This essay argues that twenty-first-century melodrama films by female directors rework the core components of classic melodrama form—not only its timing, but also narrative form, agnition, and the underlying fantasy of union. While they retain a focus on objects and setting as bearers of emotion, and on a crisis in intimate relations, the three films by Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, and Ann Hui considered here reconsider melodrama’s possibilities. They all broach ways of rethinking Oedipal fantasy, moving beyond a story of the fraught emergence of the individual to one focused on a collective problem of how we negotiate a proper proximity to cherished others. All three films turn from what could have been to what the past makes possible now and thus change melodrama from a melancholic genre to a generative one.

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