took place in 1798.” Scola effectively accuses Casanova of self-consciously producing his life as story. In another moment of rupture, a voice and image intrude to give a dictionary definition of a word employed by Casanova (the term “désobligeante,” reserved for a type of vehicle so uncomfortable that the driver is not obliged to invite others to ride with him).
In this film about history-making and storytelling no tales are actually told; nor does anything really happen, except the stopping of the vehicle of the king at Varennes; arrest, rather than progress, is its master metaphor. The stories of Restif and Casanova are referred to as past seductions fondly remembered in the absence of present ones. The conversations in the stagecoach function as extradiegetic tellings of past events that exist in offscreen space; but these tellings hold the potential for seduction. Gamely, the countess urges Restif and Casanova to seduce one of the three traveling women (an opera singer and a rich widow are also among the passengers), for hasn’t Restif written about more desperate situations: making love with a woman while her husband slept in the same bed, making love in a tree, in a rowboat, in a confessional, or with a girl holding the yarn for her blind mother. This offscreen space becomes identified as the locus of male narrative authority, an impression reinforced by the fact that all the asides and interruptions are spoken by male voices (this occurs even when the countess is recalling the king’s appearance at Cherbourg; the explanatory note is voiced by a man). The diegetic space inside the stagecoach, on the other hand, remains the locus of what Ross Chambers calls the “narrational” where the narrator’s desire to please meets the narratee’s readiness to be seduced; it is also a male-dominated place, but one in which “the maintenance of narrative authority implies an act of seduction.”9 The opera singer manages to get rid of her male companion, a judge who seems uninterested in taking part in the game: he gets sent up to ride outside with the coachman so that she can listen undisturbed.
Thomas Paine is allowed to stay on as a privileged outsider. Historically, it was Paine who, upon the return of the king, placarded Paris with the manifesto of the “Societe Republicaine,” which argued that the king had deposed himself by his flight:
The nation can never give back its confidence to a man who . . . conspires a clandestine flight, obtains a fraudulent passport, conceals a King of France under the disguise of a valet, directs his course towards a frontier covered with traitors and deserters . . . He holds no longer any authority. We owe him no longer obedience. We see in him no more than an indifferent person; we can regard him only as Louis Capet.10
Through identification with Paine, the spectator experiences the ambivalent feelings associated with the loss of the old order. It is he who gives the most rational reason for its demise: what kind of government is it, he asks, that places on the throne after a lion, an ass?11 Yet this statement earns him the scorn of the countess, to whom he is attracted. To regain her good graces, he expresses the wish to see the traveling case in which she reverently preserves the portraits of the royal family. Thus even Paine, in Scola’s account, is seduced by the force of the story that he witnesses.
La Nuit de Varennes appears to take place on a threshold. After its opening at the peepshow on the quai de la Seine, Scola cuts to Restif’s press where his introduction to the French translation of Paine’s The Rights of Man is being confiscated for non-payment of alimony. From there we shift to another liminal situation, as Restif himself is drawn over the threshold of a “maison de tolérance” by the interpellation of the Madam, an old friend. The young girl who is offered to him is herself enclosed in an alcove, and perfectly framed by a round mirror that shows her off to advantage. The way that that image refers to classical representation is underscored by Restif’s exclamation that her image is “uncontestable proof of the existence of God.” The lacy enclosure which contains her also echoes the peepshow that frames the story.
Restif enters that space, but stops short upon hearing that things are afoot in the palace of the Tuileries. Rushing to that scene, he meets the countess on another threshold and has the accidental opportunity of handing the mysterious package to her as she pauses on the step of the carriage that is to follow the king. The steps of the “diligence,” too, are constantly in the foreground; Casanova and the countess pause on it to reflect that it is too late for love, and it is here that decisions are made as to just who will ride inside. It becomes, literally, the vehicle for the advance of the narrative. The two scenes I began by describing are also threshold scenes, framed respectively by the stair and the door. What unifies the narrative, finally, is the recurrence of liminality: in this film, it is always too late for love, too late to save the king, too late for new stories, too late for anyone to escape. What Scola has produced is a mise-en-scène of Foucault’s “threshold between Classicism and modernity . . . when words ceased to intersect with representations and to provide a spontaneous grid for the knowledge of things.”12
In this film of many transitional moments, the deposition of the king only serves as the vehicle through which the far-reaching historical effects of this change are explored. Practicing what Hayden White would call an organicist approach to history, one which makes sense out of the historical process by explaining particular events in relation to an integrated scheme of “ideas” or “principles,”13 Scola discerns a wide variety of epistemic shifts. These include:
1. The crisis in the identity of the subject that comes with the loss of a secure ground for self-representation;
2. The transition from the authority of the voice to the instrumentality of writing as the expression of the authority of the state;
3. The rise of a class of writers and intellectuals with political influence, and the putting forth of writing, on the basis of personal experience and philosophy, as a true witness to historical events;
4. The shift of desire from signified to signifier, so that the object of desire becomes a token of exchange rather than an end pursued for its own sake.
THE CRISIS IN THE IDENTITY OF THE SUBJECT
With the fall of the king, the subject must find a new position in a political system deprived of patriarchal, monarchic, authorial presence. Here, the “subject” is taken to mean not only the king’s historical subjects, who lose their identity as “subjects of the crown” once he is deposed, but also the self as the subject of address in language. Fundamental changes in the order of society entail a cognitive shift in this “subject” as well.
La Nuit de Varennes can be read as a dramatization of the forces that have determined how we, as film spectators at this specific point in history, have come into being. As we pass through the different points of identification, circulating between Restif, Paine, the countess, and Casanova, we experience in a vicarious way the separation from a stable identity as subject that the fall of the king signifies. The uncertainty that befalls the countess can thus be read as the spectator’s own, and Scola’s repeated showing of her in the frame of doorways and windows as nostalgia for the old order (Fig. 11). She explains to Paine that the king was her ideal, her religion, her security, but that any other ideal would make her feel just as secure. Yes, answers Paine, “with our faith and our ideals we try to avoid being afraid; but we have to find ideals that are appropriate (qui nous conviennent); if we become aware that our ideals are at an impasse we have to have the courage to change them.” The spectator’s successive identifications with Casanova or the countess, with Restif or Thomas Paine, amount to a sort of declension of the possibility of identity. As film spectators, we are free to explore the various different positions, from classical to modernist, and to sift out the way in which this film encourages us to reenact vicariously, not just the facts of history, but schemas for historical understanding.
THE TRANSITION FROM THE AUTHORITY
OF THE VOICE TO THAT OF WRITING
Scola puts forth a cinema of writing as one step toward finding a film form more appropriate to the age; if the figures of the countess and Casanova are used as models of classical representation, the arranger interrupts their stories. Restif is presented in a more positive light. Like the medium of film today, Restif’s writings were looked down upon in his own time because they were “popular.” His favorite subjects were of the working class. Casanova recites the titles with delight: The Natural Daughter, The Parisian Household, The New Abelard, Contemporary Women, The Foot of La Fanchette. Rumor and scandal are Restif’s allies as he goes about his investigations, trying to understand, to frame coherently, what he sees and overhears. His relation to reality is the dramatization of what Roland Barthes has called the “writerly” (scriptible). For this protojournalist, overheard conversations and rumors are texts that activate him as a “reader” to search for meaning. Restif can be understood as the prototype of the modern reader or film spectator for whom all texts are scriptible; indeed, as Ross Chambers has shown, an active engagement in the text has become the new condition for legibility.14
THE RISE OF THE CLASS
OF WRITERS AND INTELLECTUALS
Restif is the true hero of Scola’s narrative, despite the fact that he also allows the spectator the pleasure of identifying with the countess and Casanova (Fig. 12). To some extent the script of the film can be considered an adaptation of Restif’s own Nuits de Paris, in which he recounts the circumstances surrounding Louis’s flight. Restif deploys the cognitive strategies the spectator must adopt to follow the mystery plot to its conclusion. This plot hinges on the mysterious package he hands to the countess, an episode taken literally from Les Nuits de Paris, dated April 17-18. On this day, however, Louis was prevented from leaving Paris. His real flight occurred a few months later, and Restif learned of it on the streets of Paris, as he describes in his entry of June 22-24.15 Linking the departure of the two women to the flight of Louis, and the package to the king’s royal garments, is an essential aspect of Scola’s plot.
Restif is the one character of the story who is allowed the privilege of enunciating in his own voice texts that he has written: the first of these is a warning to the aristocracy in which he predicts the outbreak of the Revolution, the second a look forward to the year 1992. For the first of these, Scola chooses the mechanism of an insert with Restif looking directly at the spectator (or into the camera), similar to Casanova’s explanatory note on his subsequent fame and death; but as he speaks he is also setting his words in type. For the second, which is also the concluding shot of the film, he returns to the quai de la Seine in front of the Venetian peepshow showing the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
The peepshow is commented in a manner that enables us to identify its aesthetics with those of classical narrative cinema: “a machine for seeing the world.” Everything the Venetian master of ceremonies says about his show applies to classical cinema as well: “Observe with your own eyes the great events of history, where reality becomes fantasy and fantasy reality . . . Come and see the history of the world in moving images.” Restif moves away from this model of storytelling as he climbs the steps away from the quai and enters the modern world. As he climbs, he recites a passage from Les Nuits de Paris that looks forward to the year 1992. In the passage quoted Scola has found an echo of his own organicist approach to history:
Les Nuits de Paris: “These ideas exhausted me. For relief I plunged into the centuries that followed. I saw the people of 1992 reading our history. I strained to hear them and I heard. The severity of their judgement against Louis amazed me. It seemed to me that some accused him of incalculable wrongs; while others more terrible still thanked him for having been the instrument for the destruction of royalty. All Europe apparently had a new government; but I saw on the pages of history the terrible jolts the nations had endured. I seemed to hear readers saying to each other: ‘We’re glad we didn’t live in those terrible times, when human life counted as nothing.’ One of their philosophers cried out: ‘These jolts are necessary from time to time, so people appreciate peace and quiet, just as one needs sickness to value good health.’ ‘But’ (replied one of his confrères), ‘would you have wanted to be the jolter, or the jolted?’ ‘No, no, I wouldn’t want to be either! But I wouldn’t have minded having been either one. Once past, the pain which one has survived is pleasure.’ ‘Ha! you deep thinkers,’ replied a visionary hidden in a corner, ‘you were the people of 200 years ago: you are made of their organic molecules, and you are at peace, because these molecules are weary of war. You will come back to it, after a long rest . . . ’ ”16
This passage (which Scola does not quote in its entirety) allows the director to make the transition to the perspective of the present, and it is not without significance that he gets there by way of Restif’s own writings. Writing is proposed, in this film, as the tool of historical understanding. The reader as writer, the citizen who takes upon himself the role of witness to history, are aptly characterized in Restif’s own self-description: “Literary types, chroniclers, scribblers, we are a race of spies. We don’t participate—we write, classify, and confuse everything. We are a curious race.” Scola’s visual mise-en-scène suggests that cinema may be as valid a tool for the understanding of history as the written word.
THE SHIFT OF DESIRE FROM
THE SIGNIFIED TO THE SIGNIFIER
In this historical parable, the characters seem caught up in a game of chess in which they shift from king to pawn; who can take them depends on their current value of exchange. For instance Casanova is pursued for his reputation rather than for any real charms he still possesses. He is forcefully abducted at the end of the film by his patron who sends out two thugs in an armored carriage to bring him back to Bavaria; and the king is “as good as dead,” as Casanova puts it, once he is taken prisoner, not by another king, but by a candle-maker. The same holds, Scola seems to say, for the subject of cinema, the spectator, in the sense that his enactment of the writerly entails a delaying play with the erotics of the cinematic gaze; just as Casanova is nothing more than the signifier of his former self, the spectator is constantly looking at looking rather than being held in an unproblematized relation with the image. Like Velázquez, Scola uses the mise-en-abyme to place the spectator in an unstable position, at once inside the diegetic space and outside it looking in.17
As Restif enters the modern world in the last shot of this film, he becomes one of us and urges that we search in everyday events for signals of what is to come. This final voice is the voice of writing, making writers of us all. As told by Scola, La Nuit de Varennes is the story of a loss, not just of the classical view of the world, but of the stability of the subject. By thinking through the implications of this loss on many levels, Scola has provided a convincing metaphor for our own restless position as film spectators.