Parisian Correspondence (December 2021): Sécession cinéma, mon amour

18 December, 2021

30th of NOVEMBER

I have more pressing things to attend to, but I prefer to briefly mention the hours that I spent in the morning, up until lunchtime, at the Salle Athena of the Paris 3 University, together with Robert Bonamy, who had his HDR (for his candidacy as a PhD supervisor), and seven other professors who arrived from every single horizon one could imagine in order to judge his paper. The topic: contemporary extreme cinema, between theory and practice. I left the presentation feeling tired, my mind torn to pieces, but also with the feeling of having witnessed something grand, and unplanned, which – at least to a certain degree – was being invented under our very eyes. I saw people who were showing openness, regard to the work of another, cherishing the precision of words – almost no term was simply thrown onto the table, as it ever so often happens back home –, the verve of intellectual exchange. Strictly on the basis of their interventions, I wished that many of these speakers could have been my professors. I expected something docile, tame, brimming with the nauseating sense of boastfulness, but it was not at all like that: aspects were questioned, explanations were requested, even conflicts at times, of course, all under the generous umbrella of intellectual camaraderie and on the basis of a thorough cinema, that is hard to distribute yet is conceived with the very purpose of screening in a cinema hall, which I had so dearly missed. A day of travails, but of a divine travail. In the end, I discussed a little bit with Nicolas Klotz, who was present with us to the very end of the day, together with Elisabeth, asking for his film, so that I could add it to our festival table. What a concept: the object of a study being present in the room, thus being able to answer questions and to coagulate all around themselves so many energies, so many wonders…

 

3rd of DECEMBER

Saw Audrey Diwan’s L’Événement, the Venice grand winner starring Romanian actress Anamaria Vartolomei (and two Garrelian actresses who have small roles), at MK2 Odéon today with Ioan. It’s part of the frenzy that seems to have enveloped the entire city – which is dark and rainy and full of dizzy people at the hour at which we set up our meeting – as this new wave of the virus is knocking at our door, which might, who knows?, foreshadow some more restrictions. The film is an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novella – I would have gladly read it, like any of her books (to me, Les années remains a grand revelation about the capacities of this important writer, who is minimized by some, overrated by others), if the Paris 8 Library hadn’t been on strike for the past three weeks: it regards a Literature student who ends up pregnant sometime during the first half of the sixties, and who must somehow get rid of her pregnancy and continue her studies. The adaptation is solid, faithful to all those little stylistic and sociological winks that, in Annie Ernaux’s writing, are an intact rendering of the painful realities of the lower classes, along with their stern identity, which is capable of generating dignity and dimension. This is why the hours spent outside of class are spent either at a café fitted with a dance rink, with baby foot in the dark corner and yéyé blasting from the speakers, either on the unpaved path that leads the girl to her parents’ home, in an unnamed village where her mother (a Sandrine Bonnaire that is not at all similar with the allumeuse of Pialat’s films) works at the local bar, winning her daily bread with difficulty. Or, of course, on the hallways of her dorm – and so, the grand reference towards abortion-movies simply shows up at the table, and so it quickly transpires that, independently of Ernaux, L’Événement struggles to detach itself from the murky shadow of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. The style evokes it at all times – the camera that “keeps close” to the character, its back, its nape, its pensive visage –, yet misses the intensive heights of the Romanian film. It also evokes it in its wish of showing everything, in imposing a harsh and punitive experience onto the spectator, in placing them into the situation itself. In these (fixed) ideas I must admit that the film came across as lacking in imagination and invention, and I feel that immersion is oftentimes the handiest weapon in the arsenal of a filmmaker in search of the ethical function of images, but also the most imprecise one. (It’s clear, I really don’t like immersion.) Still, it’s clear that the film manages a little something when it comes to convincing the audience of men’s gratuitous privilege and the havoc that this wrecks – but beyond this slightly vintage look, that is slightly beautifying, slightly negligent, slightly nonchalant, the number of discoveries in this film is rather limited.

 

5th of DECEMBER

Attended the full retrospective that opened a few days ago of Nicolas Klotz & Elisabeth Perceval’s oeuvre for the first time this afternoon, to see Chants de sable et d’étoiles: a 1996 documentary by Klotz, with the participation of violinist Ami Flammer, regarding the contemporary forms of Jewish music in the world. A rather conventional documentary (it was commissioned by ARTE), but that still manages to mobilize impressive amounts of atmosphere between the obligatory parts in which we see different meetings – the film freely travels between Azerbaijan and Israel, Istanbul and New York – which are recounted by in a pretty reverential tone from the voice-over. In these in-between segments, much rather than in the “official” shots, with all of their performative streaks, one can find the (clandestine, humble, in contact with the other) art of Klotz, who takes off with this documentary and thus prepares his shift from the standard-financed fictions preceding the film (especially La Nuit Bengali, shot in Calcutta in 1986) towards the more daring, burning, community-connected shapes that open a film that is as fair as Paria (2001) and continues with the wonderful La Blessure (2004). Klotz is present, Flammer too, bickering in regards to the film’s “center of gravity”: this – truly wonderful – sequence in which a Hazan and a Muezzin are singing alongside each other? The first one says yes, the second one disagrees, and both of them are right in their own way: it’s fabulous how open the film maintains itself in every one of its shots. And I am so glad to be here! I am highly familiar with the cinema of NKEP, especially the ones of the last 20 years, since I spent the better part of a semester in the company of its hospitable images, while I was studying at Grenoble and was becoming initiated in the secrets of political cinema, what with that truly phenomenal course delivered by Robert Bonamy, who – as a close collaborator of NKEP – gave the title of this retrospective: Cinema in Common. I like many things about NKEP, not in the least their attention towards words, towards the history of ideas, towards a handful of filmmakers – from Straub/Huillet to Lav Diaz, and from Ford to Ghassan Salah – who pushed these preoccupations towards this futureless invention forward, one that was written in the dreams of a few fanatical followers of the obscure halls. And I like them because they truly seem to love each other, still after so much time: what more beautiful gesture can one imagine but placing on the cover of Klotz’s volume, which came out on the occasion of this retrospective and has a formidable title (Sécession cinema, mon amour), this photo of Elisabeth, the feminine double with whom he, before all, constructed the absolute masterpiece that is L’héroïque Lande, maybe the best and most (literally) brilliant film about and with refugees of them all. Important notice: film lies way above dry politics, with its infinite, as-of-yet unexplored formal possibilities, and then, love lies even higher than film. I have yet to see their latest film, which was released this year at FIDMarseille, Nous disons révolution (another beautiful title), but I know that I already want to have it screened back home in Romania. And I’ll certainly be there at the Pompidou, for other films and events, such as the couple’s photography exhibition, until I leave for Romania.  

 

6th of DECEMBER

At the MK2 Bastille to see La Fièvre de Petrov by Kirill Serebrennikov (the director of Leto). A film that is somehow more difficult to categorize, but which seems to draw its vital essence from the very same melancholic and wavy story, with which the Russian director has seemingly reinvented himself; it’s just that Petrov is a sort of Leto on speed, running around all directions, not being afraid of shooting above the goalposts, dead balls or faulting by kicking in the shin: as such, it remains a film without form and coherence – because it launches itself in all imaginable forms, from oneiric gore sequences to sweet and bubbly passeistic scenes, set to a black-and-white background –, which I scantily seem to remember, just as much as I have already forgotten about it! On top of it all, I was affected by the usual act of flirting with sleep at the cinema, which caused me to overly abstractisize one of the film’s sequences, following the beautiful, wild sex scene that is set in a library, but also the position of the screen, which was pretty tall, made me move towards the back of the hall, where rainwater was dripping out of the ceiling… The film is imperfect, scattered, oftentimes hard to digest, oftentimes outright stupid: this should probably sum up contemporary Russian culture (especially the literary one, which is much more interesting when it comes to Sorokin or Pelevin, than Vodolazkin and others), lying very close to startling extremities and intensities, even running the risk of involuntary self-parody and redundant grotesqueness. But, in all of its imperfection, the film is still aware of a certain urgency entailed in the act of filming, that is of an immanent necessity, of a voluptuousness that compels one to fabricate images – and what are those shots filmed on analogue reel, in a subjective camera angle (the dustiest figure of cinematic speech one can ever comprehend), than a pale analogy between the child that is in awe of the world an the filmmaker’s joy of playing around with a camera, shooting the freshness of all that surrounds him, to the point of exhaustion? If there is one lesson that I have learned during all of my (mental and physical time) within and with France, it’s this: the thing that is much more important that the finite film, which may be good or bad (it doesn’t matter), it’s the gesture in which the film’s origins lie, a gesture incapable of lies or refutations… That is why I will arm myself to the teeth in order to defend Carax’s latest film, even though I think that it’s paltry and stupid at times: because one can find a creator’s authentic gesture behind it (which is pure folly), akin to a heart that palpitates at time, in its most beautiful sequences, the ones which infer something that lies beyond them, and that is a truth of creation that is impossible to falsify. And on the occasion of the Serebrennikov, I’ve mostly wrapped up the list of Cannes titles that were of some interest to me and which looks a bit like this, counting backwards (I missed doing a top, after all):

Le Genou d’Ahed (Nadav Lapid) ****

Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven) ****

Annette (Leos Carax) ***

Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) ***

France (Bruno Dumont) ***

Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi) ***

La Fièvre de Petrov (Kirill Serebrennikov) **

Compartiment no. 5 (Juho Kuosmanen) **

Tre piani (Nanni Moretti) **

Titane (Julia Ducournau) *

The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson) *

Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Love) *

Julie en 12 chapitres (Joachim Trier) *

Un héros (Asgar Farhadi) –

 

8th of DECEMBER

I arrived at my meeting with R., who is running his victory lap all around La Bonne Vieille France these days, straight at the Pompidou Center, on a devout and virtuous evening with empty streets… I had just been at a “semi-public” screening at the museum (meaning, I still had to pay for a ticket despite my “illimité” card) of Saxifrages, quatre nuits blanches, a documentary by Nicolas Klotz and Elisabeth Perceval which was included in this year’s French competition at Cinéma du Réel. A pandemic-era, post-apocalyptic documentary, featuring poetic texts culled from the works of various authors, from Duras to WG Sebald (which, without explicitly recognizing him, I thought about throughout the entire film, maybe due to its elegiac, retrospectively prophetic notes). Besides, in the opening of the film, the dislocating force of lyricism in the cinema of NKEP was discussed, one which is indeed formidable, visibly in the spotlight even in the midst of this dark film, one that – if I may – is not a very promising film, in which the chant-like nature of the text at work is seductive, and all meaning gets lost somewhere far away, and the mind (at least, mine) starts to wander around in increasingly chaotic areas, that are less and less connected to cinema. An always-profitable experience, one that is regenerative, that brainwashes you, but also a bit too disconnected from my experiences as a spectator: I witnessed a suite of long, single shots whose essence I must admit was quite obscure to me until the very end, except for this amour fou scene which is reduced to a simple exchange of monolog delivered with elan by two improbable actors. The entire film advances on this sort of strange balance beam, insured by the non-immersive distance of its very literary text, so literary that it loudly reclaims its literary quality, but also by its shabby framing – still, the cinema of NKEP gathers an incredible momentum when it comes to sublimating said shabbiness, which is only apparent and which, even now, in a film that is rather thin, flashes the lights of another world, one that has still not been fully explored, and that is the world of a democratic digital medium, one that is inventive and lies in a constant state of alertness. 

13th of DECEMBER

I turned down everyone else to be here: NKEP, again. With Nous disons révolution, at last. A film that was made at the editing table, with images that had already been culled in the whirlwind of life, which all in all lasted about six years and covered several continents, from Congo to Brazil. Film as a trip, film as a trap – film as the love of creating images. I find it beautiful to let yourself go on an adventure without really knowing what it is that you’re looking for, without having a fixed, definitive, well-rounded out project in mind – they don’t really do this anymore nowadays, because most people depend on a job to be able to conclude their months without any worries, and, anyways, we are already traveling all around the world thanks to the Internet… Here, in this film which touts its outdated form and the urgency of its content, one can find many wonderful things – the dance of a man against a wall that is illuminated by a reflector, his shadow reprising his movements at a small distance, as if there were two people in fact, the camera ceaselessly wondering at this mystical coupling, this is my favorite moment –, but also more than a fair share of silly things, of a teenage sort of coolness: something dangerously close to the mindless dancing of music videos. Still, even in its state as an essay, as an attempt – and what does it matter that this attempt has partially failed, since that doesn’t detract anything from its daring nature –, is a film that contains itself more images, more plastic leads, more figurative possibilities than some contemporary filmmakers manage to grab throughout their entire careers… Nous disons révolution is a pretty stoned movie, which, as if in a continual samba, embraces an entire gamut of subterranean and repressed worlds, bringing back to life ancient notions such as solidarity, friendship, common living. In its a posteriori, hybrid, dual, assembled form, I discovered many failures, but behind every failure there was a hint of that particular gaze of a filmmaker, and that gesture being put at work, that desire to take risks onto oneself. I especially enjoyed the film’s propensity for dance – it’s a very musical film, crowded with bodies giving their everything, threatening to fly off and set frontieres on fire, as the preceding documentary’s subtitle warned, and where, for the first time, I could see these light-burned images, these bodies which are rejected by mole-eyed fictions, which are rehabilitated here in a series of strong, “wrong” contrasts, which have nothing in common with that ilk of cinema that is heavily financed. And this is precisely why Klotz and Perceval are, to me, the filmmakers with whom I do not always agree, but which make me feel motivated/incited/obligated to follow their every step. (Their final step so far is this political/sci-fi text by Paul Preciado, recited over these images of nocturnal animals, whose eyes glisten under the lens of a thermal camera). Because, in their trail, I can feel an extraordinary desire to “make” images, to break boundaries, to invent more and more manners in which cinema can exist, and the wish to slam the existing ones to the ground: they are too soft, too crass, too interested in trading images off.

 

15th DECEMBER

From the cinema diary of the great critic and filmmaker Jean-Claude Biette, Cinémanuel (P.O.L, 2001): “To put one’s first impression of a work of art on paper allows one to put in place, for the purpose of remembering, the nature and color of this first contact with it, to identify the primary elements of a story, which may or may not be continued, which we can lead, if all goes well (in the fortuitous climate of continuity), to the point in which one can recount it, or, at the very least, situate its prominent chapters…”



Film critic and journalist; writes regularly for Dilema Veche and Scena9. Doing a MA film theory programme in Paris. At Films in Frame Victor presents Kinostalgia - a monthly column about repertoire cinema.