The Dispersed Utopia in the Work of Olivier Marboeuf

Aleksi Rennes

Keywords: Utopia; Cinema; Spatiality; Haiti; Dispersion

Participation: presential

The history of utopian thought is inextricably entangled with colonialist logics of domination. Such repressive coordinates for the utopic imagination are already laid out in Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), a classic example of the utopian literary genre, where the organisation of the ideal society depends on the subjection of indigenous people and the appropriation of their land. From this long tradition emerges a hegemonic utopian imagery that continues to be reproduced in contemporary forms of settler colonialism. However, more recently, an alternative and decidedly oppositional strand of utopian scholarship has arisen in connection with various anti-colonial and indigenous utopianisms (e.g. Darian-Smith, 2017; Sarr, 2019). This paper seeks to contribute to these experiments in rethinking and decolonizing the concept of utopia by mapping the counter-hegemonic potentiality of utopian spaces in cinema. More specifically, the analysis concentrates on the film theoretical texts of Olivier Marboeuf as well as the film Ouvertures (2020) produced by Marboeuf in collaboration with the artistic collective The Living and the Dead Ensemble.

My emphasis on the composition of space in film can be productively grounded in the spatial tension that is inherent to the concept of utopia itself. Namely, utopia simultaneously denotes a definite place but also effects its negation as no-place (u-topos), signalling a complicated interplay between being and non-being. This ambiguity reveals a place that is fundamentally paradoxical in its unceasing wavering between its own affirmation and erasure. Continuing this conceptual trajectory, I tie the possibility of decolonizing utopia precisely to the question of place and to concrete place-making practices.

The themes of spatiality and place-making play a central role also in Marboeuf’s attempt to imagine a new kind of cinema from the perspective of the Caribbean. He designates this emerging type of film as a de-speaking cinema [cinéma déparlant] (Marboeuf, 2021), focusing particularly on the case of Haiti which is also the setting for the film Ouvertures. In this context, Marboeuf stresses the importance of places-to-come which are not ordered but always in a process of dispersion. This dispersion infects everything that occurs in these places: language becomes unintelligible, bodies become porous and dilute into the landscape. In his description of these processes and aesthetic strategies, Marboeuf compares them to the capacities for metamorphosis of matter, that is, to the chemical processes that transform solids to liquids and finally lead to gaseous states as the most extreme instances of dispersion. In all its aspects – unorganized spaces, non-representative languages, minority bodies, active matter – the Haiti that emerges through these images functions as a vivid counterexample to More’s description of the island state of Utopia. This paper maps these spaces as a milieu for a new politics of the image, which reimagines the place-making of traditional utopia.


Aleksi Rennes is a PhD candidate in Media Studies at the University of Turku. His current research relates to the field of film-philosophy and examines utopian film, cinematic space, and the interconnectedness between aesthetics and politics.