"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.