Monday, February 19, 2007

a place with no memory of itself

In my soul's dark mirror
Are pictures of never-seen seas,
Of abandoned, tragic imaginary lands,
Dissolving in the blue, roughly.

- excerpt from Georg Trakl's Three Dreams.

This past week I finally saw my first F.J. Ossang film: Le Trésor des îles chiennes (Treasure of the Bitch Islands, 1990). The opening/closing of the iris, the intertitles, it's expressionistic black-and-white photography - like a Georg Trakl poem that has been drained of colour - take us back to Murnau and Epstein, and in other ways (worthy of further future investigation) brings to mind 'the b-movie', Eraserhead, New Rose Hotel, or a Ruiz elaboration. Similarly, its narrative objects are remnants of film noir: pursued heroes, invisible but oh-so-palpable evil, the femme fatale. Until another viewing, it's very difficult to say what's exactly happening at any given moment of the film since events just seem to dissolve into each other, but basically it's about a group of scientists (?) working for a mysterious organisation, the Kryo Corp, who return to the post-industrial Bitch Islands (which seems to be stuck in an eternal twilight, "the red night") to complete an earlier aborted attempt at securing an energy source.

Whatever generic sci-fi expectations one attributes to the plot description is actively thwarted by Ossang's suspending the film in a cloud of uncertainty and hallucinations, disseminated amnesia/hysteria, and a general post-punk approach to narrative (at times 'scenes' seem to exist only to accompany the industrial soundtrack, composed by Ossang and his band, the Messageros Killer Boys, who also provided music to the beautiful tracking shots in Waël Noureddine's From Beyrouth With Love). Later, perhaps unsurprisingly, the hunters become the hunted as the group begins to disintegrate, while the film transforms into a dark 'road movie'. A beautiful, poetic, elusive film about the flight of puppets, who can only go as far as the strings allow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Muhammad! Never saw an Ossang movie until now, maybe this could be the start of our letters across the world?

i read the tittle of your post and i remember that all that i remember are memories losses and in betweens. That’s probably the reason why I hate so much voice-off in movies (and this stares all those recent examples of art-philosophical new- American cinema, from P.T. Anderson to Todd Field): they are the prepotency of meaning and lack of freedom to ear/look. I don’t look back at them, so far as my lapses in time allows images to came in. Is that still the reason why I love so much Alain Resnais fragmentary first movies and Lubitsch elegances? And let me tell you that never before Schroeter’s “The King of the Roses” I felt I could be wrong and probably voice off could be the (an) other (new, out and away) time over images space(s) and its constant reminder/rebuild/destruction/contradiction.. That depends of who makes the voice came and build. I mean sound-visions, and more than this, prolific waves of materialization. “Magnificent Ambersons” or “Little Children”? the truth it’s all in the mind: I can’t forget the first, I forgot the second minutes after I left the theater.


8:34 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Appropriately enough, narration is an important element of Ossang's film. Fragments of memories of this space are retrieved by a visible narrator, the rest is left to emerge from the dust and smoke, from the mechanics of experience and the memory of it. The cinema has given us some wonderful examples of the "sound visions" of the voiceover (outside of several iconic American films of the 40s and 50s, including, yes, The Magnificent Ambersons): the electrifying voices in Bresson's films, in Marcel Hanoun's Une simple histoire (the only thing I've seen by him so far), Hollis Frampton's Nostalgia, in Duras, Marker, Jarman, Mekas, Pollet, and so many more, where the voice - the artist's or otherwise - has embedded itself into our collective psyche, our imperfect memories. Or, if we're talking about absence, there is Wiseman's ghost behind the camera. I'm all for this kind of phantom narration that externalises memory within a framework of artistic exploration of what makes us the kind of viewers we are, despite (or perhaps, because of) my disposition to forget/mis-remember these stories, images and voices easily!

And Little Children is hardly on my list of priority viewings but I'll consider myself warned if I ever see it.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your answer, it’s all that I left behind my precedent comment and in its core. It’s just that more and more we are being invaded by this kind of art existential (mainstream or not, the indie department is becoming more and more boring, if nor mediocre) movie with a banal and unbearable utilization of voice over, like if it was the ultimate discovery of an important film issue. It isn’t and when I see the majority of best films lists from critics and cinema fans all over the world, I suspect that vulgarity had finally had its chance to triumph and impose itself. It’s incredible! And directors like those I cherish and like the most are unknown ones or simply considered like “difficult”, if not pretentious. I ask you: if it was now, do you think that artists like Bresson, Duras, Resnais, Fassbinder, Nekes, Oshima, Yoshida, etc etc. would be appreciated and analyzed like they were before? It’s not only with directors that form and its procedures and values became less important (or, what is worst, a fashionable hype-as-it-could-be item, like with Soderbergh and Scorsese, for instance), it’s also with critics everywhere. Come on, Borat? Little Children? The Departed? The Queen? Volver? I want a break, the problem is that there’s almost no way out, in matter of ways to see other kind of films, other kind of directors, worlds of images and sounds. Mainstream is almost what it’s possible to see, at least in a small place like Lisbon. Do you know that they never released a Hou Hsiao-hsien movie here? Or a Edward Yang? An entire part of the world, the Asiatic one, is almost completely excluded, as a matter of fact! But every “American” waste has its place in national screens. So, probably, I should be grateful for all those art-existential craps, shouldn’t i?

What I mean is: give me the voice(s) that is (are) over and done with ordinary filming, ordinary thinking, ordinary structures.



10:31 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Wiseman's ghost behind the camera

What a great description, Mubarak!

I am going to have to track down the DVD with this film now. F.J. Ossang forever!!!

1:53 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Well, as far as local film distribution goes, things are probably the same, if not worse, here. I used to rely on Film Society screenings, but a highlight on their program for 2007 is a Truffaut season with established classics like Jules et Jim, when years back they used to fearlessly screen Straub/Huillet, Robbe-Grillet, Jancso, et al. (Although, one hope of discovery on their program this year is a handful of Cinema Novo films.) So it comes down to the big Film Festival in July with nearly 300 films every year, yet missing a large chunk of what I, and several others too I'm sure, actually yearn for! Will they bring Quei loro incontri and Colossal Youth this year? I could and will stay hopeful but chances are they probably won't (I've already found alternative ways of seeing both...).

I'm not a film critic and I don't watch everything, but contrary to what these comments might suggest, we do watch and find various levels of aesthetic merit in 'mainstream' films - though this is becoming rarer? - but obviously try to give voice and space to deserving films don't get talked about more.

Sorry for all the ranting... I don't particularly like to rant (at least not when I'm sober!).

Zach - Thanks! As far as I know, the film is only available on VHS (through Gemini films, I think). Off-topic, I'm following the Cassavetes letters between you and Matt with much interest. A great project...

2:45 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Mubarak, glad you're enjoying the Cassavetes letters so far.

As for the Ossang film on DVD, the information for this music video (using footage from the film) indicates it's available on the disc RVB-TRANSFERT images de la scène indépendante française 1979-1991, available from

I haven't really looked into it yet myself. Probably costs an arm & a leg.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Wow, that clip really captures the essence of the film. Thanks, Zach.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:52 AM  

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