Professor Christine Smallwood Publishes 'La Captive'

Carlos Barragán
April 03, 2024

Adjunct Assistant Professor Christine Smallwood has published La Captive (Fireflies Press, 2023), a close look at Chantal Akerman's 2000 film of the same name, loosely based on Marcel Proust's The Prisoner. La Captive is the fifth published book of the Decadent Series, a collection that reevaluates 2000s cinema with ten books—each spotlighting a significant film from each year of the decade—crafted by leading cultural critics.

The Prisoner and La Captive both explore the story of a wealthy young man who lives with his girlfriend in a small apartment. As obsession begets deceit inside the claustrophobic cage they call love, it becomes ever more difficult to distinguish the captive from the captor. In Smallwood's book, she skillfully connects her own life with Akerman's filmmaking and Proust's writing. 

"I follow a number of lines of thought—there are sections on sleep, and separation anxiety, and singing—but at the center of everything is time,” Smallwood said. “Akerman's desire to make the viewer experience the passage of time; Proust's idea that art can redeem wasted time; and my own attempt to make the book itself hold the time it took to write it."

“Christine Smallwood creates both a portrait of Akerman and her films—the most illuminating I’ve read—and a portrait of herself," said the British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg. Others, like the novelist Lynne Tillman, emphasized how the book marries art to life and life to art. “Smallwood’s La Captive is a delightful, engrossing book. Her study of Chantal Akerman’s film is profound, entwining Akerman’s and Proust’s resonant themes: mothers and daughters and sons, love and loss, passion and passivity, freedom, obsession, and time.”

Christine Smallwood is the author of the novel The Life of the Mind (Hogarth, 2021), which Time Magazine named one of the top ten fiction books of the year. Her essays, reviews, and profiles have been published in Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Bookforum, and The New York Times Magazine, where she is a contributing writer. She holds a PhD in English from Columbia University and is a core faculty member of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, where she teaches courses on the nineteenth-century novel and other topics.