28 juin 2006

Conversations with other women (2005/Canosa)

Conversations with other women (2005/Hans Canosa/UK/USA) +++

I like when mainstream cinema picks up some refreshing ideas from the experimental scene. The film runs a dual screen throughout, showing simultaneously two actions in two views. This is purely formalist but since the concept is maintained end to end, it becomes integer part of the narration in a playful way.

A man and a woman meet at a wedding, chatter with a certain self-conscious distanciation, joke around cynically about marriage and flirting, and inevitably spend the night together in the hotel, all in one breath, uninterrupted. Like a grown up pram flirt, with all the mature irony of a late thirties couple with a divorce under their belt. Tacitely agreeing to play an awkward pretense game, a mysterious connivence seems to build up quickly despite constantly refering to their absent better-half. They intellectualize the inconsequential guilt to talk themselves out of an imminent mistake as they approach closer to the adultary bed... The clever conversation drops scarce clues that reveal they know more about their past than we do. Through incremental steps, the intrigue develops on who we think they are. The "surprise" effects are largely underplayed though, almost en passant, as the revelations are rather amusing than a proper "twist".
Actually this pretense is part of their accomplice courtship, based on double-entendre. So it's not a complicated storytelling helding back information, it's the characters themselves willingly roleplaying for the purpose of this one-night stand.

They are desillusioned and convey a hopeless romanticism.The boring melodrama, mostly dialogue-driven, is wittingly written, takes a new turn by the simple fact we see twice as much on a split screen.

Notes on the dual screen "gimmick" :
  • The split in the middle is a reminder that the cinemascope aspect ratio (2.35:1) is nearly the sum of two standard square format (1.33:1).
  • One side is dedicated to the man, one to the woman. Although the switch of view allocation is part of the fun.
  • 2 cameras film each scene, one framing the man (Aaron Eckhart), one framing the woman (Helena Bonham Carter).
  • The film is about a couple, man v. woman, about the clash of two point of views, about each trying to figure the other's perspective without telling too much... therefore the form meets content and the screen is split physically to give both an equal platform of expression.
  • Perception of two realities at all time. Spatially : 2 places, or 2 views of the same room. Temporally : current time and flashback (memories or selective memory re-enactment of the past, confronting their younger-self).
  • Not always creative... sometimes the split is redundant as the 2 shots are almost forming the 2 halves of the equivalent widescreen shot.
  • Really interesting diptych compositions, identical type of shot or disparity : duplicated shot, great variation of head shots, back shots, wide shots...
  • Artificial re-composition (by way of split-screen) of a scene unlike reality. The angle of the two cameras make protagonists look in opposite or the same direction which may or may not correspond to reality. Which gives a supplementary reading of the scene, with 2 parallel meanings of the same action.
    Playful switch of a character, or an extra from one shot to the other. Co-ordinated camera movement of the two POV to make an harmonious apparent motion. Extras blocking the view on one side. Side swapping...
  • Doubles the theatrical possibilities for shot entry/exit (2 rights and 2 lefts). Continuous (slide from one view to the other) or discontinuous (unrelated motion). Complex mise-en-scène, but the technique could offer much more potential for dramatic effects.
  • A third character entering the scene unbalances the duality, and it's funny to see how the director copes with 3 characters on 2 screens. Either cutting faster to display 2 talking heads, or duplicating the shot with 6 people on screen at once.
  • Reaction shots on the same screen without the need to cut away. A new interpretation of the reverse shot code. Each looking to the other side of the screen so they seem to be at arm length while they are at the other side of the room (discontinuous background in the two shots).
  • Allows to insert a cutaway on screen while keeping an eye on one or two protagonists. The main conversation keeps going during the apparition of flashbacks or cutaways.
  • Co-existence of alternate takes of the same action. We see the actors doing the same thing, perceptibly de-synchronous, because they are different takes, filmed separately but played on screen simultaneously. And this has a particular meta-significance on the act of filmmaking and performances. We are allowed to compare outtakes in the final cut, in fact 2 outtakes become both "good". Several different ways to deliver a line, or to act an action are played in a row or simultaneously, alteration of the voice inflection, pause, posture, timing or change of the line altogether.This formal construct, anti-film, making-of material, contributes to dissociate the dual screen and emphasizes a differentiation between male and female perception of the same event, which is the point of the film.
  • Storytelling variations. The inclusion of alternate takes in the film propose a narrative multiplicity.

(s) ++ (w) +++ (m) +++ (i) ++++ (c) +++

26 juin 2006

Leonard Cohen Tribute

I don't usually post non-cinema related stuff here, cause I don't know how to write about anything else, but this blogathon honors a documentary from Toronto 2005, Berlin 2006 and Sundance 2006 : Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (2005/Lian Lunson/USA) I haven't seen the film unfortunately (not distributed in France yet). Although I can't miss the opportunity to show my admiration for my most favorite songwriter with a quick post.

Leonard Cohen is the anti-hero, a romantic loser who can't afford love. He remembers affairs in hotels around the world. He collides supreme poetic moments and crude erotism in a novelist way. Solitude, existential struggle, self-pity modesty, political cynicism, resistance of ideas and revolution. He's a modernist akin to Antonioni, Bergman or Cassavetes. I like the melancholy of his stories, its indirect angles, his mundane poetry, his careful and useless details that make all the difference in memories.
Not to mention the beauty of his chords.

I'm Your Man is my dearest song for it will always remind me of my girlfriend.
Few favorites among many : So Long Marianne; Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye; Suzanne; Who By Fire?; Sisters of Mercy; Chelsea Hotel #2; The Partisan...

And of course :

Famous Blue Rain Coat
Composed and written by Leonard Cohen, 1971

It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening.

I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record.

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife.

Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well I see Jane's awake
--She sends her regards.

And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way.

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried.

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear

Sincerely, L. Cohen

It's like a great film. It's not a song, it's a letter. It's not a letter, it's a written monologue. It could be the synopsis of a Cassavetes film : New York, a love triangle, brotherly friendship, love/hate antagonism, miscommunication. A woman encompassed in a firstname. A suggested past between the characters, symbolized by objects (raincoat, lock of hair, rose), establishing a powerful melodrama without the need to elaborate any further, everything is there.

I'd like to mention Jeff Buckley's interpretation of Hallelujah, because he plays it even better than its author and transcends it. Simply magnificent!

Check out also other participants of this Blog-a-thon :

20 juin 2006

Bruno Dumont on filmmaking

Discussion with Bruno Dumont

by Marie Vermillard, Philippe Grandrieux, Khalil Joreige
from the filmmaker club at Le cinema l'après-midi, on June 10th 2006

Really interesting discussion among filmmakers who get into the artistic concerns of filmcraft, and the ideology of Dumont's aesthetics. Although the atmosphere is friendly and Grandrieux is clearly in total connivence. They are not promoting a commercial product with complacent questions here. This type of live radio show winds up a little confusing and disorganized, leaving us frustrated by interrupted sentences and spontaneous digressions that never answered a question raised along the way. The interview would gain in intelligence if written down and edited, structured without this urge to say too much at the time. An interesting approach to interview resulting in a richer, deeper material than the press conference digest in Cannes for instance (partial transcript).
The art of cinema is the center of discussion. They talk of his relationship with actors and viewers, how a film commands and alter perception of reality. Dumont doesn't explain his synopsis here but confesses why he makes films.
Former philosopher, turned autodidact director, he speaks with self-confidence and a certain authority that could be alienating if he didn't place the audience at the core of his theory. It does sound a little all-knowing and condescending, maybe a feeling prompted by his recent win of the Grand Jury Prize for Flandres at Cannes 2006.
Which brings the question : "How to speak of cinema?"
Sometimes putting delicate images into words desacralizes the poetry in them by an excess of vulgar materiality. I mean filmmakers aren't always the best persons to explicit their instinctive inspiration, but they are the first people to go to.

* * *


Dumont admits "intellectual/illustrative cinema" is boring, he doesn't believe in Cinema of Emptiness. Cinema = Time. Closest art to life itself. Primordial sensibility. Cinema isn't imaginary. What he wants is a simple cinema of reality : the metaphysics of banality. Going beyond intellectual complexity (desires, will, ideas of cinema) in order to make the shot a beginning : nothing. There is nothing to see. No preconceived ideas, no intentions, no established meaning, just a "nothing" that will reverberate into the audience and make sense then through the articulation of montage that echo one plan with another.
Cinema is a powerful but complicate art. Plans, aesthetic values, positions of actors in the shot, light, camerawork, sound... A complex art requiring a lot of upstream work, which paradoxally allows to reach ultimately an apparent simplicity. He humbles before great masterpieces (without citing any films or auteurs in particular). "Cinema isn't technical, I learn when I walk down the street, by meeting people" he says. Cinema is about patience, humility, a look upon others. Today's cinema is overwhelmed by codes, clichés, references to other films. Dumont believes in "decodage".
A film is an experience of astonishment (to be flabbergasted). The subject isn't the object in the film, but the gaze on this object.


To write a film is to wait for images, sensations to come up, and to reject silly images. (In this he meets David Lynch's own method)
To grasp a scene Dumont writes down the description of a sensation in a literary style, like a novel. But this is only a preparation, literature cannot be filmed. Only remains the emotion summoned, refined by its wording yet devoid of any constructed sense, and will be the raw substance to work on during shooting. Working hard to go beyond clichés. There is nothing to see. The contemplation of a cinema story is secondary. The audience needs a motif however, a basic love story for identification, to relate to the work. Mise-en-scène can never go too far into abstraction.


The most difficult is to make the set designer understand he shouldn't touch anything on location. After a long location scouting, the right place imposes itself and should be preserved intact, thus dismissing all the intentions mentionned in script. Any accentuation, characterization is out of question. The scenes will adapt to the real location instead, to maintain the authenticity and truth of a living space with genuine history.


Dumont prefers the ingenuity of non-actors who do not ressort to performance tricks. They don't bring in a "prepared color". Non-actors convey with their real-life personality (which belongs to the story) everything that is needed for the film credibility. He regrets his experience with professional actors on Twentynine Palms, and made it despite their active acting. Acting virtuosity is prohibited. "I expect nothing, I await for a miracle to happen, an accident" he declares.
He knows exactly what he wants from the actors, so improvisation is not welcomed. And he makes sure the actors do not know too much about the action planned in a scene to preserve spontaneity and surprises. He's very demanding with actors, pushing them to their limits, against their resistance, insisting, making several takes (up to 15). And then being able to give up when it fails to happen, dropping the scene altogether. There are a lot of wasted out-takes. He's not constrained by script imperatives. He lets chance and accidents rewrite the course of the story, according to what succeeds or not during shooting. For instance the actress on Flandres cried instead of saying her lines and he kept the scene as is. But another actor abandonned the set, because of the directorial (dictatorial?) pressure. "We cannot shoot with maximum security", he says, speaking of the shooting conditions with bomb stunts on Flandres, "the possibility of risk saves a part for lively events".


Direct sound, mono, without much sound mix at all. Recording reality, out of control, waiting for something to happen, the accident. (same moto)


Like a painter who paints a mountain that ultimately blends in on the canvas where there is no mountain to be seen anymore. Sense is no longer at stake, what he likes is to work where the sense is gone. Reality offers the presence of things that do not imply a narrative construction. Dumont struggles against construction. Dissipate sense. Prevent an actor to formulate meaning. Make the auteur (Ego, gaze) vanish. Because the non-neutral audience is there, coming in with their own emotional load (desires), and a need of sense. The viewer is "full". Cinema must balance the equilibrium with a whole audience, and provide a full film, finished, ruled, moral, political. The heart of the work is in the story (conveyed by actors and scenes), the goal is to carry this story. Takes can be or should be mediocre, unfinished, spontaneous, real, away from the overstated stylization. He says "cut" when he feels the exposition of the audience was sufficient. Cinema is in the montage, that's where Dumont input a suggestive meaning.


The art to compose cinema elements together. A shot doesn't matter for itself. Shots too pretty, with an overt aesthetization are discarded. What interests him are the transitions obtained in editing opposition. Associating banal shots that will surge with an extraordinary exposure on the editing table by ways of confrontation with another flat shot. Imprevisibility sparks up on the editing table, long after a shooting "out of control", after watching the dailies. Contemplating the exact transition between shots, the right timing, he feels intuitively the shots to be alright.
Grandrieux and Dumont discuss the opening sequence of Flandres: A wide stationary shot of a distant farm to generate a great force. Cut to an extreme close up of a body part, an arm just hurt by the opening of the gate. The close up enters abruptly "inside" the previous shot, and the viewer is pulled in alongside.
The film is a "viewer montage". What is edited isn't what is seen on screen but the sensations, culture, experience, sensibility inside the audience. The viewer is captured into the screen. The thrill is generated by an alteration of the viewer's habits by projecting something unusual. The film is a go-between which leads the scenario and mise-en-scene to operate from the audience.

* * *
This theoretical talk is fascinating, I like most everything he says (non-actors, importance of montage, script improvisation, neutrality, emotional tabula-rasa, learning cinema in the street...), although the only film I saw (L'Humanité) doesn't yield as much visual power as other minimalist films by ascetic filmmakers. Bresson's system (albeit different) is very constraining and rigorous too but develops a much stronger and coherent language. I find it ironical to elaborate such a "populist" speech for such an elistist cinema. I'm not sure what audience he targets his films for but the popular success doesn't quite follow. I mean it seems contradictory to focus on this "universal viewer" waiting to be mesmerized if such viewer rarely responds to these films. I would always defend minoritary cinemas that never find their niche despite their overlooked quality. But what's funny there is the rational of intellectual films supposedly made to reach for the guts...

More on this once I've seen Flandres, out in France at the end of August 2006.

16 juin 2006

ParisCinema 2006

Paris Cinéma www
June 27th - July 11th 2006

For the first time this year, this huge cinema event founded by Costa-Gavras in 2003 becomes a proper Festival with a competition, which might give Paris a decent international film festival noticeable on the world scene. Until then we only had le Festival du Film de Paris, held in March, usually small, which was a debacle in 2006. Obviously Cannes explains why Paris doesn't appear on the International Festival circuit map. Maybe that's why the French capital doesn't attract as much world premiere. The festivals in Nantes (3 Continents) is bigger than here. There are lots of films shown at Paris Cinéma every year (about 400 titles in 20 venues for 70,000 admissions), but mostly second-run or older movies, whiches are available all year round in parisian arthouses anyway. Although there are many films coming from the Cannes selection (Climates, Lights in the Dusk, The Science of Sleep, Bamako, To Get To Heaven First You Have To Die, Luxury Car, La Raison du plus faible, Bug, El Violon, Nouvelle Chance...)

As always, recommendations welcomed to help me find the best screenings, especially for the Korean retrospective and the new films. (*) Films I've seen already.


  • Bamako (2006/Abderrahmane SISSAKO/Mali)
  • Our Daily Bread (2006/Nikolaus GEYRHALTER/Austria)
  • To Get To Heaven First You Have To Die (Djamshed USMONOV/Tadjikistan)
  • Old Joy (2005/Kelly REICHARDT/USA)
  • Au delà de la haine (2005/Olivier MEYROU/France)
  • Zemestan / It's Winter (2006/Raffi PITTS/Iran)
  • Quinceañera / Echo Park, L.A (Richard Glatzer, Wash WESTMORELAND/USA)
  • Die Große Stille (2005/Philip GRONING/France/Switzerland/Germany) DOC
  • In Between Days (2006/So Yong Kim/Mike OTT/USA)
  • La Leyenda del tiempo (2006/Isaki LACUESTA/Spain)
  • Montag kommen die Fenster (2006/Ulrich KOHLER/Germany)
  • Les Oiseaux du ciel (2004/Eliane de LATOUR/France)
  • Le Pêcheur et la danseuse (Valerï SOLOMIN/Russia)
  • Sehnsucht (2006/Valeska GRISEBACH/Germany)
  • 04:30 (2005/Royston TAN/Singapore)
PREMIERE - Off Competition

  • Climates (2006/Nuri Bilge Ceylan/Turkey/France)
  • Lights in the Dusk (2006/Aki Kaurismäki/Finland)
  • The Science of Sleep (2005/Michel Gondry/France)
  • Luxury Car (2006/Wang Chao, Chine/France)
  • La Raison du plus faible (2006/Lucas Belvaux/France/Belgium)
  • Bug (2006/William Friedkin/USA)
  • La Californie (2005/Jacques Fieschi/France)
  • Jardins en automne (2006/Otar Iosseliani/France) SEP 13 2006
  • Nouvelle chance (2006/Anne Fontaine/France)
  • Perhaps Love (2005/Peter Ho-sun Chan/Hong Kong)
  • La Tourneuse de pages (2005/Denis Dercourt/France)
  • The Violon (2006/ Francesco Vargas/Mexique)
  • La Dignidad de los nadies (2005/Fernando Solanas/Argentina/Brasil/Switzerland)
  • Le Regard (2005/Sepideh Farsi/France/Iran)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006/Gore Verbinski/USA)


  • Die Bad, Ryoo Seung-wanBarking
  • Dogs Never Bite, Bong Joon-ho
  • The Moon is what the Sun Dreams of, Park Chan-wook
  • Trio, Park Chan-wook
  • Joint Security Area, Park Chan-wook
  • Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Park Chan-wook *
  • Old Boy, Park Chan-wook *
  • Memories of Murder, Bong Joon-ho *
  • The Foul King, Kim Jee-woon *
  • Coming Out, Kim Jee-woon *
  • Girls' Night Out, Im Sang-soo
  • Tears, Im Sang-soo
  • A Good Lawyer's Wife, Im Sang-soo *
  • The President's Last Bang, Im Sang-soo
  • Adresse inconnue, Kim Ki-duk *
  • All For Love - The Most Beautiful Week of my Life, Min Gyu-dong
  • Blood Rain, Kim Dae-seung
  • If You Were Me 1* & 2 (Omnibus)
  • Memento Mori, Kim Tae-tong et Min Gyu-dong *
  • My Sassy Girl, Kwak Jae-young
  • Once Upon a Time in High School, Yu Ha
  • High Crime, Im Kwon-taek *
  • Peppermint Candy, Lee Chang-dong *
  • Rules of Dating, Han Jae-rim
  • Take Care of my Cat, Jeong Jae-eun
  • Turning Gate, Hong Sang-soo *
  • The Unforgiven, Yoon Jong-bin
  • Welcome to Dongmakgol, Park Gwang-Hyeon
  • Dear Pyongyang, Yang Yong-hi
  • Grain in Ear, Lu Zhang
  • In Between Days, So Yong Kim
  • Linda Linda Linda, Nobuhiro Yamashita
  • Go, Isao Yukisada

  • Nam June Paik
  • Kim Woojae
  • Jean-Claude Rousseau
  • A Tale of Two Cities 1 & 2 (Busan Bienale)

  • Le Match de leur vie (Daniel Gordon)
  • Pyongyang Robogirl (Jouni Hokkanen & Simojukka Ruippo)
  • Les Renaissances du cinéma coréen (Hubert Niogret)
  • Repatriation (Kim Dong-won)
  • Une délégation de très haut niveau (Philippe Dutilleul)

CARTE BLANCHE to Peter Fonda

  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946/William Wyler)
  • Woman In The Dunes (1964/Hiroshi Teshigahara) *
  • The Hired Hand (1971/Peter Fonda)
  • Ulee's Gold (1997/Victor Nunez)
  • The Limey (1999/Steven Soderbergh) *


  • Im Sang-soo
  • Dario Argento
  • Agnès Varda : "L'ÎLE ET ELLE"
  • Claude Chabrol : "Au cœur du mensonge..."

- Costumes, with Elisabeth Tavernier (costume designer) & Miou Miou (actress)
- American Independent Cinema, with Costa-Gavras
- Screenwriters, with Santiago Amigorena, Pascal Bonitzer, Jacques Fieschi, Marc Fitoussi, Tonie Marshall, Frédérique Moreau
- Cinema Score, with Bruno Coulais
- Cinema & Videogames, with Marc Miance (concepteur visuel du film Renaissance), David Cage (concepteur du jeu Farenheit), Olivier Séguret (Libération), Denis Friedman (producteur, La Planète des Vents), Xavier Poix (directeur des studios France Ubisoft)
- Actors, with Marilyne Canto (actrice, réalisatrice), Laurent Couraud (directeur de casting), Christophe Moulin (directeur de casting), Richard Rousseau (directeur de casting)
- Arte France Cinéma, with Michel Reilhac (ARTE France Cinéma), Marie Masmonteil (Syndicat des Producteurs Indépendants), Patrick Sobelman (Agat Films), Maurice Tinchant (Pierre Grise Productions)
- Film Production, with Yves Darondeau, Emmanuel Priou, Christophe Lioud (producteurs associés de Bonne Pioche)- Seduction of the Movie Posters, with Michel Landi (artiste-affichiste), Nicolas Journet (journaliste), Soizig Petit (graphiste), Claude Terrier et David Sampedro (Iceberg)
- How to distribute with less than 5 prints, with Yann Kacou (ASC Distribution), Emmanuel Atlan (Zootrope), Eric Lagesse (Pyramide Distribution), Claude-Eric Poiroux (Europa Cinémas, exploitant) (sous réserve), Antoine Cabot (UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles)
- MEDIA 2007 (European program), with Mme Aviva Silver, chef de l'Unité MEDIA de la Commission européenne, et M.Costas Daskalakis, chef d'Unité MEDIA au sein de l'Agence Exécutive Education, Audiovisuel et Culture (EACE). - Filmstiftung NRW (Nordrhein-Westfälen)

MARKET Projects under-development seeking co-production support

  • A Good Woman in Paris (Im Sang-soo/Korea)
  • A Mexican Story (Artur Aristakisian/Mexico/Russia)
  • The Art of Murder (José Carlos Somoza/Spain)
  • Egg (Semih Kaplanoglu/Turkey)
  • Five Lives (Wong Ching Po/Hong Kong)
  • Jash - The Traitor (Fariborz Kamkari/Italy/Iran)
  • Keep Smiling! (Rusudan Chkonia/Géorgia/Germany)
  • Love & Other Crimes (Stefan Arsenijevic/Serbiea/Germany)
  • Tango Bar (German Kral/Germany/Argentina)

04 juin 2006

Fantasma (2006/Alonso)

Fantasma (2006/Lisandro Alonso/Netherlands/France/Argentina) +++
Opening Sequence : Long stationary shot in front of a shoe-repair shop window pane, inside Vargas awaits, one shoe in hand, his nose stuck to the glass. Cut to pitch black. Saturated electric guitar soundtrack for a couple of minutes in the dark. Cut to wide shot of an immense hall after a ceremony with empty glasses on the tables. Vargas slowly wanders around searching his way to the
main entrance downstairs. There, a poster of Los Muertos. The title, Fantasma, red on black slate, will only be intercut later.
A succession of long plan sequence, immobile or moving really slowly. Characters err along the neon-lit corridors, stairs and elevators. Nobody notices. Endless accumulation of levels and rooms. Marble walls. Carpet. Cement. Steel doors. Distant camera dwarfing onscreen people by the huge scale of the building. Silence. Or more precisely, impersceptible murmur from a waking city outside. This steady viewpoint captures the immensity of solitude and the absence of time.
We realize after a while Vargas has never been in a cinema theatre before and was invited to attend a projection of his film. He visits the premises halfway from awe to circumspection, like a child in a strange place. Not quite as familiar as his home jungle, although unrushed and never worried of getting lost or wasting time, two precious things in city life.

Finally the film is projected for only three people. Vargas, the housekeeper, and a young woman working in the building (secretary or PR). We see Los Muertos' oniric opening scene from behind Vargas discovering the film for the first time. Series of reaction shots of Vargas' face, equally impassible yet fascinated. The full screen projection takes us entirely into another film for a moment as the country nature fills the screen. Like an echoe of Vargas and Alonso's interest inside the multiplex. Like a shameless plug to his previous work.
Argentino Vargas, 56 yold, was the single protagonist of Lisandro Alonso's second feature film Los Muertos (2004), a somptuous wordless contemplative journey through the watery forest of Argentine's back country. Misael Saavedra was the lumberjack in La Libertad (2001), which I haven't seen yet.
Both are non-professional first-time actors from a countryside far away from Buenos Aires. The capital city is summarized here by the Teatro San Martin, the only location the film visits during an hour, a concert Hall multiplex of labyrintine architecture. We could see there a dichotomy opposing rural and urban, ancestral forest tradition and cold city anonymity, the personal and the industrial, and even, why not, Alonso's lonely Avant Garde cinema and the indifferent commercial mainstream industry.

Tsai Ming-Liang's Good Bye, Dragon Inn (2003) comes to mind immediately. Is it a conscious homage? a filmic response? Likewise, speachless characters err in an empty auditorium while a film (not one of Tsai's in this case) is projected on a huge screen. Tsai's film inspires nostalgia and admiration for this old theatre about to shut down, pertaining to a forgotten era. Whereas Fantasma feels indifferent for this lifeless multiplex, and its extensive bewildered visit of a displaced person would rather translate a critique of what represents the place.

His actors are alienated in Buenos Aires, and nobody shows up at the premiere. Quite a paradoxal picture for what is the popular culture of instant screen celebrity, Star System or 15-min fame on real TV.
What does suggest this thinly veiled allegory? Maybe the filmmaker shares with his protagonists the sentiment of not belonging there, in the official establishment of culture venues and movie business. They are more comfortable with simple people in the pampa. So the Buenos Aires audience was alienated by La Libertad and Los Muertos, so their very protagonists feel equally unwelcomed once brought to this unfriendly city, like images of remote locations were brought all the way to urban movie theatres.
Is it a complaint that his cinema is ignored by his own people? A complaint that might only be heard by festival crowds and passionate cinephiles though. Kaurismaki echoed this fatalistic grief by giving a surrealist press conference (Cannes 2006) with absurd answers, conscious nobody cares about the exploration of boredom in his art.
Abstracted wordless scenes. Plotless narration essentially carried by images. Careful sense of pace. Tangible appropriation of time. Maybe his Mexican neighbor Carlos Reygadas would share similar concerns about filmcraft. I could only compare this cinema to Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand or Tsai Ming-liang from Taiwan, much less to the other filmmakers of Argentine's Nuevo Cine. As if the new generations of truly creative auteurs formed today beyond the outdated idea of "national cinema" confined by geographical bounderies.
* * *
Lisandro Alonso introduced briefly the projection. This film closes a trilogy, a urban and indoor installment mirroring the first two rural and open air films, apparently to move on towards something different... Arranging a meeting of their lives with his "actors" in the city : a way of thanking them for the critical recognition he received. His next project will take place in Tierra del Fuego, another remote region of Argentina, the utter south of inhabited land on the globe, again with simple, taciturn non-actors.
Despite the unanimous applause of an half-full auditorium at the end, the final Q & A was timed out unfortunately. It's a shame I wasn't bold enough to ask him a few questions in the street... I admit it took me some time to begin making sense of the experience.
Special Screening, off competition, at La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors' Fortnight), Cannes 2006.
(s) ++ (w) ++ (m) +++ (i) +++ (c) ++++

01 juin 2006

12:08 East of Bucharest (2006/Porumboiu)

A Fost sau n-a fost ? / 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006/PORUMBOIU Corneliu/Romania) +++

Opening Sequence : December 22nd 2005. Dawn. Small rural town in Romania, East of Bucharest. Succession of stationary shots in various places.All the lampposts turn off. On the monumental townhall square with the illuminated christmas tree. On a quiet hill with inexistant traffic. In a desertic social housing lane. By an old man's window, who ritualy taps with impatience on the table until the
light dies, and swallows his soup, back to us.This scene introduces an improbable allegory brought up later, and will bookend the full day of this story. A peaceful, contemplative visit across town before everyone wakes up.

Structured in two parts, this bureslesque and gentle critique of the post-Iron curtain Romanian society first introduce the interlaced lives of Manescu, Piscoci and Jderescu through the habits and problems of simple people. Hangover remorses, loans and debts, christmas trees and Santa Claus costumes, firecrackers jokes, neighbor clashes... Intimate scenes with tender banality observing the struggling humanity of proud characters within their very social environment, at home with their wife, at the pub, at school, in the street.This lucid derision reminds of the wry social humour of Kieslowski and more recently, Christi Puiu's riveting The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, also from Roumania. The second part unfolds over a real-time sequence of this history talk show on TV, hosted by Jderescu, a middle-aged TV producer very much fond of his screen persona.

On the anniversary day of Ceausescu's demise, three men debate on local TV show whether the street protests started before or after 12:08, time when the end of the communist dictatorship was proclaimed on TV. Viewers call seem to contradict the heroic version presented by the guests. The literal title means "Was it or was it not?", a question repeated tirelessly until someone can prove there was a popular revolution in their town, alike the ones in Timisoara and Bucharest. Were the people that brave or did the alcoholic selective memory altered the perception of this euphoric and confusing liberation?
A chinese shopkeeper, victim of racists comments, will nonetheless shed an outsider look on this silly quibble in particular and on the Romanian people in general. "You Romanians should stop insulting/accusing eachothers!" Ironically the disgraceful absence of heroism is complacently clouded by a nitpicky reconstitution of crucial minutes around the official capitulation. Evidently this rally wasn't anything like the bloodbath of the French Revolution, subtly referenced twice in the film. Emphasizing the absurdity of pseudo-minutiae accuracy (timeline mockery by anonymous liars fortunately invisible at the othe end of the phone line), the serious of this debate seems to be the only way for them to grab some local glory from the national uprising.

This low-budget channel is totally burelesque. The cameraman trainee can't frame right and has "cinéma-vérité" aspirations. Awkward shots and clumsy zooms, the filmmaker enjoys to give us a faulty camerawork, shaking the cinema widescreen like an amateur homevideo. The effect is hilarious and contributes to embarass the protagonists and lighten up their "grave" discussion. Jderescu, the owner and star anchor, struggles to give some professional dignity to the program, while his bored friends fold or tear paper on air.

A remarkable debut film, of modest but talented ambition, supported by the Cannes Cinéfondation at the Festival Residence. Selected at the Director's Fortnight, won the Camera d'Or (Best debut film) at Cannes 2006.

(s) ++ (w) ++ (m) +++ (i) ++ (c) +++