Being a French speaker brings many advantages in this world, but few so dear to my heart as being able to read through any release of Trafic, the cinema journal founded by Serge Daney and Jean-Claude Biette in 1991 and published by the French company P.O.L. Mentioning P.O.L. matters, if only because Sylvie Pierre Ulmann herself, member of the committee since number 2 and whose article titled “The Hearts of the World” opens Trafic’s ultimate issue, makes a connection between the recent passing of P.O.L.’s founder Pierre Otchatsky-Laurens and the announced halt to the journal’s publication in its current form.1 A publication can only go so far in its idiosyncrasy before economic realities sink in. Without the indefectible support of Otchatsky-Laurens, Trafic probably could not even hope to resist the scrutiny of P.O.L.’s new owners, the publishing behemoth Gallimard.

In his 2001 letter published in the journal’s 37th issue dedicated to Serge Daney, Jonathan Rosenbaum regrets the quasi absence of English translations of the critic’s work.2 3 We could similarly lament the impossibility for an English-speaking audience to access the content of Trafic. This article attempts to whet appetite and provide readers with an initial understanding of the role and importance of Trafic in three decades of French intellectual life. It then reviews number 120 in more detail.4

Trafic’s first issue, with its characteristic kraft paper layout.

A few facts about Trafic:

  • 120 issues
  • More than 1,000 contributors and 1,500 articles over the course of 30 years.
  • 18,294 pages (it would take approximately 460 hours to read the entire collection, or four months if one were to dedicate four hours a day to the exercise, which would no doubt be beneficial, as Moonfleet’s John Mohune, a constant reference for Daney and many Trafic’s contributors, would say – issue 120 offers yet another article on Moonfleet).
  • 9 special issues (37, 41, 50, 56, 65, 80. 85, 100, and 120).
  • 1 single layout from issue 1 to issue 120.
  • 0 in-magazine illustrations.

A way to understand Trafic, its ethos, and its raison d’être is to study the first article of issue 1, written by Serge Daney. Titled “Journal of This Past Year”, it is structured in short paragraphs dated between April 21 and November 1, 1991. Daney elaborates on the love for cinema, which he perceives as an oral tradition.5 Daney himself was a fabulous storyteller and oral critic. When reading the massive 4-volume collection of his writings,6 one hears his warm voice unearthing the soul of the films he is talking about. Daney assigns to Trafic the role of putting that oral tradition in writing, so that it may persist. “There should be a place to write all of this. So that the oral tradition continues. Before griots7 retire. One would need a journal for example. A journal of cinema.” These words, written a few months before his death, reek of premonition and underscore the testament (will) nature of the project. Daney’s last breath is uncharacteristically fecund, and from it will stem thirty years of relentless film theory, (un)organized according to a rhizomatic structure that explains its fecundity. At once welcoming and demanding, all-encompassing and radical, Trafic has enjoyed a unique and peculiar, if rather confidential, place in the French intellectual life of the last three decades. Not too different from Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Trafic has been this proliferating and ambitious film journal that everyone knew existed, nobody read nor purchased, and everyone laments now it is gone.8 

At various places in his text, Daney gives the reader of this inaugural issue keys to understand Trafic’s sense of role and place. He episodically starts sentences with “One would need a journal to…” and ends them with four separate reasons spread across the text of the article. So, one would need a journal to…

  • “… write all of this. So that the oral tradition persists. Before griots retire” (p. 5).
  • “… shout against (barbary, folklore, the communicating headquarters of the new world order)” (p. 8).
  • “… modestly eruct, in one’s own corner. Send dispatches of those who do not know, do not want, can no longer collaborate with what started to crawl again” (p. 10).
  • “… create a circulation in these singular bodies and never-before-seen landscapes, never filmed, war machines and solitudes that are “overcrowded within themselves” (p. 14).

Therein lies the sadness that fills the reader’s heart when learning from Sylvie Pierre Ulmann’s opening article of issue 120 that Trafic will be discontinued. At a time in the history of the world and of cinema where it would seem more needed than ever, who will “shout against”? Where will we find news from those who no longer want to collaborate? What happens when circulation stops in these singular bodies and never-before-seen landscapes? All soul-searching questions that gnaw at the heart of the middle-aged author of this review whose intellectual biography closely aligns with the history of Trafic. I was 15 when Daney wrote his manifesto, and I am now 45. Trafic has been a loyal companion on my intellectual and sensory journey in the world of cinema since then. This seems fitting, as Daney himself conceived Trafic as a mean to answer the need to re-evaluate cinema according to his own biography. This was deemed to allow one to better understand cinema’s current state. Daney’s cine-journals in issues 1 through 3 are attempts at a form of “biocinephilic essay”, in which he tries to elucidate the origins of his attachment to certain films over others.9

Serge Daney in Serge Daney: Itinéraire d’un ciné-fils (Serge Dany: Journey of a Cine-son, Pierre-André Boutang & Dominique Rabourdin, 1992).

Four times a year, Trafic has provided serious readers with demanding and unforgiving opportunities to reflect on cinema, images and literature. Serge Daney had been at the helm of Cahiers du cinéma for a while in the ‘70s and then responsible for the culture section of the daily leftist newspaper Libération for the better part of the ‘80s. At the onset of a new decade, he was looking for a new pace and format that would support a different and renewed approach of resistance against the currents of the time. The stern nature of a text-only volume and the quarterly publication matched his aspirations. Trafic is born from a few strong choices: choice of a release pace that, compared to a weekly or monthly magazine, allowed almost total freedom from the constraints of the present time; choice of a perspective open to cinemas from all times and places, and all sorts of images (Raymond Bellour for example, one of the members of the comité de rédaction, specialized in experimental cinema and cinema that is projected in museums); no editorial, no interviews, no pictures or illustrations, no hierarchy in each issue’s table of content between films or genres… What appears as a degree of austerity allows to develop a documentary cartography of cinema. This cartography navigates between two poles: classic cinema, whether it be from the US (Lang, Hitchcock), France (Grémillon, Renoir), Germany (Murnau), or Japan (Mizoguchi, Ozu); and modern cinema, with Godard, Oliveira, and many others. Trafic often welcomed writings from philosophers (Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Rancière, Stanley Cavell) and helped share the work of US critics otherwise largely ignored in France, such as Manny Farber, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Kent Jones, Tag Gallagher, and Bill Krohn.10 Each issue contained at least one or two translations of important texts from filmmakers or critics around the world. Summer 2019 issue (110) provides a good example, among countless others: Trafic published a translation from American English to French of Édouard de Laurot’s “Dramaturgy”, introduced by two articles: one text by Jonas Mekas (also a translation to French) titled “Édouard de Laurot et moi” (“Édouard de Laurot and I”), another by prominent film critic Nicole Brenez.

As already stated, each issue of Trafic was structured without hierarchy among articles and had its own internal logic based on patterns of dialogue between texts and authors. French critic Simon Pageau, in one of the rare if not unique examples of academic research dedicated to Trafic, notes that starting with the first issue, “speech creates bridges between articles. It shapes initially autonomous movements, which then converge and name common objects and shared thoughts, beyond the flow of one author’s peculiar thoughts.”11 In issue 1, Jacques Rivette’s La belle noiseuse (1991) appears in both Daney’s and Biette’s articles, whereby a common speech reveals itself. Hopefully, further research will be conducted on these syntagmatic (within a specific issue) and paradigmatic (across issues and time) dialogues that Trafic helped to foster and maintain and that now will, with the journal’s demise, be harder to hear and perceive.

The author’s battered Issue 120.

Issue 120

The theme of issue 120 is “Ce que tu aimes bien demeure” (“What thou lov’st well remains”), an excerpt from Ezra Pound’s Cantos. A longer excerpt was printed on the first page of issue 1, highlighting the role literature would play in Daney and Biette’s project. As much as a film journal, Trafic recognizes itself indeed as a literary journal. It published articles from people outside of the purely cinematic field. As Rosenbaum notes in his article for issue 37, articles on cinema also are full of references and comparison to literature.12 Frequent and key contributors such as Raymond Bellour or Jacques Rancière are literary critics and philosophers as much as they are film critics. Case in point, the “council” created in 2004 that technically augments the comité de rédaction is composed of Leslie Kaplan, a writer, Pierre Léon, a critic and cineaste, Jacques Rancière, a philosopher, Jonathan Rosenbaum, an American cinephile, and Jean-Louis Schefer, an art historian and philosopher. Hence, each issue of Trafic opens with a quote, more than often drawn from literature, such as is the case with issues 1 and 120 and Ezra Pound’s Cantos.

Sylvie Pierre Ulmann owns and explains the choice of the final issue’s theme in the opening article and Pound’s sentence is then passed to 40 contributors who find inspiration in it to offer an ultimate contribution. Many if not all of them had already written in Trafic before and the frequent reader will recognize staple writers such as the filmmakers Luc Moullet, Leslie Kaplan, and Philippe Grandrieux, the critics and academics Nicole Brenez, Jacques Rancière, Raymond Bellour, Jean-Louis Comolli, Jean-Louis Schefer, Mathieu Macheret, Youssef Ishaghpour, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Patrice Rollet, and many others. The volume also presents two posthumous articles by Trafic’s co-founders Daney and Biette.

I compiled the list of all filmmakers covered as important themes in the contributions, which reads like a glimpse into the cinema that mattered for the magazine in the last thirty years: D.W. Griffith, Benoît Jacquot, Akira Kurosawa, Andy Warhol, Jean-Claude Biette, Jean-Claude Guiget, Marie-Claude Treilhou, Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen Frears, Satyajit Ray, Bela Tarr, Vincente Minelli, Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, Roberto Rossellini, Mark Baumer, Jean Grémillon, François Truffaut, Chantal Akerman, Otar Iosselliani, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Joseph Losey, Manoel de Oliveira, Éric Rohmer, Luchino Visconti, Jerzy Skolimowski, Alain Resnais, Charles Laughton, Joseph Mankiewicz, Howard Hawks, Fei Mu, and Edward Ludwig.13 One will recognize the poles mentioned above between classic and modern cinema in the journal’s cartography. Two articles by Pierre Gabaston and Helmut Färber are also built as extensive lists tracking over multiple pages and hundreds of titles the memory and the tastes of their authors. Other articles focus on the camera (Jean-Paul Fargier), Gary Winogrand and the role of photography (Érik Bullot), childhood and cinema (Fabrice Revault), Robert De Niro (Jean-Marie Samocki), extras in movies (Nicole Brenez), and the personal memories of the author (Marcelline Delbecq) of family movies from the early twentieth century. 

One of the most striking and rejuvenating articles comes from the French critic and university professor Frédéric Sabouraud. Titled “A deux mains (“With Both Hands”), it starts from Chantal Akerman’s La captive (2000) to explore a Proustian experience of cinema, tainted with nostalgia for “la maison cinéma”, cinema as a home. Cinema could be conceived as the home of what one’s loves well, the home of a world that does not exist but without which the existing world would be much more difficult to bear. Sabouraud also apprehends the worst fear of the cinephile, that of attending to the slow death of his own desire of cinema. “When the home sinks, when the world inflicts too much violence, when tweets replace sentences, when cinema is only a memory drowned in other faster images, one hears the sound of a requiem” (p. 150). If what thou lov’st well remains, it owes it to being not just a souvenir, but also a fragment of the present, indestructible, an ever-present present, a firefly whose light never fades. Within us subsist small “eternity crystals” that help us to stand the passing of time. This original idea of associating eternity crystals with cinema exemplifies the importance of Trafic as a resource to understand the role and impact cinema, literature, and art in general can play in shaping one own’s perspective and life.

In his short article titled “Petite topologie de ma cinéphilie”, (“Small Typology of My Cinephilie”), the filmmaker and critic Luc Moullet, best known for coining the line “Morality is a matter of tracking shots,”14 explores how a film’s perception evolves in the eyes of its viewer along the years. Moullet builds on the example of his reception of Kurosawa’s Rashōmon (1950), which he admired at fourteen and came to despise when he realized Toshirō Mifune’s halting breath after running a few yards was primary and rough, everything but realistic. With time, he started to hold Kurosawa’s mediocre depiction of everyday life against the Japanese director and all his films. At the opposite, Moullet mentions The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955) and Whirlpool (Otto Preminger, 1950) as examples of movies he warmed to as years passed, or Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964) as a work he disliked in its first reels before falling in admiration starting on reel 3 or 4. Moullet talks of “dialectical enthusiasms that last along the years, more than with films loved from start to finish. Long live the slow conquest of the film watcher or of the lover!” (p. 32).

In a hilarious opening paragraph, Jean Narboni settles the score with Judith Butler and the irruption of gender studies and inclusive writing in the landscape of French university. He then gives a brilliant reinterpretation of Howard Hawks’s I Was a Male War Bride (1949) as the most modern and anticipatory comedy of all three shot with Cary Grant, considering the most recent developments of transgenderism.

Marcos Uzal, currently editor in chief at Cahiers du cinéma, admits how his own judgment and perspective vary each time he watches Death in Venice (1971). Visconti’s film admittedly “suffocates from its qualities and breathes through its shortcomings” (p. 185). Nonetheless, the film viewer must make his gaze agree with Dirk Bogarde’s character Aschenbach, in whom we recognize our condition as spectators, torn in the tension between the mere triviality of our physical existence and the miracle of perception. Death in Venice becomes a treaty in cinephile mysticism.

In “Police and Thieves in the Street!” (a title given in English in the journal), Marie Anne Guerin provides a personal and original survey of British cinema that opens with acknowledging and contradicting François Truffaut’s statement that “British cinema is a contradiction in itself between two terms” (p. 93), echoed by Godard in his Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988). Quite the opposite, “England is a filmed country, a cinema treasure, documented in movies” (p. 93). Guerin then focuses on Hitchcock, Chaplin, a 1969 tribute concert to Brian Jones by the Rolling Stones, and David Hockney in A Bigger Splash (Jack Hazan, 1973).

François Bon erects a tombeau (memorial) to the American writer and vlogger Mark Baumer who chronicled his barefoot walk across the U.S. with daily YouTube videos until his untimely death, hit by an S.U.V. in Florida, on day 101 of his journey. In 26 short vignettes, the reader gets acquainted with the American documentalist’s trajectory and the status of his images in a vision of cinema. This reminded me of Herzog’s prior assessment of Timothy Treadwell’s contribution as a cineaste in Grizzly Man (2005). Bon opens: “Crossing the U.S.A. barefoot to protest Trump’s policy on climate does not make you a cineaste – good intent does not mean good literature, it’s the same with film” (p. 118). After describing his personal discovery of Baumer’s work in a manner reminiscent of Daney’s cine-journals, Bon concludes: “Where is the oeuvre? And without Baumer’s death in its own film, would it have been construed as such? Disaster is all that remains […]. We don’t know if the real was erected as visible, and as narration” (p. 124).

Jean-Marie Samocki analyses the process of aging through the lens of Robert De Niro’s career, from Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984) to his most outrageous recent comedies, such as War with Grandpa (Tim Hill, 2020). Bitter at time when reflecting on De Niro’s choices, the author offers a fascinating interpretation of Martin Scorsese’s choice of using the de-aging technology in The Irishman (2019). “By de-aging and then over-aging De Niro, Scorsese reveals what the actor has ceaselessly devoted himself to in the last twenty years: devitalization through motionlessness, relentlessness to turn existence into a counterforce, and a gesture against oneself. Except that the cineaste offers an Egyptian dimension to this solitude, placing it willingly or not in a Hollywoodian history of mummification and the ending of legends – when De Niro relentlessly tried to disappear in a dreary mist, visible for anyone but seen by none, as an inadvertent suicide” (p. 82).

 Leslie Kaplan returns to one of Trafic’s and Serge Daney’s favorite films, Moonfleet (1955), and to Fritz Lang’s unique and characteristic depiction of a child who, through his desire to find a friend, literally produces an adult. “Moonfleet is the work of a man who went through two world wars, has not had children himself, and who films the story of a child that makes a man an adult, similar to cinema or to art, which look for the child in the adult to make him grow, give him a living life” (p. 214).

Jean-Claude Biette’s article from 1989 is entirely contained in its title: “La nuit du chasseur, de plus en plus jeune, de plus en plus grand” (“The Night of the Hunter, Younger and Younger, Greater and Greater”). Biette elevates Charles Laughton to the level of Griffith or Hitchcock, as his film is entirely deprived of cinema effects, relying instead on a secret and unwavering law that the one-time director would have found deep in himself, before losing it forever. 

In the beautifully titled “Ce que tu aimes grandit (les figurants)” (“What Thou Lov’st Well Grows (The Extras)”), the unparalleled professor and critic Nicole Brenez restores the place of infinite crowds, of human, animal, and all living forms now disappeared and yet still rustling, that will last longer than us thanks to cinema. She conveys the moving story of Luce Vigo for example, discovering very late her own mother’s appearance in a dance scene of L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934). Brenez proposes an “Ethics of the extras”, and exemplifies it by giving voice to Omar Blondin Diop, a Nigerian Maoist militant playing his own role in Godard’s La Chinoise (1967), who died tragically in a Senegalese jail in 1973. Brenez offers a French translation of a hard-to-find text by Diop on Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls (1966), therefore fulfilling one more time what has been one of Trafic’s roles in the last thirty years (see above).

Two authors passed away shortly before or after their publication in this issue 120: Youssef Ishaghpour and Jean-Louis Comolli. Ishaghpour, who in his career wrote authoritatively on Orson Welles, Yasujirō Ozu, or Satyajit Ray, gives his last text on the topic of Godard’s Une femme est une femme (1961), shortly after publishing a book of dialogues with the cineaste.

 Jean-Louis Comolli, who just passed away in May, also gives one of his last texts in the form of a quasi-love letter to Godard, in this case his Grandeur et décadence d’un petit commerce de cinéma (1986), as it connects to Europe’s religious paintings from the Renaissance until Chagall. 

This dozen or so examples taken from the forty contributions reflect a very personal choice and do not do full justice to Trafic 120 richness as an at once highly contemporary and timeless “eternity crystal”, a talisman for the cinephile, a volume to cherish for the French-speaking film lover, and a fitting bookend for the thirty-year long collection of highly rewarding and stimulating dialogues. Of course, I could and should have made place for a more critical assessment of Trafic’s history and shortcomings, including in this concluding issue. Many negative comments addressed to Trafic are akin to those addressed to Adorno’s writings: their style is at times perceived as elitist and off-putting. Both with the Frankfurt’s philosopher and with the French film journal, I tend not to lend much value to this perspective, as the paratactic nature of their writing has proven indeed effective against any commodification of thought. More relevant might be the regrettable lack of balance between male and female contributors, as seen in issue 120, in which 75% of articles are written by men. In film theory and criticism as elsewhere and in too many places, work remains to be done to do justice to women’s equally valuable and necessary contribution to the field.

It appears that Trafic will continue, under the responsibility of Raymond Bellour, to release a rich yearly issue, still published by P.O.L. Therefore, an object that closes the collection initiated by Serge Daney in 1991 may well be the first in a new, less frequent series, that might itself define a new temporality and pace of exchange. In the meantime, one should hope and rejoice when griots survive in alternate publications on the internet, such as Senses of Cinema.


  1. Sylvie Pierre Ulmann, “Les cœurs du monde,” Trafic, Issue 120 (Winter 2021): p. 5-15.
  2. Jontahan Rosenbaum, “Daney en Anglais: Lettre à Trafic”, Trafic, Issue 37 (Spring 2001): pp. 181-192.
  3. In July 2022, Semiotext(e) is releasing a volume of Daney’s writings during his years at Cahiers du cinéma, the cover of which seems to mimic P.O.L’s French edition. The endorsement published on their website reads: “Serge Daney was the key French film critic of his era. His untimely death in 1992 at 48, from AIDS, robbed international cinema of its most important critical voice. Despite his achievements as a writer and editor, little of Daney’s work has been published in English. The Cinema House and the World: The Cahiers du cinéma Years, 1962–1981 covers Daney’s years as a contributor and editor at the magazine that launched the French New Wave. It is about time English-language readers had access to the full range of Daney’s thought and his unparalleled work on cinema. His prose, with its keen insights into individual films and the cinema as concept and practice, is original and transformative, a must-read for serious cinephiles and anyone else who believes in the ongoing tale of cinema.”
  4. Curious readers may access the table of content of all 120 issues of Trafic on P.O.L.’s website.
  5. Serge Daney, “Journal de l’an passé,” Trafic, Issue 1 (Winter 1991): p. 5-15.
  6. Daney, La maison cinéma et le monde, four volumes (Paris: P.O.L., 2001-2015).
  7. A griot is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician – a repository of oral tradition. This is not the only instance of Daney using the analogy of a griot for his role as film critic. See Cahiers du cinéma, Issue 788 (June 2022): p. 71
  8. All the main cultural and film newspapers and magazines have mentioned or chronicled issue 120 of Trafic: Cahiers du cinéma, Positif, Le Monde, Libération, Les Inrocks, etc. One struggles though, looking at their archives, to find many more references to it in the last thirty years.
  9. Daney, “Journal de l’an passé”; “Journal de l’an nouveau”, Trafic, Issue 2 (Spring 1992): pp. 5-18; “Journal de l’an présent”, Trafic, Issue 3 (Summer 1992): pp. 5-24.
  10. In this development, I rely heavily on Axelle Ropert’s article “Trafic et Jean-Claude Biette”, La bibliothèque du film (2003).
  11. Simon Pageau, “L’esprit Trafic (1991-1992): Création d’une revue: Lecture des premiers numéros,” Sciences de l’Homme et de la Société (2019).
  12. Jontahan Rosenbaum, “Daney en anglais”.
  13. This list does not cover of course all filmmakers discussed at one point in the issue, only those whose work is a predominant theme of one or several given articles.
  14. See a short explanation of this quote in the English abstract of this article: David Oubiña, “Moral y traveling: Compromiso ético y discurso de la forma en Cahiers du cinema,” Ética y cine, Volume 11, Issue 2 (July 2021).