Wednesday, February 22, 2006

La Vie nouvelle (Philippe Grandrieux, 2002)

This being the first Grandrieux film I've seen, I was naturally bewildered during much of my viewing, but I knew I was watching something alien, something special. It brought back some of the images and the sounds of recent Claire Denis films (it especially has a deep affinity with Trouble Every Day), but I couldn't understand the motivations behind Grandrieux's method. Until that remarkable extended dance sequence in the underground sex club which occurs towards the end when the quietly aggressive Boyan manipulates Melania into adapting a series of dance moves for her performance that night. The scene begins with silence (or near-silence, since almost the entire film has a distant droning noise in the background) as Melania is spun around upon Boyan's instructions. Throbbing techno music seems to emanate from within her, and Melania's body loses control and breaks into a jittery, fragmented, out-of-focus vibration. Slowly, the music abandons her again, and the camera seems to lose itself upon her flesh, only to find itself yet again (to the return of the beats) as it pulls back and shows her dancing as if in a trance, in front of a crowd. (The entire sequence has been brilliantly deconstructed by Adrian Martin.) This scene exhibits the film's central obsession with the malleability of image and sound to produce a primal, completely sensorial experience, and externalises its underlying sadist/masochist games, only hinted at previously in the film. That this beautiful and frightening sequence is followed by another one that is even more (strangely) beautiful and frightening signals the culmination of the film's own dance of images, when its blind gropes-in-the-dark have become an animalistic ritual, when all of its primitive emotions have become exhausted (the rapture of some of the earlier images - such as the fantasized nighttime motorbike ride - coming to a sudden burn-out). This subsequent sequence (which I won't - I can't! - describe), filmed with a thermic camera, represents what Nicole Brenez calls "the bottomless terror of the unconscious" in her interview with Grandrieux.

But the principle obsession of the film is with bodies colliding (usually in sex and/or violence) and seeking transformation with such interactions. And in the absence of dialogue (for much of the film), plot, and character development, the viewer relies on the texture of the sounds and images to guide him/her - from the ambient- and techno-saturated sound spaces to the colour scheme of reds and browns and its anti-claustrophobic use of out-of-focus close-ups - and we experience the sensory responses of the figures on the screen with an unusual degree of intimacy and clarity, and with no trace of sentimentality. Ultimately, it's as Brenez puts it: "a particularly striking moment is the track-in, down a hotel corridor and out a window, towards the urban landscape. It’s as if one were seeing a frame for the first time: the image opens up, the frame opens, then the screen, the theatre, and finally us too, everything is opened and we gaze wide-eyed into this most intensive clarity". Opening the body's night, indeed.


Blogger girish said...

A great read, Mubarak...

I saw what turned out to be the very first screening of this film, with Grandrieux answering questions afterwards, in Toronto over three years ago. I didn't know what the hell to make of the film at the time, but was haunted by it for a long time. There were only forty of us starting out (it was a late-night screening) and by the time Grandrieux came on for the Q&A, there were only a handful of us left.

I do remember one thing he said: that he filmed "with the body", and sometimes even filmed with his eyes closed, entrusting his body to the filming process.

Did you see this on video/DVD? I didn't realize it was available.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Ouyang Feng said...

Thanks for the reading! :)
It's truely of an experience that I'm glad you also appreciated.
Sombre was perhaps less "obscure" although I loved the atmosphere, the music, I even got the soundtracks actually. The performance was also outstanding.

4:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for those links, Mubarak. Hadn't seen them before; they're terrific.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Adam Lemke said...

Eloquently written, spot-on comments Mubarak! That film is a personal fav of mine. You must now follow up this screening with Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel, which has a similar approach to the “texture” you mentioned of Grandrieux’s film.

Girish, the film is on DVD in France. No subtitles on the disc, but then again one doesn’t really need any for this film.

Has anyone heard news on Grandrieux making another film?

5:40 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Girish - I'm very envious of anyone who's seen this on the big screen! And to have Grandrieux present there... Yes, the film is available on DVD in France, without subs, as Adam mentions. But since, as you know, there are less than 10 lines spoken in the entire film (half of them are in English anyway), it's not really an issue.

Ouyang - I look forward to seeing Sombre someday. Grandrieux mentions how he worked with the duo Etant Donnés on the soundtrack of La Vie nouvelle in that interview I linked to. I'd never heard of them till now.

Adam - Can't wait to see New Rose Hotel!

8:35 AM  
Blogger Ouyang Feng said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Ouyang Feng said...

sorry I deleted because I couldn't edit it but the link didn't seem to work...
I saw Etant Donnés live, I think it was 2 years ago. They even performed with Alan Vega afterwards. They collaborated with Genesis P-Orridge, Lydia Lunch and others...
It's interesting what they do with sound and body performances - so I think you'd like it. ;)
I've got some sounds by them, somewhere :)
Here is the website :

4:44 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Wow - thanks, Ouyang. I see they've even collaborated with Michael Gira, and have made experimental short films, inspired by (among others) Abel Ferrara!

3:22 AM  
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