Sunday, October 29, 2006

dying light

Beulah Bondi in William A. Wellman's Track of the Cat (1954).

"they have seen us"

Nicole Brenez has said that experimental cinema has a very special engagement with its own history and with the history of images. José Luis Guerin's Tren de sombras: El espectro de Le Thuit (1997) freely accedes to this property, its resulting flow of imagery as fascinating in its narrativisation as it is sensorially exhilarating. A little background (a story): In 1930, Parisian lawyer and amateur filmmaker, Gérard Fleury, went out one morning in search of the best light for his idyllic country holiday film while vacationing around Lake Thuit in Normandy; for reasons unknown, he never returned and was presumed to be dead. Guerin, a Catalan filmmaker, has attempted to recreate the images from Fleury's home movies, while also trying to 'document' an approximation of the final moments before he (quite literally in Guerin's film) is engulfed by the mist. It is a powerful study of photography-as-memory, and Guerin uses images - still and moving, decayed and perfectly-preserved, colour and sepia-toned/black-and-white, silent and sound-tracked - to recreate this piece of history from the rather unexpected (melodramatic) perspective of his subject's family. Like the more recent 37 Uses For a Dead Sheep, contemporary locals play the historic subjects, and the physical setting is preserved. There is, above all else, a sense of rediscovery, reimagining of cinema - from its very beginnings (Lumiere actualités are evoked in some of the imagery (such as an arrival of a train), not to mention the title, Fleury's movement with camera and tripod in hand could be an image from Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera) to a distinctively more contemporary tension between reality and (consciously-distorted) perception (Ivan Zulueta's Arrebato), memory and history (Marker's Sans Soleil), documentary and fiction (Erice's El sol del membrillo). Particularly fitting is the fact that, in a film about disappearances and reappearances, the only spoken text happens to be "they have seen us", spoken by true ciphers. (Here's a long but very interesting essay by Marsha Kinder, on how the film "conveys a transnational vision of Spain".)

By that oh-so-familiar uncanny coincidence (or not!) - the kind that makes that eerie, exciting connection between two or more seemingly unrelated films through certain properties common to both, I'm seeing Guerin's film just a few weeks after seeing Carlos Molinero's and Lola Salvador's The Mist in the Palm Trees - one of the best new films I've seen all year - a film that features similar obsessions with a preservation of memory through narrativisation of 'forgotten' events/stories. Except in this case, the origin itself is completely fictional, the narrator's words are scripted (which I wasn't aware of while watching it). This film is maddeningly difficult to summarise, but it generally posits a far more pessimistic view of photographic images substituting for memory: "We are headed towards a future where amnesia reigns." Someone release this on DVD, please.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Directors' Lounge tv

Some really interesting experimental short films and videos from Director's Lounge, an annual media event in Berlin, can be viewed online. I haven't seen them all yet, but some that I like the most so far are linked to below:

Courror Station (Klaus W. Eisenlohr, 1997)
Still Life (Marina Foxley/Laurent Couedel, 2006)
Untitled #1 (Masha Godovannaya, 2005)
Not This War (Dan Hupb, 2005)
Self (Tanja Puustelli, 2005)
Solo für Ramallah (Andreas Rost, 2005)
Le lit des amant (Elina Saloranta, 2004)
Ukiyo-e (André Werner, 1995)
Pearls of the Morning Dawn (André Werner, 1993)

Check out the others from the complete list of films here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Danièle Huillet

[photos from: Nicht versöhnt (Not Reconciled, 1965) and On the Lethargy of Perception (1981)]

"The most interesting thing about me is my date of birth; 1 May 1936. After the second diploma I went once to the Sorbonne and ran out again after a half hour, in hatred and terror. Then I prepared for the I.D.H.E.C. - and met Straub in the process. I wanted to make documentaries - ethnographic films. Also: I didn't like blond people with light skin at all; when I was small, I found nothing more beautiful than the girls at school in Paris (where I came only at age 13—before, I was in the country), who were dark. . . . But Straub simply was blond with very light skin, unfortunately! I had learned English and Spanish and then had to learn first German and finally Italian . . . quite dialectical."
- Danièle Huillet, 1976

I only saw Pedro Costa's and Thierry Lounas' Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001) just a few days ago and was particularly touched by the following segment, from 6 Bagatelas, composed from the unused reels of Where Does.... Unlike most of the film which occurs within the intense atmosphere of the editing room, we get to see Huillet out in the light, calm as ever:

Sunday, October 08, 2006


The evolution of João de Deus, the dirty old man first seen in João César Monteiro's Recollections of the Yellow House (1989), culminates in his final film Vai-e-vem (Come and Go, 2003). The profound idiosyncracies that Monteiro, the performer, brings to the erotomanic, anarchistic character, now called João Vuvu, are still intact (if the vessel has by now become a little frail and grey), as is the unparalleled freedom of the Monteiro-ian text: moral order and expected patterns of behaviour are actively thwarted in almost every tableau-like passage. (I should mention that from this particular four(?)-film series, I've only seen the first and last.)

Inferring from what little I've seen of Monteiro's work (all ranging from being excellent to full-blown masterpieces, by the way), there usually seems to be an initial cinephilic reference which is unabashedly taken in a more personal direction: Bresson's Lancelot du Lac for Veredas, Pasolini's Teorema for À Flor do Mar, and Tati's films with M. Hulot for the films with this recurring character played by Monteiro (with De Sade and Nosferatu - see the final shot of Recollections... - also deeply associated). In Vai-e-vem, Monteiro surrounds his protagonist with cinephilia: Bresson (the Pickpocket poster in Vuvu's house), Welles ('rosebud'), and even Minnelli ('some came scrambling'); in fact, cinema and politics form the only interferences from the external world, since the centre of the film is the remarkable internalisation of Vuvu, leisurely unfolding within fixed, long takes (I only remember one slow zoom, one dissolve, and one final freeze-frame in the three hours - all of which could be easily missed), and with the very distinctive absurdist and scatological humour of its auteur. Incidents begin to take form (meetings with an old friend when Vuvu discloses techniques of Chinese fellatio, with his ex-con son, whom he pushes into the sea upon hearing he's decided to go straight, and mostly, his hypersexual, theatrical encounters with the young and beautiful housemaids), but they end up becoming long monologues on sex, death, and solitude, among other things. These moments are punctuated by long takes of aloneness when Vuvu travels between his home and a Lisbon square on bus #100, and the camera lingers on a glowing, summery Lisbon and the people on the bus, with whom he seems to have a brief but genuine connection. One of the film's most wonderful visual touches is when Vuvu is sitting on a bench in the now-familiar square observing a young girl ride her bike in circles, and the soundtrack swells with an opera piece, culminating in an instinctive jump as Vuvu runs after the girl. Coming in the final hour of the film, this otherwise humorous and embarrassing act actually comes across as incredibly sad. Perhaps the strange monologues are having some sort of cumulative effect...

But as Gabe Klinger points out, Vai-e-vem is pretty much a posthumous film (Monteiro shot the film while keeping his recently-diagnosed cancer a secret, and died before the film made it to theatres) - one with its own haunted funeral, and its own protracted goodbye in one of cinema's greatest endings: a shot of Vuvu's/Monteiro's left eye held for no less than four minutes, during which the frame freezes at some point, and reflected in it is a tree: a final signature as the knowing eye of death contemplates the spectator and crystallises the Monteiro-ian desire for complete freedom. Our fetishistic investment into a 'repulsive' character (into images) is finally acknowledged by the filmmaker who has suddenly taken on the spectator's subjectivity and composure in his gaze.

Laura Morante feels the blues

Images: Laura Morante in João César Monteiro's À Flor do Mar (Hovering Over Water, 1986).

Also, those of Michael Mann's Miami Vice, and Carlos Molinero and Lola Salvador's The Mist in the Palm Trees (2006), both of which I saw - and loved - more than a month ago already.

Sounds: Midwinter - The Waters of Sweet Sorrow (1973), Ton Vlasman - White Rooms With Disintegrating Walls (1970), Beirut - Gulag Orkestar, The Skygreen Leopards - Disciples of California, and soundtracks to Lekin... (1991) and Gautam Ghose's upcoming Yatra (2006), which I'm really looking forward to.

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