31 janvier 2007

DIGEST : Janvier 2007

Unreviewed screenings, current reads, links, recommendations, free talk, radio webcast, questions, thoughts, informal conversation, anything... comments welcome.

>> updates below (sticky entry for a month)

25 janvier 2007

Nuri Bilge Ceylan interview (Climates)

My notes on radio broadcast : L'avventura on France Culture with Laure Adler. (offline now)


  • Inspired by Antonioni : L'Eclisse, L'Avventura, La Notte. (Not especially in Climates though).
  • Formating experience when seeing at 16 yold Bergman's The Silence (1963). Then difficulty to track down more Bergman films (not available in Turkey).
  • Autobiography by Roman Polanski was a transforming experience, that gave him an impulse to become filmmaker.
  • Discovery of Antonioni, Bresson, Ozu, Bergman at the London Cinematheque.
  • Quits film school after 2 years out of 4, to start making cinema. Learns filmmaking by staring in a short movie for a friend.


  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a totally independent auteur : screenwriter, producer, camera operator, editor, set designer, director of photography, actor. A filmmaker must learn how to do every trade in cinema not to be slave of standard technique and be able to create a sophisticated film [Bergman said the same thing]. Creativity starts where standard formula ends. He wants to be creative at every stage of the production.
  • He was originaly photographer which helped him to understand the technique of cinema.
  • Use of non-actors (his family) : he likes their spontaneity potential, their resource to give something fresh.


  • Turkey : NBC is a Solitary person, not political bond with Turkey, no special connection with other turkish filmmakers Yilmaz Güney (Yol), so he has the feeling he could live in any country and do the same kind of cinema. Though, he doesn't want to live elsewhere.
  • Iran : The image of Iran changed thanks to Kiarostami and iranian cinema. He thinks people in Iran are like in the movies.
  • Likewise Turkey's art offer a new perspective to the world.
  • Humanistic, meditative, contemplative cinema. Looking at the world through plan sequence. Lots to contemplate, to see in the film. Little dialogue and action.
  • Lots of things happen between people and their relationship with nature. Perception of time, of seasons = cosmic influence on people's lives. Wind, wave in the sea, snow, sun beam... elements of nature remind man of being a tiny dot in the universe, which alters our relation to suffering.
  • Off-centering of self, learning of self-identity. NBC likes his characters to lie, and that the audience be active to figure the smallest gesture that betrays this lie. In Hollywood cinema we usually believe everything the hero says, and he doesn't like that.

"I hate to explain, to insist, to convince : the audience shall guess. (...) I think the point of view of a film should be close to life. As if you observe a couple of strangers in a cafe, trying to figure their relationship, their problems." interview in Libération (01-17-2007)

"People who talk too much always bothered me. Most of is being said is hollow. (...) I never liked when feelings and reflexions are expressed through dialog. I prefer to make my characters say unsignificant things, while the underlaying subtext reveals their feelings and reflexions. I like to show everybody's real-life weaknesses, this superficial side of us." Interview in Les Inrockuptibles (01-16-2007)


  • Clouds of May (1999) was compared to Kiarostami by critics. Life of rural people, joy of contemplating nature.
  • Uzak (2002) Istanbul under snow. Shot in NBC's own appartment. Watching Uzak is like watching a scientist experiment to observe humans like lab animals. Mamut: solitary and depressive afraid of being invaded by a stranger. Mutic game between the 2 men. Problems of vital space. Solitude, despair, delusion. Sounds of nature. Sounds interacts even image is still.


  • Couple fighting to figure if they will part or not. Played by real-life couple of the auteur.
  • Ebru co-wrote the scenario, she was involved in the project at the beguining so him and her were meant to be in the film.
  • Male POV : man is mean, indecise, violent, seductor and woman more innocent, fragile by contrast. Every man by instinct is interested by his friend's girlfriend. 10 commendments "thou shall not covet your neighbor's wife" = Men's competition (unsaid tendency): "I scored more (women) than you".
  • The fact that at the ending the woman is to the East, in the snow, alone, helps the man to love her more because she needs security.
  • HD is the future of cinema whether we like it or not, so better as well master it now. Freedom of images, corrected colors. He filmed some beautiful steadycam shots for Climates but he dropped them all on the editing table to only keep stationary shots, because they didn't feel right. Echo with the still photographer in him.
Another contribution to the "Contemplative Cinema" blogathon at Unspoken Cinema.

13 janvier 2007

Gus Van Sant on Bela Tarr

Another contribution to the "Contemplative Cinema blogathon" at Unspoken Cinema.
My notes on Gus Van Sant's text "The camera is a machine", written for the 2001 Bela Tarr retrospective at the NYC MoMA. Published in French in Trafic #50 (summer 2004)

Upon viewing Damnation (1988), Satantango (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), Gus Van Sant reconsiders the cinematographic grammar and the influence of History (industrial revolution age) on the birth of cinema.

The films of Bela Tarr follow one of many singular paths that Cinema could have adopted if the mainstream hadn't been formated by industrial necessities. His work shows a new genuine and fruitful orientation, a cinema radicaly new starting over at its point of departure. And this cinema could only be born outside our western culture.
Bela Tarr seems to be influenced by the stationary views of steam engine machines from the XIXth century. [Reference to the famous Lumière brothers' seminal film : L'Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat (1895)]
He learnt cinema from its origin as if Modernist Cinema never existed.

In Werckmeister Harmonies there is a 5 min long shot of a mob storming down a street to go burn down a hospital. A spectator asked Bela Tarr why this shot had to last so long and he replied sincerly :
  • "because the street to cross was that long"

[Which is the same answer Tsai Ming-liang did about the length of the opening shot of The Wayward Cloud, where we watch two women cross an underground tunnel, end to end, in wide angle.]

Without the shortcuts and ellipsis of the conventional vocabulary that would tell us : "The crowd moves forward", instead with emphasis on the lyrism and poetry, by sharing ideas his long take says : "The protesters progress, grimacing, raising high up their torches, some marching in synchronized rhythm, some not, sometimes turning round and movnig around, and once arrived they had come a long way."

Bela Tarr's work has an organic and contemplative approach rather than truncated and contemporary. We couldn't find this manner of contemplating life in an ordinary modern film. His films are so much closezr to the daily life rhythms that it appears we witness the birth of a new cinema. Bela Tarr is one of the few filmmakers truly visionary.

09 janvier 2007

Over There : documenting contemplation

2nd post for the Contemplative Cinema Blogathon at Unspoken Cinema.

Continuation from Là-bas (2006/Chantal Akerman/Belgium/France)

In February 2005, Chantal Akerman is asked to make a documentary on Israel. Taking position, shaping a vision is complicated. She's afraid to picture this difficult nation too lightly, to give an uneducated judgment of the conflict, to oversimplify politics at work. Not belonging to Israel is also a worry. She doesn't feel at home and she can't identify her peers either. These are the dilemmas Akerman contemplates hampered by the inhibition of her neurotic denial. Although reluctant to confront a caricatural banality of long-lived clichés, she installs a camera in her rented appartment nonetheless and lets it capture life through the windows.

The reflexion about the conception thus becomes part of the documentary itself, like a very personal meta-film, which turns out to be a creative justification on the impossibility to produce satisfying images. The limitations of cinema, as a regard, in descriptive explanations. What Akerman can't bring herself to say, the strict formality of her montage reveals it. This contemplative aesthetic takes a long pause to ponder, through the physicality of wait and silences (in place of intellectualized polemics), over the state of being in Israel, the resentment of exil, the uprooting of dispora. The ambivalent Jewish fate.

The cinematic space and the auteur's scope, in a symbiotic analogy, are both divided in four constructs layered in depth: Inside, Frontier, Outside, Away.

Her spontaneous, neurotic seclusion, takes a political dimension in the context of her own double exil. She's first exiled from motherland, Israel, because her family lives in Europe, and she's exiled again, as a foreigner, once in Tel Aviv because she can't pretend to be Israeli. A feeling of being elsewhere, always out of place.

She's a child of the second generation. Her mother bears the wounds of the death camps in her flesh, Chantal does in her subconscious. She says if she had been raised in Israel she would have ran around with the other kids in the street, but in Bruxelles, going out was forbidden and she watched the kids from her window. In this film, again, she assumes the childhood conditioning and watches from behind closed windows.

INSIDE (Exil) : Bunker-appartment, safe hideout, passive observation, centrality, immobility. She is in Tel Aviv, but the closed doors make her appartment an alien territory, away from Israel, which only shows out of the windows. A microcosm in truncated details, out of context. All screens pulled down on the windows create a camera obscura, the reality from outside filters in through the gaps. We're in Plato's myth of the cave : the silhouettes at the windows are the only reality she knows of Israel.

FRONTIER (Curtain) : Initial distanciation from her environment, ambiguity conceal/reveal, overframing. The large bay-window filling the screen, replaces the cinema screen, stands for a TV screen to display movies or the News. Relating her experience to the theatre audience.

OUTSIDE (Street) : Homeland, heartland, motherland, Tel Aviv, Israel. The first layer is the invisible street down below that emits a muffled ambient noise (sound without visual). The second layer across the void, is the facade of the building, replicating/mirroring her "inside", only as seen from outside, behind their walls and curtains (partial visual without sound). Each window is a TV screen to contemplate, with its own "soap opera" with recurrant characters.

AWAY (The world) : Ideal hope. Immense, global, invisible macrocosm, out of reach, impossible to grasp. Represented by 3 elements. The planes in the sky, going to another exil. The sea, open on all sides, the polar opposite of her cealed bunker. The phone line connecting to friendly voices, breaking the exil, folding space, canceling the distances.

* * *

Sous le ciel lumineux de son pays natal (2001/Franssou Prenant/France)
A companion film to Akerman's documentary would be a similar work by Franssou Prenant who tells her return to Beyrout in Lebbanon (on the other side of the Israeli border). She interviews her friends, off-screen, who stayed there and recall her memories from before the war, her impressions of the changes, against a handheld reportage through the streets.

La-bas (2006/Akerman)

This post is my contribution to the Contemplative Cinema Blogathon. Check Unspoken Cinema for all the updated contributions and the roundtable discussions with other participants.

Là-bas / Over There (2006/Chantal Akerman/Belgium/France) ***

The film starts and ends inside someone's empty living room, respecting the rules of dramatic unity (one space, one time, one action). A precautionary look at what's happening outside. The shots are always static and patiently pursued in long takes. If the framing is artisticaly composed, it lets however the audience's gaze wander around and select our own acumen. Little action animates this quiet scrutiny of the neighborhood, from various angles, through the straw-screens. A textured curtain of proximity and disconnection. Lacking any hint of a narrative subject, these silent images denounce the passivity and voyeurism of a cinema viewer, which strangely echos the filmmaker's own state of mind in Israel.

After a while, mundane noises announce a presence we'll never see. As we imagine her making coffee in the kitchen, eating fruits, walking around, typing on her laptop, Akerman invites us to share a slice of her dailylife and witness her self-imposed seclusion. Thus the camera isn't Akerman's own eye, but a supervisor planted next to her. It rolls, nonchalant, as she stays off-screen doing other things.
Her voiceover commentary will come later to incorporate her developping ideas. She talks about triviality (food, traveling, mood, work, family memories) in a diary fashion. It could be an essay film in-progress, observing itself being made. From the notes, to denial, to idle shooting, to making of, to meta-documentary, to film. All in one.
A phonecall in French, with her mother or a friend, explicits her situation : she's fine, a little tired, her stomach was sick, she has work to do. Another phonecall in Hebrew and English, with a local friend, says she'd rather stay home. Three interlaced idioms remind us the communication barrier in a foreign land. From this remote sanctuary, the phone links to the world, literaly, all the way to Belgium, and right outside in the city. It's her only human contact. Our only context to the film. And an opportunity for a diegetic monolog.

Shortage of food imposes a leap to the shops. Not the israeli salads! they made her sick... This upset stomach could be a psychosomatic symptom due to her resistance to go out, or a subconscious incompatibility. Everything seems to approve her self-imprisonment. Her vocal introspection shares with us the irony of these coincidences.

All the while the digital camera peeks views of the buildings across the narrow street of her only landscape, over-framed by the curtains. Her neighbors become the involuntary protagonists. Through recurring shots of extensive length, we get to familiarize with some of them appearing now and then at the windows. There is an old retired couple up there, watering the plants every day. Noises of cars driving in and out. An old lady smoking on a tiny balcony. Children shouting nearby. A group of people in the street.
We can only imagine the words of their conversation. We listen what we can't see off-screen, we see what we can't hear. Our senses are dissociated. The mind will reconstitute the puzzle of a larger reality. Our voyeurism projects a judgement on them as we profile their supposed personality. These shots unroll silently, patiently, waiting for something to show up, or not.

And the montage cuts from this window to that balcony, like if skipping channel on a TV. They are like small silent films, from a surveillance camera. The almost-real-time contemplation translates the apprehension of dailylife rhythm in this quarter. We are there. We live there.
The sun drags the shadows across the facade, from underexposed to overexposed. The intensity of daylight evolves and creates a new environment, more or less oppressive. Texture, color, depth constantly vary.
The images fabricate a de-facto narration, in the absence of a stated plot, because they contain their own fragmented stories, those of real-life people, an intimate microcosm. The scarcity of sightings makes the observation riveting and the wait rewarding. At the antipode of Rear Window, Akerman recreates a dramatic tension out of nothing (what's already there) with her frame.
Them on one side, and her on the other end, and us. The narrow field of the tele-lens, the minimalism of details, transcend the archetypal features of a neighborhood, so we can relate to this confrontation to the "Other" painted in universal tableaux.

Là-basOn her exceptional visit to the beach, we can at last breath the open air. Same contemplative static shots observing from the distance the stroll in the sand of an orthodox family and tourists alike. Both the people and the filmmaker face the horizon. Over there. One always dreams of a hopeful elsewhere. The titular "Over There" that meant Israel from a european perspective, here, in turn, names the world beyond the sea : Europe, home, USA.
Just when she returns from the shop, she learns about a bomb attack on the beach, around the corner. Akerman is under shock in her appartment, and doesn't stigmatize the incident in spectacular pictures like the Israeli news. This bomb hides in words to us.
The phone rings again and she lies about her fear to appease her friends. The shot angles are the same routine but the atmosphere is more severe and the tone more serious. She notes her aunt Ruth in Bruxelles and her friend's mother in Tel Aviv both commited suicide around the same time. Why suicide in Israel just like everywhere else? Isn't it the promised Land?

The film is making itself in the camera magazine, overcoming her initial reticence. The intuition of the filmmaker succeeds where her intellect backpedalled.

Berlin Festival 2006 - Forum
(s) +++ (w) +++ (m) +++ (i) ++ (c) ++

06 janvier 2007

TOP 2006

I'm reluctant to make my top this year because I don't have a favorite masterpiece... I feel I have yet to watch the best ones this year (Lynch, Tsai, Weerasethakul, Jia, Hong Sang-soo...).

I agree with Andy Horbal's blame of the list-mania, but I'd like to argue against "capsule summary" that simplify the opinion in few words as a year-end reminder. I'd rather post a bare list that functions as a mere barometer and can be compared with others. It shows how the year was perceived differently by critics, or how distribution was limited. A neutral assessment of the warmest recommendations.

Only 10 titles on my list got an official distribution in France, and most of the time a narrow exposition. Only 4 French films, truly original and inspired (one of them is made by a japanese director). 4 debut feature-length directors. 3 Documentaries.
But these are challenging films more interesting than the "commercial auteurs". I think they are exemplary formaly and thematically, to which I give more credit than the comfortable mannerism of older auteurs doing what they master within the safe codes of the genre. I think they deserve more support from critics and cinephiles, and should inspire future cinema to be more creative.

20 films, roughly in preferential order :

  • Our Daily Bread (2005/Nikolaus Geyrhalter/Autriche) DOC
  • Fantasma (2006/Lisandro Alonso/Argentine)
  • Lights in the dusk (2006/Aki Kaurismäki/Finlande)
  • Climates (2006/Nuri Bilge Ceylan/Turkey)
  • Dans Paris (2006/Christophe Honoré/France)
  • Drawing Restraint 9 (2005/Matthew Barney/USA)
  • Ten Canoes (2006/Rolf de Heer/Peter/Australie)
  • Juventude em Marcha / Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa/Portugal)
  • Hamaca paraguaya (2006/Paz Encina/Paraguay) Debut
  • La science des rêves (2006/Michel Gondry/France)
  • Into Great Silence (2006/Gröning/Germany) DOC Debut
  • Là-bas (2006/Chantal Akerman/Belgique) DOC
  • Sommer '04 (2006/Krohmer/Allemagne)
  • Flandres (2006/Bruno Dumont/France)
  • Un couple parfait (2005/Nobuhiro Suwa/France)
  • 12h08 East of Bucarest (2006/Corneliu Porumboiu/Romanie) Debut
  • Sangre (2006/amat Escalante/Mexique) Debut
  • Zemastan / It's Winter (2006/Rafi Pitts/Iran)
  • Sehnsucht (2006/Valeska Grisebach/Autriche)
  • Drama/Mex (2006/Gerardo Naranjo/Mexique)

Special Mentions : Bamako (2006/Sissako/Mali); Volver (2006/Almodovar/Spain) ; Klimt (2006/Ruiz/France); Conversations with Other Women (2005/Canosa/UK); To Get To Heaven First You Have To Die (2006/Usmonov/Tadjikistan); Coeurs (2006/Resnais/France); Renaissance (2006/Volckman/France); La Tourneuse de pages (2006/Dercourt/France); Requiem (2006/Schmid/Germany); 4h30 (2005/Royston Tan/Singapour); Anche Libero va bene (2006/Stuart/Italy); La Raison du Plus Faible (2006/Belvaux/Belgium); Tristram Shandy (2005/Winterbottom/UK); Two Thirty 7 (2006/Thalluri/Australia); Paprika (2006/Kon/Japan); Bubble (2006/Soderbergh/USA)

On my list last year : Lazarescu; The Sun; L'Enfant; Three Times; Battle in Heaven; Manderlay...

Major unseen potential nominees : Inland Empire; Still Life + Dong; Syndromes and a Century; I Don't Want to Sleep Alone; Woman on the Beach; Iraq in Fragments; Oxhide; The Power of Nightmares; Rescue Dawn; White Diamond; The Boss of It All; Half Nelson...