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March 2006 Archives

March 28, 2006

The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short, 1965

crane_rase.gif André Delvaux often spoken passionately and poignantly of the unique bicultural experience that had infused early Belgian cinema (an industry that also fostered other pioneering bicultural filmmakers such as social realist - and undoubted spiritual ancestor to the cinema of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne - Paul Meyer) that had become increasingly regionalized towards the end of the twentieth century, and to this day continues to wear away the remaining traces of a truly indigenous cinema. One side of the country's complex native identity is the infusion of the centuries old, rich history of Flanders art and literature that, curiously, had not been able to translate into an equally distinctive movement within the evolution of Flemish cinema and remains a largely marginalized film industry, even within its own borders. Another side of this culturally erosive regionalization is the increasing international prominence of regional French language films from Wallonia and Brussels that have benefited in part from cooperative financing and support from other Francophone countries (most notably, in terms of wider distribution) in the absence of national funding - as represented by such renowned filmmakers as Chantal Akerman, the Dardenne brothers, and Jaco van Dormael - that, to a certain extent, have become a kind of de facto representative, collective face of Belgian national cinema to international audiences. But before domestic films would evolve into this divisive notion of dominant and marginalized regional cinemas, Delvaux worked integrally and organically from within both Flemish and Francophone cultures under the creative inspiration of a cross-pollinated, overarching national cinema that would accurately reflect the true essence of a bicultural Belgian identity.

This theme of biculturalism and complex identity would continue to resurface throughout Delvaux's career, beginning with his elegant and quietly devastating first film, The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short, based on Flemish author Johan Daisne's vaguely Lolita-esque, stream of consciousness, magical realist novel on a fastidious, middle-aged schoolteacher who harbors a secret obsession for one of his students: a beautiful, aspiring actress named Fran (Beata Tyszkiewicz). Although told from the sole perspective of the hypersensitive, obsessed teacher, Gottfried "Govert" Miereveld's (Senne Rouffaer) alienated - and increasingly alien - point of view, Delvaux illustrates this intrinsic complexity of identity through the film's radical narrative and tonal shifts as Miereveld's emotional and psychological torment over his inability to reveal his true feelings on the day of Fran's graduation is structurally reflected through a series of elliptical, seemingly decontextualized fractures in narrative that occur throughout (and grows increasingly more frequent towards the end of) the film. Using an extended tracking shot of Miereveld walking home to a different, more modest house, Delvaux reinforces the depth (if not shock) of the unremarkable hero's existential transformation after he undertakes a mid-career change following Fran's departure from his life. Now working as a law clerk after a brief, but unsuccessful career as a trial lawyer, Miereveld accompanies the medical examiner, Professor Mato (Hector Camerlynck) and his assistant Dr. Verbrugge (Paul S'Jongers) as a reluctant state witness for an autopsy and possible positive identification of a body that has washed up in a remote village, a traumatic experience that profoundly shakes Miereveld's consciousness and leads to a fateful encounter with the elusive object of his obsession.

In this respect, Miereveld's self-reinvention throughout the film not only illustrates the trauma of repression, as an overwhelming sense of rejection and failure propel him to a state of fugue, but more importantly, also reflects Delvaux's recurring preoccupation with the theme of complex identity as his existence devolves into a series of (real or imagined) role-playing rituals that, nevertheless, reveal his intrinsic character. Despite the imbalancing fragmentation of the narrative, Delvaux's subtle assimilation of recursive patterns that weave throughout the seemingly disconnected episodes in Miereveld's life reflect an intrinsic cohesiveness within the singularity of Miereveld's perspective and provide insight into the (a)logical structure of his seemingly fractured and aimless life: the image of a scalp vibromassage that caps off a haircut at the barbershop at the beginning of the film is referenced during a procedural conversation into the specialized mechanism that drives a hand-operated cranial saw; the eerie placement of a mask on a covered table in the school storage room is visually replicated in the (alluded) position of the exhumed cadaver; the ceremonial presentation of a figurine in the shape of a gestured hand to a departing teacher is evoked in the disarticulation of the cadaver during the autopsy (and in the enumeration of physical characteristics that would aid in the identification of a missing bank manager) as well as serve as a tangible link to Fran and their shared past; a hotel staircase that subsequently serves as a background for a newsreel interview. This theme of abstractly threaded logic, psychological manifestation, and fractured cohesiveness inevitably shapes the indelible, otherworldly images of Delvaux's minimalist and remarkably groundbreaking film - an idiosyncratic syntax that anticipates the allusive, disjunctive cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who similarly uses abrupt narrative shifts and extended traveling sequences as transitional devices in such films as Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady) and reflexive, bifurcated cinema of Hong Sang-soo - even as it presents a metaphoric - and hauntingly prescient - cautionary tale on isolation and the rupture of identity.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 28, 2006 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2006, André Delvaux

March 12, 2006

1001 Films, 1989

1001films.gifOne of the aspects of David Gatten's work-in-progress, avant garde series, The Secret History of the Dividing Line that greatly impressed me was the idea of film splicing as an intrinsic act of violence, and that innate in this process of "traumatic creation" is the sculpting of a kind of liminal, alien landscape that is only visible within the single frame. So it was particularly satisfying to see that seminal Belgian filmmaker André Delvaux had a similar preoccupation with respect to the fragility and materiality of the medium, and an appreciation for the unexpected art that is created in the process of manipulating found film in what would turn out to be his final opus, 1001 Films, Delvaux's reverent and affectionate ode to film preservation. Returning to his familiar, elegant framework of exploration, imagination, and dissociated reality, Delvaux presents the painstaking process of film archiving and restoration through the filter of adventure and mystery, as a night-time visit to a seemingly depopulated repository (presumably the Royal Film Archive of Belgium) turns into an atemporal wonderland of novel discoveries, hidden treasure, re-awakened curiosity, and critical re-assessment. Delvaux juxtaposes a series of evocative images of observation, reconstruction, and projection using film fragments - from the hand-painted, altered image frames of Georges Méliès' Kingdom of the Fairies to the iconic image of Louise Brooks - with the erratic texturality and uneven contrast of the disintegrating film stock to create a thoughtful and resonant nocturne to film as an articulate, but ephemeral social testament of magic, wonderment, dreams, and seduction.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 12, 2006 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2006, André Delvaux

March 9, 2006

DC Naruse Retrospective: 3/10-4/29/06


This is just a quick mental note that the DC Mikio Naruse retrospective starts on Friday, 3/10 with Every Night's Dreams at the Freer/Sackler to coincide with the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. The other venues are the National Gallery of Art and the AFI Silver. I'll try to catch as many of these as I can in between short hops to NY for the Rendez-vous with French Cinema and the New Directors/New Films series.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 09, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Quick Notes

March 7, 2006

Empty Quarter: A Woman in Africa, 1985

empty_quarter.gifThe untranslated, partial English title of French photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Raymond Depardon's first feature film, Empty Quarter: Une femme en Afrique provides an early clue into the nature of its indirect structure. Serving as a silent, but perceptive, omniscient, and inalterable translator for the unseen filmmaker's retrospection, the camera functions as a voyeur as well as a subjective filter through which he searches the residual aftermath of a failed relationship in the resigned desire to make sense of it. Proceeding in voiceover commentary, the film chronicles the journey of a displaced, globe-trotting filmmaker who offers a spare bed in his hotel room to an aimless, jilted young woman (Françoise Prenant) - a shared accommodation and co-dependency (if not emotional intimacy) that would inevitably lead her to become his constant companion, erstwhile muse, and eventual lover as they travel on an extended road trip from Djibouty to Alexandria. Hiding behind a perpetually recording camera, the unseen filmmaker becomes an existential paradox of presence and absence, directness and evasiveness, estrangement and intimacy, as the young woman begins to fill the empty silence with mundane, passing thoughts, attempting - often in frustration - to communicate with him through the opaque veil of a refracting camera lens (note the recurring images of her silhouette through translucent muslin curtains and mosquito netting). Rather than using the camera as an instrument of direct truth, the object serves as a safe obstruction for the silent filmmaker. But can the camera conceal the implication of his gaze? Perhaps the key lies in his filming of the young woman at a zoological exhibition where her image is captured, not directly, but through her reflections on a series of glass enclosures. Indeed, Depardon's theme of perspective and reflection can be seen in both the temporal and psychological framework for the film, as the cumulative footage of the trip not only serves as a visual chronicle for the failed love affair, but also as a translating mirror for the enigmatic filmmaker's unarticulated desire - where lingering shots of the contours of the young woman's body, her sleeping form, the nape of her neck, and her disembodied legs wading in the water reveal an intrinsic sensuality, melancholic wanderlust, and ache of longing within the intranscendable, empty spaces of the human heart.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 07, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, Raymond Depardon

March 5, 2006

Captive of the Desert, 1990

captive_desert.gifA caravan lackadaisically assembles at the foreground near the site of a desert fortress at dawn, and is spurred into action by the appearance of three figures bisecting the frame as they emerge from the fortress to join the expedition. An extended, medium shot of the cavalcade as they traverse the stationary frame on an undefined journey through the seemingly endless desert reveals the curious sight of a lone, non-native young woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) at the rear of the procession of nomadic tribespeople and camels, as a pair of men dressed in paramilitary gear flank her to prevent escape. A subsequent, sublimely photographed image at dusk taken from an extreme long, axial shot of a crepuscular sun disappearing into the horizon captures the caravan longitudinally traversing the horizon. These establishing images of dislocation, separation, and inevitable transformation provide an understated, yet incisive framework into Raymond Depardon's poetic, elegantly rendered, and thoughtful portrait of alterity and isolation in Captive of Desert. Drawing inspiration from his extensive coverage of the 1974 hostage kidnapping and protracted captivity of French archaeologist Françoise Claustre by Toubou rebels in Chad during the Frolinat Rebellion, Depardon eschews the underlying international politicization, geographic specificity, and social repercussions of the incident to create a broader social exposition on the eternal nature of cultural isolation and assimilation - a sense of timeless division that is established in the introductory sequences of silent migration and decontextualized spaces (note the absence of a specific geographic destination in their tribal migration, only to a series of self-constructed encampments). At the core of the film is the unnamed European woman's paradoxical imprisonment in a land of vast, open - and largely unsecured - spaces, where scarcity of life-sustaining resources and distance from western civilization imposes its own natural and psychological imprisonment. Through recurring aesthetic compositions of intersection, bifurcation, and symmetry, Depardon creates a metaphoric landscape where communion between civilizations is not hindered by ethnography or language, but by the very consciousness of an intranscendable distance of otherness.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 05, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Raymond Depardon