21 octobre 2005

A travers la foret (2005/Civeyrac)

A travers la forêt / Through the forest (2005/Jean-Paul Civeyrac/France) ++
Odd very odd, oddly cute though. A conceptual movie constructed in a rigorous formalism, 10 plan sequences of even timing tally a little over one hour, few protagonists, a narrow set and a soft accoustic soundtrack.

Opening sequence:
A young girl wakes up naked next to her lover in bed, walks up to a bright window and sings an english song. She hates her morning hair so asks him which hairdo would go well if she joined him on a trip to the USA. They joke about it and suddenly the sky goes dark, a storm has obstructed the horizon. The camera tracks her around the bedroom as she looks for her boyfriend who has disappeared, reframing from extreme close up to wide shot, back and forth, from bright light to dark corners, looking into reflecting surfaces or passing behind a flower bouquet, single-handedly commented by the girl's voice modulated accordingly through mood shifts. The light tone of a lovely morning has faded seamlessly into an anguishing evening, the playful game has turned into a bad dream. She's alone, distraught.

Armelle lost her boyfriend Renaud in a motorcycle wreck a couple months ago. He comes back in her dreams to make love to her like if nothing happened. Her two sisters strive to talk her out of this difficult mourning, either with an austere sermon or introducing her to spiritualism. Now she's convinced Renaud wants to come back and she interpretates omens anywhere. Hyppolite, a boy with a motorcycle leather jacket at her university shows a disturbing resemblance with Renaud. Armelle fantasizes a bound with the undead, like Orpheus she wishes to join Renaud in the afterlife and bring him back. The film even hints with subtle touches to the magical spells of her broken heart, mindbinding influence on the people around her. These compartmented tableaux passively observe slices of life unintrusively. The absence of reverse shots confine a 6 minutes lapse with the characters, like a micro theatrical scene. Since Armelle is almost always onscreen, the camera scrutinizes her face, and follows her steps, rarely lingering on the offscreen context wherein she evolves, plainly illustrated by distant noises. A claustrophobic camerawork leading the eye, essentialy focused on the actress(es), leaving no room to breath. Although the self-conscious enunciation seems theatrical, the scarce dialogue is mostly non-narrative, as if the girls-talk verbalization was a way to fill the silence and divert attention from contained inner conflicts. Thus establishing a dichotomy between images and words. Suggestive choreographed mise-en-scene that evokes ties to intangible presences. Aimless discussions around the vanity of human lives, like an ideal marriage to secure fate.
The premise confronts an imagined ghost or a representation of a spiritual quest, but far too straight forward and terribly naive. A style exercice that lacks some depth, unfortunately, to found the need for such ascetic mannerism. However the photography is the most developped aspect of the film, the ambiant lighting and the clashing colors.
Jean-Paul Civeyrac met Camille Berthomier at a theatre school and wrote her a film within a month. The debuting actress wrote all the songs she sings in the film.
Premiered at Toronto 2005
trailer (french)
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17 octobre 2005

Haneke on Hidden

October 17th 1961 : 44 years ago today, before I was born, the french police, under the command of infamous officer Maurice Papon, beat up and pushed into the river the pro-Algeria-independance FLN protesters, with women and children, under the presidency of General De Gaulle. 200 activists died. The french press overlooked the tragedy. The OAS terrorist bomb attacks continued. Nonetheless the independance was signed on july the 3rd 1962.

Earlier this week, the senate voted a law to promote the "good sides" of the french colonialism to the dismay of the french-algerian community...
Note: A fiction documenting this protest is released on October 19th 2005 : Nuit noire 17 octobre 1961 (2005/Alain Tasma/France), I haven't seen it yet.

This is the event reported in the film:

Caché / Hidden (2005/Michael Haneke/France) ++++

I know I still haven't got around reviewing it, but I need to watch it a second time. It opened last week (historical timing apparently), so I will soon. Best Director award at Cannes 2005 !
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Notes from a radio interview of Michael Haneke by Michel Ciment (critic at Positif)

Apparently Haneke sent out a note to all french critics begging not to reveal end spoilers. Interesting to see how conservative he is with the plot suspense, like any single-serving end-twister in Hollywood, as he's precisely working on the mechanism of genre manipulation to make the audience aware of the fallacies. Images have the power to influence the mind, says he, like the fascist propaganda, and the audience ought to be educated to be wary.
He shows every year the movie Air Force One to his film students, because it's the archetype of conscious american imperialist propaganda.

Reference to TV industry methods : the editing work of the literary talk show in the film (by Daniel Auteuil), cliping out the boring arts and going straight to the juicy bits, as Haneke learnt in his 20 years long TV director career. Relationship between the audience and the TV reality, like in Benny's Video and Funny Games. (Same obsession Atom Egoyan has with video and TV screens).
Opposition of fixed plans and plan-sequences, either to emphasize the self-consciousness of a voyeur-cameraman, or the unedited drama of a tensed relationship between 2 characters.

Cinema HD : specific texture suited for the ambivalence wanted by the film, so we cannot tell whether the scene is live or from a video tape. The widescreen format was picked to mimic the 16/9 TV screen seen in the film. Likewise he used an academic format for Benny's Video to be able to fit a TV set full screen and play on the fiction/reality ambiguity. But to work with HD was dreadful, he said, the lenses, focus, depth of field, light... the cameras aren't good enough yet to replace film. Thanksfully he doesn't plan to switch to HD like many auteurs did lately. Haneke checks every shot on the combo monitor because the acting performance is more powerful emotionaly when experienced live on set. The camera frame doesn't record the magnetic physical presence that seriously biases the witness' perception., so he must take this missing element when appreciating teh success of a scene, coldly watched on a TV screen.

La Pianiste / The Piano Teacher was written 10 years ago for another director, a friend of his who couldn't find a producer, Haneke hadn't planned to adapt it for the cinema himself. Le Temps du Loup / Time of the Wolf was written right after The 7th Continent. Both old work, clashing with his austrian films period.

Haneke, great melomane, will make Don Giovanni at the Opéra Garnier in Paris in january 2006, a real opera, not a film, after 20 years directing theatre.

Next project, a 3h long film in german, on the danger of childhood education dealing with the nazi generation, 1914-1939.

Ballad of Narayama (1983/Imamura)

Ballad of Narayama / Narayama bushiko (1983/Shohei Imamura/Japan) ++
Great rendition of primitive social life in a remote community struggling to survive amidst an ungrateful Nature. Morality becomes meaningless when confronted to the call of starvation, primal instincts take over and balance quickly between murder, infanticide, trade of babies, rape and survival of the fittest. Shots of animals hunting, eating, mating and giving birth are recurrently inserted to illustrate the close parallel between these humans and the soulless behavior in the wilderness. Personally I thought these naturalists pictures came of as a naive cliché after a while, especially because of the abrupt editing that fails to incorporate them fully in an aesthetic unity.
A small village of a dozen families lost in the mountains is confronted to many moral decisions around the year, as the harvest go thiner and the neighborhood overcrowded. Baby girls are sold for food. Baby boys are killed at birth, and if they live out they are paria, treated as underdogs by their own family because only the first born son will inherit the ancestral property thus be able to mary. Eldery reaching 70 yold are kindly transported to the snowy mountain top comes winter to spare the burden of feeding people who can't work in the field. Superstition and fear of the dead spirits overwhelm their daily activity, paying homage to ancesters with prayers and begging for mercy. It's the ideal freudian field study: one takes out father and mother, one wishes his elder's death to climb the hierarchy, one asks his daughter to be a whore, one sleeps with the neighbor's mother...
Onin, a 69 yold grandmother is at the head of a large family shamed by too many humiliations... Her husband refused to abandon his mother in the Narayama mountain and deserted his family. Her elder son's wife died giving birth to a baby girl. The heir son isn't married yet. And she has all her teeth in healthy shape, which is a shame for old people, like if they pacted with the devil not to die, which means they remain a burden longer than normal.
Unfortunately only the story is strong, the performances are exaggerated, theatrical, often too grotesque while they should have been more interior and instinctive. Towards the end the film becomes interesting aestheticaly, with a few unspoken scenes as life goes on after a serie of inhumane tragedies. I'm probably most disappointed because of the recommendations I had heard. A weak Imamura in my opinion, style-wise, the direction is rather flat. Palme d'Or at Cannes 1983 anyway...
This depiction of humanity dregs simmering in a closed environment reminds Kurosawa's Lower Depths (1957) and Dodesukaden (1970). Recently a first time japanese director, Hiroshi Toda, developped this theme of the multigenerational nucleus family in Snow in spring / Shunsetsu (2004), taking place in today's Tokyo and abandonning the senile father in the mountain top is also a cultural solution for this middle class urban family. This film however is commendable.
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16 octobre 2005

NYFF 2005

43rd New York Film Festival
September 23 - October 9, 2005

Website : Film Society of the Lincoln Center

Great line up issued from the best of Cannes, Venice and Toronto. A festival without competition nor awards...
And a Japanese retrospective with a tribute to Shochiku (entirely reviewed by acquarello)

My favorites:
A report on Reverse shot for the Q&A's of Haneke and Chereau for their films Caché and Gabrielle.
Greencine daily dispatches by David D'Arcy

Haze, latest film of Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo the iron man) recommended by filmbrain. Sounds fantastic! This feature length film is the director's cut of a 28' segment contained in an asian omnibus put together by the Jeonju International Festival, along with fellow filmmakers Song Il-gon and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (maybe the short film included at NYFF?)
Note: this film is presented coupled with a 30' short of the same filmmaker, Tamamushi, at the Festival of Asian cinema in Lyon (France), which is a segment of another omnibus triptych titled Jam Films - FEMALE.

I like all these omnibus/portemanteau projects coming out recently, gathering various filmmakers around the same topic, to develop the resources of an overlooked film form, the short film. A "genre" or stylistic exercice I'm fond of, and I've been tracking down all omnibus instances (let me know if you can think of other examples), and look forward the upcoming Paris, je t'aime, 20 shorts for 20 districts in Paris by international auteurs.

13 octobre 2005

Secondary Currents (1983/Peter Rose)

More From the retrospective "La Pellicule du Chaos"

Secondary Currents (1983/Peter Rose/USA) 16' +++

"I'm an escape artist. I aspire to travel in the fifth dimension, to speak
unknown languages, to discover the next stage in the evolution of thought. I
construct structural parables that allude to the possibility of there being more
to the universe than is permitted by our explanations." Peter Rose

A strange narrator speaks an imaginary language, an unidentified voiceover subtitled in English on a black screen. Several voices overheard staging the verbal exchanges between a few characters, exposing with lyrical vocabulary the alienation of a foreigner arriving in a conservative community. The absence of images shifts the attention on the sonority of language, a sort of Esperanto sounding like Finnish or Native American Indian, sometimes Chinese or just freestyle gibberish, reminiscent of Dada poetry. Abandonned in the dark and missing the meaning of this language, the auditory experience focuses us on the intonations, the accentuations, the mood of the protagonists from their voice only. The subtitles, only graphic element shown on screen, become the center of the action. The traditional lower line of text translating the dialogue in a very neutral manner, takes liberties progressively, playing on the text format, alignment, verse composition, punctuation... As the quirky verbalisation we are listening to is futher complicated, soon the letters occupy the full space of the screen, and form disturbing mathematical equations where numbers are replaced by letters. Using all possible variation of a typeface, exponent, indice... When the furious cacophony is barely discernible the letters make a blinking canvas of textual matrix and words of a bigger scale appear against the background noise : "I destroy the language" "non-sense"...

An interesting reflexion on the operational mode of the soundtrack and our ambiguous relation to the onscreen information dephased or not with the audio content. It challenges the visual concentration and perverts the logic of language in our brains connections. It's mental sport!
Watching a lot of subtitled movies myself, I thought this little style exercice was particularly thought provocative and ironic. An experimentation related to the lettrist movement of Maurice Lemaître who used to distract annoyingly his audience with such visual mind-games in the 60ies.

Sample The other video clips on the site look great!

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06 octobre 2005

Martin Arnold's cinematic stutter

From the retrospective "La Pellicule du Chaos" at the Centre Pompidou MoMA, a handful of Avant-Garde shorts under the theme of Deconstruction.

Pièce Touché (1989/Martin Arnold/Austria) 15' ++++

Everybody likes to play around with the backward/forward slo-mo wheel on a video editing table, but Martin Arnold, genius of the Austrian experimental scene, takes it to sublimation on a custom optical printer of his own making. He works with foundfootage in B&W, here it's a clip of 18 seconds from Joseph Newman's The Human Jungle (1954), decomposed in a back and forth stop motion increments, stretched out to 15 minutes. Unlike his later masterpiece Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998), this first experiment doesn't distort the original voices of the onscreen characters, the soundtrack emits a locomotive beat resulting from the sequential interspreced frames. Thus the manipulation is purely visual in this piece, dealing with the fluidity of motions, either existing in the original continuity or created by means of mirroring, loops, reverse and any combination of all three.

The base material is a classic plan of an american middle class family: a woman sits in an armchair back to the door and reads a magazine as her husband comes home, kisses her and walks across the room in one pan. With his scientific system of frame duplication, "one step back / two steps forward", Arnold slightly animates a freeze frame with impersceptible movement. The woman starts to tremble in an epileptic convulsion as the door freneticaly opens and closes by itself. The slow motion decomposes every little expressions on her face, and the delayed loops trap the husband between doors unable to stop from banging the door like an obsessive-compulsive disorder. By a clever manipulation of adjacent frames that are the secret of the motion picture illusion, Arnold preserves the continuity of the moves originally filmed, therefore insuring the credibility and coherence of the seamless alterations. The two characters immortalized on film in a given scene become the helpless puppets of a machiavellian demiurge controlling the normal flow of time. Like for the door episode, the kiss is the center of attention and the mouths repeat an approach that seems bound to be repulsed until it explodes into a strobing flurry of electric shocks. Taking advantage of a certain symetry in the plan composition, a mirrored footage, horizontally then vertically, is also interlaced in the cataractous loops, which cleverly allows to double an apparent motion, started on one side, and pursued by a mirrored copy in reverse. This manipulation of pure motion reaches abstraction according to the duration of the loop. On a brief loop with a double mirror on a one-character medium shot, the kaleidoscope deceptively makes coexist alternate realities in one place, at a 24 frames per second rate, in the form of a 4-faced, 8-armed monster.

What is just a fun game of editor explores the microcosme of repressed possibilities contained in a banal plan and its 400 frames, ridiculing cinema conventions through a critique of the classic narrative form. The editing manipulation opens a whole potential of subverted meanings from the same footage, altering the impressions we get from images we are subjected to. It's like an extrapolation of the Soviet Montage theory adaptated to micro motion continuity, where the juxtaposition of frames with a common internal dynamic issue a different action according to the order of association: linear or alternative, successive or discontinued, backward or forward, confrontation of reflective directions. This little style exercice proves how easy it is to generate a language from any given footage, creating new shots, new camerawork, new stories without filming new material. Somehow negating the role of performances overwhelmed by a dominating montage.

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04 octobre 2005

Kilometre Zero (2005/Saleem)

Kilometre zero (2005/Hiner Saleem/France/Iraq/Finland) +

First movie shot in Iraq since GulfWar 2, Hiner Saleem (Vodka Lemon), exiled kurd in Paris, films a burelesque road movie in the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, coupling up together a kurd with an iraqi to highlight the absurd contradictions of a disparate people undermined by ancestral hatred. The film opens on a couple in a car driving in a country road of France, captivated by the radio announcing the laungh of the war in Iraq by president Bush in 2003. Cut to Iraq in 1988.
Ako is a young kurd married to a beautiful woman who refuse to leave the country without her dying father when the war is announced. They live in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan, bordering Turkey. Facing the dilemma of enrolling in the kurd resistance up in the mountains, or fleeing to Turkey, Saddam Hussein's army drafts him by force in the street, leaving him no choice to agonize over. Then sent directly on the frontline to the extreme south of Iraq, in Bassora, away from the Iranian Kurdistan. The film gets started when Ako is assigned the task to bring home in his Kurdistan the corpse of a martyr. His taxi driver with the coffin on the roof, is an taciturn arab, reduced to obey to a kurd by this ironic reversed situation where Ako is the one with the gun. Like in his previous film Saleem uses his trademark motif of a bed on wheels for comical relief, or the recurrant apparition of a giant bronze statue of Saddam on a truck. The hearses convoy can only use main roads or cross cities at night to save the population morale. Meanwhile the body decays and the 2 protagonists failed to connect in any way.
Desperately trying to reach the lightness of Kusturica when he introduces black humour in wartimes, Saleem poses a few staged situations to illustrate symbolically all the complexity of the tension in Iraq without ever showing it. The kurd genocide is briefly told through a radio speaker, fighter bombers only heard on the soundtrack, and smoke explosions on the front. This much minimalism could make good suggestive cinema if the scenes were less rushed and more sophisticated. The non-actor cast lacks the meaningful direction. The good ideas of mise-en-scène are clumsy and underdevelopped. Honorable intentions and limited means, but more jokes than actual inspiration.
This recreation of history is so disturbingly detached, brought to an intellectualisation of humiliation and suffering, that it's difficult to even believe in the fiction. Probably a lot of the subtext didn't hit me how it should have. A kurd saying concludes, as Ako and his wife are in a tiny rooftop appartement in Paris when Iraq is liberated by the coalition : "Our past is sad, our present is a tragedy, but fortunately we have no future."
Selected in Cannes 2005 (Official Competition)

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