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April 2006 Archives

April 26, 2006

The Eye Above the Well, 1988

eye_well.gifOn the surface, photographer turned filmmaker Johan van der Keuken's selection of an ancient Indian folktale narration that opens and concludes The Eye Above the Well is a curious one. Recounting the tale of a man suspended precariously from a tree branch above a snake-infested dried-up well who, in moments before an inescapable, horrific death, nevertheless reaches to taste a drop of honey on the tip of a blade of grass near the well, the tale seems ideally suited to a facile interpretation of third world allegory for capturing moments of grace and humble beauty in the face of poverty, hardship, and inevitable death. However, perhaps what is intrinsically significant about the inclusion of the folktale is not found in the content of the parable, but rather, in its context - in the seeming incongruity of its existential orality within a visual and representational ethnographic cultural survey. Indeed, inasmuch as van der Keuken captures the travails and quotidian rituals of life within the rural and urban communities of Kerala near the end of the twentieth century without the overt intrusion of narrated (first world) perspective, he also chronicles the process of passage, continuity, commutation, and transference - creating a snapshot, not only of a captured moment, but also the reinforcing fragments of a future memory in an interrelated stream of collective consciousness.

Acutely aware that each superseding film frame is a figurative erasure of the previous one, van der Keuken's gaze transcends that of passive observation or ubiquitous surveillance and instead, becomes a chronicle of the ephemeral - a theme that is reinforced in the establishing shots of the village through the veil of diaphanous smoke that suffuses the landscape. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that van der Keuken's sublime, extended traveling shot through the rural village as a moneylender embarks on his daily collection route visually prefigures the pervasive sense of displacement and migration of Chantal Akerman's D'Est and rootlessness of Peter Mettler's Gambling, Gods and LSD, where the organic happenstance nature of the passing images serve as a metaphor for existential transience. In contrast to fluidity of camera movement implemented in the rural sequences, the city is depicted through a quick cut montage that reflects the chaos of urban life (in a sequence that also prefigures the baroque visual strategy of Mark Lapore's collage film, Kolkata). In his photography of the disparate landscapes, van der Keuken's gaze lies, not in the details of the captured image, but in the intrinsic, subconscious destruction of that image within the sequentiality (and manipulation) of the film itself - the transformation from the physical (object) to the cognitive (memory).

In an early sequence, the image of a martial arts instructor overseeing his students' flexibility exercises and kata-like drills illustrates the social process of imparting knowledge between elder and protégé, a passing of legacy that is reinforced in a subsequent shot of the middle-aged instructor and his student formally posed in the foreground of a wall bearing the portrait of the instructor as a young man and his own teacher. A series of subsequent encounters - a village schoolteacher, a spiritual cantor, and a Kathakali instructor - evoke the presaging image of the complex choreography of martial arts exercises to illustrate the repetition innate in the process of enlightened ritual. In another sequence, a moneylender traveling from village to village to collect weekly installment payments on outstanding loans represents the most immediately identifiable form of transference - financial transaction - as money changes hands through a succession of craftsmen, teachers, and shop owners, and is used to finance a loan for another local merchant. It is interesting to note that this commodification of social interaction is subsequently connected to the shot of a bicycle messenger transporting film cans to the local movie house when the moneylender visits the projectionist to collect payment on his debt. It is through this seeming chance encounter that van der Keuken illustrates the sublimative process of enlightenment and transference - the intersection between the physical (ritual) and the ephemeral (idea) through the intrinsic duality of film as both a material object and fictional, intangible, projected image.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 26, 2006 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2006, Johan van der Keuken

April 18, 2006

The Koumiko Mystery, 1965

koumiko.gifChanneling the zeitgeist of the French new wave, The Koumiko Mystery assimilates Jean-Luc Godard's enraptured clinical deconstructions of the feminine mystique (as well as a penchant for structuring these ruminations within the framework of noir) with Jacques Demy's achingly nostalgic evocations of elusive, romanticized longing into a whimsical, organic, and fractured, yet quintessential Chris Marker exposition on culture, identity, contemporaneity, and strangerness. Consisting of a series of conversations with - and observations of - an attractive, French-speaking, twenty-something Tokyo resident named Koumiko Muraoka, the film is set against the backdrop of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a critical milestone for postwar Japan to demonstrate to the international community that the nation had not only recovered, but also culturally evolved from its feudal, militarist history into a modernized, free economy, democratic society. In its characterization of a complex, historical city as an organic, self-propelled, and autonomous personality (and specifically, as an enigmatic woman), the film can be seen, not only as an homage to Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City but also as a prefiguration of Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her in which the ambiguously attributed "her" of the title becomes an interchangeable allusive reference to the city of Paris, the actress Marina Vlady, or her fictional character Juliette at different vertices within the film. As in Godard's subsequent film, a great city is shown at the cusp of transformation, regardable as both a quaint, hometown with indigenous character, and as a bustling, constantly evolving city on the threshold of becoming an impersonal - and intrinsically characterless - modern metropolis.

For Marker, a visual survey of European-featured mannequins at a department store and advertisements for cosmetic products that purport to create the appearance of enlarged eyes and narrowed noses illustrate this subconscious dissolution of identity in the face of globalism, even as Koumiko considers her own features to be too classically Japanese - a face more suited to the Heian period, she muses - and lightheartedly argues that she wishes that she had a more in vogue, "funny face" instead. This seemingly anecdotal exchange precisely articulates Marker's sense of alterity in this cultural encounter, as he interprets these aesthetics of contemporary fashion as a subconscious desire to neutralize Asiatic features - to erase the otherness that attracts him to the culture (and to the heroine) - even as she seeks her own sense of otherness in a culture of (perceived) monoethic sameness. The theme of conformity and erasure of identity is also presaged in the images of an Everyman comic strip that prefaces the film in which the interpenetration between occidental and oriental cultures is depicted as resulting in a superficial mimicry of the other in an attempt to model Japanese postwar society in the manner of "civilized" nations, and eludes true comprehension of either culture. In this respect, Marker's intrinsic sense of strangerness is the folly of melancholia for a lost, exoticized past that never was confronted with the curiosity for the mundane reality of an assimilated traditional and modern culture that is the identity of a "new" Japan, and it is this intrinsic bifurcation that inevitably captures the enigma - the ephemeral mystery - of Koumiko.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 18, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Chris Marker

April 15, 2006

Patrick Bokanowski: Short Films (1972-1994)

My first exposure to French filmmaker Patrick Bokanowski's experimental cinema was with his transfixing, yet vague and impenetrable magnum opus L'Ange, a Dante Alighieri-esque depiction of intranscendence and moribund ritual that would ingrain the (somewhat reductive) idea that his films were abstract visual studies in structuralism, modulation, and repetition. In hindsight, underneath this cursory first impression of Bokanowski's aesthetic is an intrinsic aspect of his filmmaking that is undeniably artful and innovative - particularly within the context of his short films - and that, like Oskar Fischinger's deconstructed, aural waveforms, approach a synesthetic convergence between image and sound. In his optical experiments with light, reflection, and refraction that transform everyday images into fluid and deformable art objects that redefine the medium of film as a traditional canvas, Bokanowski shares a visual affinity with Aleksandr Sokurov's murky and expressionistic in-line optical distortions in films such as Mother and Son and Oriental Elegy that, like the works of aesthetic forefathers such as Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Caspar David Friedrich, evoke the primal, spiritual landscapes that haunt our consciousness and give form to our waking dreams.

La Femme qui se poudre, 1972

woman_powdered.gifSomething of a hybrid between Jean Cocteau and Jan Svankmajer in its gothic expressionism and artful grotesquerie crossed with the metric precision of Kurt Kren's more clinical materialaktion films that experiment with the plasticity of surfaces (most notably, in the deformed figures that recall the disfiguration and self-mutilation of Kren's short film, 10/65 Selbstverstümmelung), Bokanowski's earliest film, La Femme qui se poudre (The Woman Who Powders Herself) is, as the title implies, an evocation of concealment and unmasking, where the mundane act of a Victorian-era woman's ritualistic application of cosmetic powder seemingly opens the window - or perhaps, Pandora's Box - into underlying human anxieties of physical beauty, youth, desirability, and objectification. Reflecting the superficiality of societal notions of beauty through the alienness of landscape and the ephemeral riddle of true identity through epic, soul-searching journeys and faceless phantoms that emerge from thin air before vanishing from view, the terrifying images break apart and eventually disintegrate into irresolvable fragments of haunted memory within the course of the increasingly abstract film, as the waking dream descends ever further into the realm of nightmare and the deepest recesses of the subconscious, unraveling the veil of human vanity to reveal amorphous shadows cast by empty souls.

Déjeuner du matin, 1974

dejeuner.gifIncorporating painterly, Friedrich-like rural landscapes (that prefigure the profoundly isolated, psychological landscape of Sokurov's Mother and Son) set against expressionistic images of elongated shadows, skeletal structures, and highly acute camera angles that distort perspective fields of view, Déjeuner du matin subverts conventional notions of family and domestic ritual to create a haunted portrait of isolation and Sisyphean ritual. Bokanowski sets the tedium of mundane, near-autonomic morning routines on a provincial farmhouse (a looped sequence depicting an inventor drafting his latest design at the break of dawn reinforces this sense of somnambulism) - eating breakfast, shaving, carrying bales of hay - against a sense of claustrophobic inescapability where momentary eruptions of unprovoked domestic violence are attenuated within the oscillations of a lifeline, and even the act of flight through the hills in order to watch the sun rise is made ominous by the churning of the clouds, the fragile balance of near-collapsing structures, and the silence of inorganic, forbidding mountains. Concluding with petrified images of despair and inanimate, seemingly truncated attempt at connection (or perhaps, reconciliation), the tonally jarring incorporation of a melodic, carnivalesque arcade music serves as a wry reinforcement of the theme of eternal cycles of ritual.

La Plage, 1992

plage.gifComposed of four chapters depicting optical modulations of scenes from a day at the beach, La Plage illustrates Bokanowski's continued fascination (and experimentation) with the chromic, refractive, and reflective properties of glass to create films that redefine the materiality of celluloid and explore the plasticity of surfaces to transform everyday objects into works of art. The high contrast, blue tinting of the first chapter prefigures the opening sequence of Dolce in its evocation of nocturnal tempest (and perhaps even a glimpse of the forking of waters in Sharunas Bartas' Few of Us). The second chapter forgoes the darker chromic filters while retaining the film's high contrast to create a sense of floating otherworldliness to the images, an atmosphere that is further emphasized through a shift in camera framing from people anchored on the foreground (generally near the bottom) of the frame in the previous chapter, to people framed in the middle of the shot, seemingly suspended in the enveloping water between the terrestrial and the celestial. The third chapter introduces variable density optics (where the multiple indices of refraction reside at various sectors within the same lens) into the camera's line of sight that refract light into visually unexpected transmittive or reflective angles such that organic shapes become angular and compartmentalized into cubist-like organic geometries, and monolithic forms take on an appearance of fluidity and motion. Creating nodal point images that present a differential mapping of "concentrations of matter", Bokanowski cleverly redefines notions of visibility into relativistic realms of motion and inertia. Lastly, the fourth chapter returns to the chromic filters of earliest chapters. Concluding with a frozen image of a woman and child gazing out to sea that is framed against the warm, red and amber hues of a seeming sunset, the parting shot becomes a reinforcing image of return to innocence and the beauty of simplicity.

Au bord du lac, 1994

borddulac.gifBokanowski returns to the complex - and mind-bending - optical array of pinholes, mirrors, prisms, and refractive substrates of his earlier film, La Plage to create the whimsical and playful Au bord du lac. The film is composed of mundane, everyday scenes of recreation and leisure on an idyllic, sunny day at a park that overlooks a lake - rowing a boat, playing a game of volleyball, rollerskating, bicycling, reading a newspaper, sunbathing, riding on horseback, or strolling on the promenade - shot through optical distortions to create fractured and knotted images that resemble embellished, gothic fairytale illustrations or appear to resolve into morphing, geometric patterns of fluid motion. Evoking the vibrant colors and sun-soaked palette of an invigorated Vincent van Gogh in Arles, Bokanowski transforms the quotidian into an infinitely mesmerizing dynamic kaleidoscope of shape-shifting textures and self-reconstituting objects of organic, abstract art.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 15, 2006 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2006, Patrick Bokanowski

April 9, 2006

Raoul Servais: Short Films (1963-2001)

One of my favorite recent DVD purchases is Belgian animation filmmaker Raoul Servais' L'Intégrale des courts métrages anthology from France. In addition to the ten short films in the collection (some of which can be viewed at Atom Films), there are also extracts from all of his remaining films (including his one feature film, Taxandria), a near feature length documentary, an interview with Servais, as well as a commentary track on Night Butterflies where he discusses his aesthetic homage to Belgian artist Paul Delvaux through his portraiture of enigmatic women wearing allusive (or elusive) masks. Stylistically evolving from avant-garde art movement inspired animation, to monochromatic, rough hewn pen and ink styled animations reminiscent of op-ed political cartoons, to his more recent films that transect the bounds of live-action and animation, Servais' films are magical, pensive, and provocative alchemies of passion, conscience, and inspired - and inspiring - creativity.

The False Note, 1963

falsenote.gifWryly subtitled as an "old twentieth century legend" fable set "in the days when some people still knew what it was to go hungry", The False Note is the dialogue-less tale of a down on his luck organ grinder whose out of tune portable barrel organ produces a cacophonous, errant false note at the end of an evocative, downbeat serenade that invariably sets the once attentive audience into a hostile and uncharitable mood. Wandering through the streets of a cosmopolitan city rife with images of consumerism, the doleful hero encounters first hand the melancholy of obsolescence, as the rudimentary music emanating from his hand-cranked barrel organ is rebuffed in favor of the novel technologies of an amplified jukebox and the mesmerizing, peripatetic lights of a pinball machine, until he finds a momentary kindred spirit in a carousel horse enshrouded with cobwebs at an abandoned carnival. Raoul Servais' impressive animation is something of a Pablo Picasso drawing study crossed with the silent expressiveness of Marcel Marceau, replete with a richness of imagery that not only juxtaposes the theme of the false note against iconic images of currency, but also the innate inhumanity of a rootless, disposable society.

Chromophobia, 1966

chromophobia.gif Servais achieved international acclaim with his ground-breaking, anti-militarist fable on repression, perseverance, and the indomitability of the human spirit, Chromophobia, a compact, yet articulate parable of an aggressive, chromophobic army that marches into an idyllic kingdom and systematically terrorizes the population by erasing all traces of color within its periphery, until a little girl unexpectedly cultivates a lone, resilient red flower in her garden. Evoking the instinctual compositions of a more geometric Joan Miró, the film is particularly remarkable in Servais' illustration of resonant, iconic symbolism: a balloon that is converted into a ball and chain mirrors the town's spiritual captivity, the transformation of trees into gallows represents the corrupted interrelation between life and unnatural death in times of war, flowers emerging from the barrel of a rifle reflects a restoration of peace and gesture of renewed humanity.

Sirène, 1968

sirene.gifIn hindsight, Sirène can be seen as Servais' transitional composition from his early, more conventional animated art films to the rawer, more visceral works that would define his early 1970s oeuvre. A somber, surrealist tale that fuses prehistoric and modern, reality and myth, the film revisits the double entendre of The False Note in its prefigurative sound of an emergency siren that accompanies the title sequence. Opening to a curious encounter between two competing cranes as they attempt to take possession of an unloaded crate with disastrous results, this image of primitive territoriality would subsequently be repeated (with even more horrifying consequences) in a King Solomon-styled arbitration between a medical and a zoological institution after a mermaid is found on the docks of a phantom shipyard. In contrast to the cheerful caricatures of his earlier films, the dour, ghostly images of Sirène recall the gothic figurations of Edward Gorey in its cautionary fable on the myopia of humanity in the "civilized" quest for equitable justice.

Goldframe, 1969

goldframe.gifGoldframe is the first film to emerge in what would be Servais' more elemental period, a film that derives implicit irony in its deconstructed, monochromatic, pen and ink illustration of a bombastic, larger than life Hollywood studio executive who demands, at all cost, to be the first to have the technology for a 270mm film. Turning up in a projection room that is outfitted with an undersized (and self-aggrandizing) director's chair to watch, not the rushes of the latest film, but his own shadow cast by his hand-selected spotlight, the film culminates with Goldframe's empty, narcissistic mano a mano posturing challenge against his own shadow, and in the process, creates an acerbic commentary on egoism and the obsessive pursuit of one upsmanship.

To Speak or Not to Speak, 1970

tospeak.gifThe Vietnam War undoubtedly fuels Servais' anti-militarist, anti-authoritarian sentiment in To Speak or Not to Speak, as a roving reporter asking the loaded question, "What's your opinion about the actual political situation?" serves as a springboard for a critical examination on social conformity, consumerism, and bohemianism... the questions answered with inarticulate disfluencies that quickly overrun the speaker's thought bubble, become entangled with such empty confusion that a spider web forms within it, or resort to tried and true mantras. Perhaps the most incisive - and prescient - episode in the film is the re-appearance of the reporter as an embedded war correspondent who plays it safe with fluff opinion pieces that skirt around the consequences of war before being confronted by its grim reality. Rather than obliquely addressing the social inertia and petty self-interest that enabled the protraction of war, Servais directly engages issues of censorship, political doublespeak, and the corruption of information in the dissemination of news as propaganda.

Operation X-70, 1971

operation.gifThe specter of the Vietnam War - and particularly, the U.S. government's controversial use of chemical weapons - also casts a somber pall over Servais' next film, Operation X-70. The film opens with a slideshow projection of a clandestine scientific experiment (that stylistically evokes Chris Marker's La Jetée) presenting the laboratory results of a new, non-lethal chemical weapon that places the Asiatic subjects in a lethargic, euphoric state in order to "help them to rediscover their deep, religious nature". Immediately winning the endorsement of the country's gas-mask hooded religious leader (dressed in a not-too-subtle Klansman-like ensemble) who extols the virtues of X-70 as a clean weapon that doesn't kill and is, therefore, "in accordance with our Christian civilization", the chemical weapon is soon dispatched for bombardment of its Pacific targets, until an aircraft's malfunctioning navigational system sends its payload on an unexpected international course. Winner of the Jury Prize for Short Film at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, Operation X-70 is a sobering, trenchant, and immediately relevant examination of cultural arrogance, religious fanaticism, and racism. Exposing the intrinsic inhumanity and hypocrisy of deploying "humane weapons" (such as targeted, non-civilian, collateral damage air strikes) in the waging of war, Servais boldly - and defiantly - engages the social conscience in confronting moral issues of escalating aggression, humane treatment, privilege, and righteousness.

Pegasus, 1973

pegasus.gifReturning to the more traditionally rooted animated art films of early works such as A False Note and Chromophobia, Servais channels the rough stroke expressionism of Vincent van Gogh to create one of his most artfully rendered films, Pegasus, the tale of an aging blacksmith who whiles away his empty days trying to swat an errant fly with a forging hammer, until the appearance of industrial farm machinery in the village leads him to create a false god in the shape of an iron horse in a desperate attempt to stop the encroachment of technology. A cautionary fable on idolatry and psychological self-imprisonment, the film also represents a counterpoint to the inhumanity of technology gone amok in Operation X-70, where resistance to change, willful ignorance, and failure to adapt to new ideas become a figurative regression into the Dark Ages of self-created imprisonment, blind worship, and obsolete rituals.

Harpya, 1979

harpya.gifAlthough Servais has explored emotional and psychological horror within a framework of exploring social conditions and the effects of war in his previous work, his first foray into the genre is with the phantasmagoric, surreal fusion of live action and animation film, Harpya, a film that was awarded the Palm d'or for Short Film at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. Subverting the damsel in distress tale, the film follows the fate of a well-intentioned passerby who comes to the aid of a woman apparently being strangled by a man in the cover of darkness - and who, in turn, turns out to be, not a woman, but a half woman, half bird of prey mythological harpy. Devouring everything inside his home, the harpy soon imprisons him to a life of resigned servility (in a gruesome act that foretells the mutilated captivity of Boxing Helena) until the lulling sound of a phonograph offers him a chance at escape. A radical departure from the humanist mythological fable of Sirène, Harpya's psychologically dark and grotesque imagery instead shares greater thematic affinity with the autonomous shadows of Goldframe and induced chemical mutations of Operation X-70 to create a disturbing cautionary tale on the perils of intervention and the implicit violation of natural order.

Nocturnal Butterflies, 1998

butterfly.gifNocturnal Butterflies is Servais' serene and melancholic homage to Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux (1897-1994), whose architectural paintings serve as the basis for the mise-en-scène for the film, and whose opaquely gazed women represent the enigmatic, silent witnesses who guard the secrets of the eccentric artist's curious world of precisely rendered, hermetic construction. Opening to the image of a lone butterfly accidentally - or perhaps deliberately - setting into mechanized motion the arcade rhythm of a magical ballroom waltz, Nocturnal Butterflies inhabits the fleeting, fragile, and mysterious waking dream world of these transfixed women as they perform their graceful, rhapsodic rituals until a butterfly collector deboarding the train (a reference to Trains Du Soir) catches sight of the ballroom's unassuming architect and stumbles into their clandestine soirée. Continuing in his studies of integrating live action and animation, Servais further experiments with traditional mixed media (oils, pastels, inks, and watercolors) to create a remarkably tactile, sublimely haunting, and elegant choreography of texture, precision, plasticity, and movement.

Atraksion, 2001

atraksion.gifOn a parched and desolate landscape, a group of shackled prisoners walk in eternal limbo around a borderless prison yard until one day when an inmate spots a ray of light emanating from beyond the view of a steep and treacherous mountain and decides to climb towards its source in the naïve hope that liberation awaits at the end of the trail. Returning to the distilled, monochromatic palette of Goldframe and Operation X-70, Atraksion represents Servais' introduction to digital post-processing. Adapting the allegorical flight of Icarus into a modern day metaphor for self-imprisonment (a theme that also pervades the vaguely mythological Pegasus), Servais implicitly (and incisively) embraces the virtues of new technology through the prisoners' realization of a transformative paradigm shift, to create a metaphoric, yet personal tale of re-invention, creativity, experimentation, and artistic fearlessness.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 09, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Raoul Servais

April 3, 2006

There Was an Unseen Cloud Moving, 1988

unseencloud.gifWhen avant-garde filmmaker Leslie Thornton created There Was an Unseen Cloud Moving, Islamic culture was not yet defined by antiseptic, then turbulent images of unresolved Gulf Wars (or conveniently stigmatized as the face of terrorism) but rather, by the evocation of alien landscapes, life-altering adventures, mysticism, isolative awakening, and passionate rendezvous of films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, and Pepe le Moko. It is these ephemeral notions of an exoticized otherness, fugue, and meditative search for enlightenment that undoubtedly also propelled the spirit of the film's appropriately amorphous heroine and nineteenth century adventurer, Isabelle Wilhemina Eberhardt (who, in the film is portrayed by several actresses). Dubbed "Le Bonne Nomade" and "L'Amazone du Sable", Eberhardt was the well-educated, illegitimate daughter of a Russian aristocratic mother, Nathalie Moerder and her children's tutor, an anarchist, bohemian, and ex-Orthodox priest and Moslem convert named Alexandre Trophimovsky. Seeking in part to escape a turbulent home life, Eberhardt traveled to Algeria at the age of 20 on a quixotic quest for spiritual enlightenment where, after the untimely death of her mother, she continued to live in North Africa (due in part by her denial of inheritance as a result of her illegitimacy) as a Moslem man in order to move freely within Arabic tribes in Tunisia and Algeria, and in the process, author a series of articles and journals that collectively would be described as "one of the strangest human documents a woman has given to the world."

Thornton creates a playful, tactile, and insightful experimental biography of the iconoclastic heroine through an impressionistic collage of found film, archival photographs, mixed media (film and video) reenactments, and textured annotations that serve as an appropriately abstract yet incisive and instinctually cohesive representation of Eberhardt's equally strange and unorthodox, yet remarkable life. In one episode, the seeming alienness of the desert landscape is juxtaposed against archival footage of the lunar landing in order to subvert not only the notions of alterity, space, and time, but also to introduce the themes of terrestriality and immanence, as Eberhardt figuratively sheds her gender, culture, and identity by assuming the guise of a Moslem man named Si Mahmoud Essadi and, in essence, becomes extraterrestrial in her liberation from the body to become a figurative wandering spirit completely assimilated into the fibers of Arabic society, able to penetrate the secret brotherhoods of Islamic culture (such as the Sufi brotherhood of Qadriya) that a European woman could not. Moreover, through the fragmented superposition of grainy, defocused, concealed, high contrasted, or otherwise obscured images throughout the film, Thornton reflects not only Eberhardt's existential state of acorporeality and elusive search for spiritual enlightenment, but also her cultural immersion within the haze of intoxicating, escapist rituals - and false transcendence - of alcohol consumption, drug use, and liberated sexuality. This recurring image of immersion would also subsequently underscore the poetic irony of Eberhardt's untimely death in 1904 from a literal immersion - the fatal, flash flooding of the village of Aïn Sefra where Eberhardt had reunited with her husband, an Algerian officer named Slimane Ehnni, after a long separation. Ending with this tragic evocation of the harshness and atemporality of landscape, Eberhardt's chronicle of cultural immersion in Islamic society becomes an equally inscrutable human document that, like the unseen cloud cast by a significant, yet little understood parallel civilization - remains visible, but unregistered, in the periphery of the occidental gaze.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 03, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Leslie Thornton