Friday, November 02, 2007

the domestic interiors of Jean-Claude Rousseau

"La beauté n'est jamais fictive."
- Jean-Claude Rousseau

"But in such a short film which consists of extremely simple images and sounds,we feel Rousseau gives his absolute confidence to space and sounds.-as if each shot answers"yes" when you ask " Is such an image valuable?"."
- Daisuke Akasaka

"The deceptively simple filming technique, too, provides us with many opportunities for surprise, an emotion requiring a transfer of energy: a lightning bolt. Rousseau’s films feed this courant by using different methods of exposure: exposure of light, hazy through the curtains of a room, changing at the whim of the hours, burning the white surfaces, scarring the black interiors with a golden rectangle, veiling the film from time to time like a stained-glass window. Exposure of places, each mapped out by the filmmaker, lighted differently according to their orientation. Exposure of the main musical theme, variations of which the film declines. Exposure of the film strip, revealing the filler and the uninterrupted takes. Exposure, also, of the filmmaker as he enters the scene, sits, glances occasionally at the camera, explores the frame for the length of this shot that he himself, conceived, and disappears. It must be said that one can also undergo “exposure” to pillory and torture. The filmmaker’s process is long and agonizingly lonely; the periods of waiting exacerbate the bitterness of his hypothesis as well as the sensuality of his moments of bedazzlement."
- Erik Bullot

A few scattered thoughts follow on this remarkable release by Dérives from earlier this year: three key Jean-Claude Rousseau short films - Jeune femme à sa fenêtre lisant une lettre (1984), Deux fois le tour du monde (2006), and Faux départ (2006). Here is a chance to discover this filmmaker whom Jean-Marie Straub has called, along with Frans Van de Staak and Peter Nestler, the greatest working in Europe in these times (Rousseau has, in addition, shot and edited Straub-Huillet's Cinétract: Europa 2005 - 27 octobre).

Each of the three shorts included is an absolute wonder, unexpectedly coherent (in the 'mise-en-scene' - a lonely (hotel) room with an open window and the landscape in view just beyond, shifting patterns of light within this enclosed space, and the constant movements of the filmmaker into and out of this frame) and dramatically self-reflexive (we watch as the filmmaker arranges his 'set' or captures a self-portrait in a mirror or, seemingly, does nothing).

These films and videos constitute an intense exploration of composition, geometry, and light in relation to sound, or the absence of it.
Jeune femme à sa fenêtre lisant une lettre (shot on 8mm) approaches this by exposing a breach between image and sound, but the latter videos use direct sound to invite us to discover the image through the sound - in Deux Fois le tour du monde , we see an image of a still landscape first, only to discover its material reality upon hearing the sound it produces as the shot continues. "No music which covers the images, but musical sounds." The human voice, usually Rousseau's, whether in conversation with another on the phone, or reading an existing text (a letter, Racine), announces itself in a similar way as in Straub-Huillet's films and lends a certain potency, a veritable endurance to the images.

Words and silences embedded within a two-dimensional image (supported by 8mm film or video), the flatness invoking Vermeer-esque domestic interiors, as in Jeune femme, which, of course, takes its cue from the Vermeer painting... :

Femme lisant une lettre face à une fenêtre ouverte (Jan Vermeer, 1657)

...or seems to echo the compositional studies in the interiors of Vilhelm Hammershøi:

Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunlight, Interior of the Artist's Home (Hammershøi, 1900)

It is as Alain Cavalier comments to his off-screen wife in his wonderful video diary, La Rencontre: "I wanted to bring you something wonderful but all I've got is a description of a room... It's just occurred to me how striking it is, perhaps because I can film it."

Rousseau's films not just make objects and landscapes visible, or sounds and voices audible, but find different ways of making use of light, creating a spectacle - an event - out of its capturing on film, even if what we are actually seeing is the simplest of acts. Recorded - and appreciated - silently, in a shared temporary solitude.


Anonymous Raya said...

It's wonderful how you define Rousseau by Vermeer, then the brilliant Hammershøi (one of my fave artists), then back to Cavalier, in that specific order.

6:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. Is the DVD subtitled (in English or French)by any chance?

11:50 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Raya, thanks for dropping by. I've actually been harbouring the Hammershøi connection since I saw some of Rousseau's film/video stills some time back. The images in his films are very strong in this sense- they linger in the mind as still frames.

Anonymous, the DVD is not subtitled at all, but only Jeune femme... really needs any - it contains a few words of read text - the other two don't have any dialogue.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

beautiful post Mubarak. My favorite on the disc is Faux départ.

The sudden excursion out of the hotel room (to the train, worthy of LA BETE HUMAINE) and then sudden return back to the hotel room opens the narrative flood gates in an astonishing way. Indeed Rousseau's films are floods. To paraphrase Rousseau: you don't seize an image (or in this case the aesthetic, temporal energy), an image seizes you.


6:39 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Thanks for reading, Andy.

I think subconsciously I mostly focused on Jeune femme... here, which probably makes it my favourite, but that moment you describe from Faux départ is indeed extraordinary, perhaps violently so. The closest equivalent from these works I can think of is when Rousseau wanders into the frame in Deux fois le tour du monde, introducing a rupture in how we were looking at the frame, dramatically (and humourously?) defining the position of the spectator.

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