Thursday, December 07, 2006

regular phantoms

It is recovered!
What? - Eternity.
In the whirling light
Of the sun in the sea.

O my eternal soul,
Hold fast to desire
In spite of the night
And the day on fire.

- excerpt from Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell.

Jackie Raynal's Deux Fois (1968) and Patrick Deval's Acéphale (1969): Both are key films made under the Zanzibar banner - which saw experimental works based on improvisation made by young artists and writers, many informed by the events of May '68, and mostly shot on 35mm, on tiny budgets and in small amounts of time - and both films with some striking similarities (Raynal and Deval were partners at the time, as Adrian Martin's profile of Raynal informs).

There seems to be an expression of a need to return to the origins of cinema in both films - a distinctly Garrelian fantasy involving a transformation of the film's characters into silent cinema phantoms. Le Révélateur is obviously an important immediate influence - for starters, its lack of sound and stark lighting effects are frequently reproduced in both films.

Deux Fois, which Raynal directed after some editing gigs for Eric Rohmer (namely, his early short films and La Collectionneuse, the star of which - Daniel Pommereulle - went on and directed his own unique short film under Zanzibar, Vite) and more significantly, Jean-Daniel Pollet (she had the important task of editing his magnificent, Méditerranée (1963)), is the more consciously theatrical of the two films - a theatricality that has been compared to Rivette's by Martin. It recalls the spirit of the Situationists and some of its imagery warrants a comparison to the surrealist works of Buñuel and Cocteau. Raynal's gazes toward the camera, her initial isolation from crowds, the ritualism of her actions recall Maya Deren's in Meshes of the Afternoon and anticipate Chantal Akerman's self-exile in her flat in the first segment of Je, Tu, Il, Elle.

But the one aspect which haunts me most about Deux Fois ('Twice Upon a Time'), this silent symphony of repetitions - a film which, like Acéphale, I can't really fully comprehend until I see it a few more times (Adrian Martin has attempted to comprehend its "phantasmal logic" and has come up with some fascinating observations) - is how there seems to be an almost symbiotic coexistence of violence (both literal and metaphoric) and sensuousness, primarily seen in the shifting balance between sound and silence. Next to the sheepish, smiling young girl on the train, we are shown the rapidity with which the outside world moves by: dangerous, violent. Jackie silently observes cameras lined out on a bench, but she also flashes a mirror reflecting the set lighting 'directly' into the spectator's eyes. Jackie looks at various brands of soap at the drugstore, but the repetition of the sequence becomes its own violence (or its own sensuality, depending on how you look at it), as when she skips along the dirt road like a child and falls. Later, her windblown hair is caressed by male hands which have slowly entered the frame - before being pulled, and Jackie with it, violently out of the frame, and, the most direct display of this co-existence being the neon billboard animation, which features a man and a woman appearing to be in physical combat. But their movements: balletic, erotic.

Acéphale (the title comes from the secret society founded by Bataille after he broke off from the Surrealists, and literally means, 'headless') is perhaps even more Garrelian than Deux Fois - it's intense ritualistic passages prefigure those in La Cicatrice intérieure , and the fragile gestures and some of the framing (of faces, of beds, of corridors, etc.) looks forward to his early narrative films. The aimless drifting of Youth caught in a transitional political (and seemingly, post-apocalyptic) landscape anticipates such '90s elegies of displacement and disenchantment as Fred Kelemen's Fate and Sharunas Bartas' Three Days.

So, coming back to Acéphale, what to make of this man and his amants réguliers (which includes Jackie Raynal, the unique beauty of her presence intact), who seem to be in search of something beyond themselves ("It's necessary to become quite someone else or else cease being...")? Of their retreat into a cavern where they talk about Nero around their fire torches? Of their drugged-out exiles into intensely whitewashed rooms? Five years later, Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore will bring these figures into the medium shot (leaving behind the overt image/sound experimentations associated with the Zanzibar films) and hold them there until they are embedded in our subconscious. Till then, there may be a glimmer of hope within Acéphale after all; perhaps in the form of an unextinguished desire that is communicated in the film's final images, not through words, but the gesture of an unending smile and an open embrace.

There will hopefully be more on these films (and other related ones from the same era, made with the same purpose/'logic') later as I properly discover them with time...


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