Paris Correspondence: September-October 2021

16 October, 2021

21st of SEPTEMBER

Today, a screening of Nadav Lapid’s Ahed’s Knee was organized at L’Écran, the healthiest cinema that I have discovered so far in all of Paris. And just as I had landed in the bourgeois center of the capital city, I once again set foot, this time out of pure pleasure, in my dearest and most detested quarter of Saint-Denis, which tolerated my moods for an entire year, a never-ending year of imprisonment, and in the end, I didn’t know what better to do than to throw it all away. The audience mostly consisted of students just like me, who came there for free, with the generous help of the cinema department, to attend a meeting with the director of this lovely, electric film, that is spastic beneath the weight of all of its brilliant intuition. If there is a type of cinema that is worth it today, then it can be nothing other than that particular strand that invents new postures, new ways of seeing, of talking, of framing. New gestures, like the hysteric dance of this director character who is lost in the middle of the desert, left alone with his excesses. Lapid’s advantage lies not just in his political and dry tone – he is also gentle, swarming with poetic momentum. And he is angry, abundantly angry, as proved in a paroxystic scene where the protagonist explodes, unleashing the burning hate that the state of Israel inspires him, only for him to collapse, powerless. This is a film that tears apart, that wishes to tear apart, to not leave anything untouched on its blazing trail: it has its perplexing moments of madness, its moments of prosaism (such as the preliminary discussion between the director and a female clerk, underpinned by flashing moments of sexual attraction and ill-intentioned judgments), its moments of oneriest and epiphany (this drop of water which transforms into a timely teardrop must be seen to be believed), its moments of vulgarity, its moments where it spits out dark truths, its moments of whispering sweet lies, across astonishing sequences which surpass the need of beautiful images, thus obtaining beauty itself – a different, ascendent type of beauty – from the haphazard, from the austere, from that which is hasty. I will come back to this sample of great, great cinema, which mingles dance, body, landscape into a glass mixture which it then lights on fire, only to chuck it into the face of bourgeois common sense.

 

23rd of SEPTEMBER

Already tired, and it’s only midday. A long way down to Christine 21 to see Jacques Tourneur’s Stars in My Crown (1950) on a 35mm copy. On this occasion, I completed my collection of genius (proto-)westerns, with this new and inevitable cycle of genre movies that is running at Christine’s for the whole month, from which I have seen most of everything else that is showing. Interesting sequence regarding typhoid fever, in which a priest and a doctor fight over the community’s symbolic capital. Tourneur has enormous talent when it comes to contaminating every light and sunny scene with a breeze of terror that nobody else could see coming.

00:15. A lot of walking today. In the evening, I took a few steps further than usual – a journey that seemed to be never-ending -, towards the Jardin du Luxembourg and beyond, at the MK2 Parnasse, where Titane was showing. A film that is pretty hardcore, given its interesting and diverse attempts – between cool, sexy, virile machinism and oedipal malarkey -, but they do not really add up. It jumps from one thing to the other without helping us understand why this is the way that things are aligned, and not in any other. What is up with this chick who is taking a stroll through all of these bizarre worlds? What is up with those firefighters who are always extinguishing fires that always seem a little too cosmetic? Does their hypnotic dance to the tune of Future Islands mean anything? Or is this just a sample of hollow beauty, pulsating under the sheen of neon lights? And how can I even begin to explain the film’s striking loss of speed, which starts by shooting off like a bullet, only to get mired in a sweetened script laden with familiar reflexes, like substitute sons, the pains of a trans person? It invents too little, in the end: the editing is classical, the framings are classical. A hardly revolutionary film, although I was expecting it to bash our heads against the wall, seemingly made while copying notes from a gender studies syllabus – a repressed femininity wrapped with tape, a tamed and questioned masculinity, an enigmatic androgynism, a castrating woman, and other such devices -, as if to check as many current topics off the list as possible. I feel like Raw spoke much more to me. I expect something else from cinema nowadays – either for it to show me something new about its dispositif or something new about the world, or to demonstrate a true radicalism, which refuses to let itself be contaminated by trends.

 

25th of SEPTEMBER

I then went to see a medium-length film at the Centre Pompidou, Antonin Peretjatko’s Les rendez-vous du samedi, about the Yellow Vests’ protests. A film shot on 16mm, which I think could have offered a more elaborate political analysis, but it was agreeable even so, especially that moment where we have a tender and sunny counterpoint to this revolt, in which a few girls are horsing around on the rooftops of some high-rises. In the end, there was a discussion with Charlotte Garson from Cahiers and Antoine de Baecque, the famous cinema historian, who was completely out of the picture in his role as an impromptu commentator on the film. De Baecque started discussing the dispositif, the format, the death of cinema – things Peretjatko seems to mostly agree upon -, but that simply seemed inappropriate in regards to the hot-blooded images that we had just seen, and they especially seemed to have been hastily cobbled together without having any sort of true anchor in the realm of ideas. On the whole, a poor and uninspired performance – just as lacking in inspiration as the idea to couple his most recent work, Le cinéma est mort. Vive le cinéma!, with this neurotic and pretty raw film. Nothing more was needed for De Baecque to find himself promptly chastised by an elderly experimental filmmaker – I couldn’t catch his name -, who definitely did not appreciate his attempt at analyzing Peretjatko’s experiment by using “the tools of bourgeois cinema”. De Baecque fell silent, the filmmaker exited the room in a whirlwind. In the end, I felt the need to defend de Baecque – I cannot forget who this man truly is -, but still, I find myself obligated to admit that things went wrong and that there was a sensation of inadequacy, a certain kind of restlessness surrounding the discussion: is it really OK to serenely discuss the film’s form, wrapping it in a smokescreen of critical jargon? Aren’t we going to say anything about those poor people who were struck with batons? And so on. None of the levels seemed to function – it’s not that the role of criticism should be different, but rather, it’s the fact that this reputable individual, with his prim and proper suit, embodies most of what that respective protest movement would have wanted to unseat.

 

28th of SEPTEMBER

Yesterday, walking through the soft rain all the way to Reflet Medicis, in the Latin Quarter, where the great Lino Brocka’s splendid Bayan ko (1984) was being screened. Brocka is a volcano that’s not afraid of being “too much”. Does this kind of cinema – popular, truculent, politically emphatic – still exist nowadays? I adore what this man does – did -, this man who left us much too early, in a car accident if I’m not mistaken, not having said all that he had to say. Bayan ko, an indignant cry that echoes from the depths of the Filipino proletariat, garnished with Brocka’s trademark frothing and excessive topping (a lot of pathos, a lot of pain). Pulsating like a wound, the genuinely fabulous scene in which the bosses and employees are celebrating the company’s anniversary, each of them at their respective levels of the building, wherein Turing, a destitute worker, goes up to see the bosses and asks for a fine whiskey and they react by ridiculing him and accusing him of being drunk, so that his wife, who is also one of their employees, is still the one who has to apologize in his name. It’s a shame that a woman who was sitting in the row in front of me, about 3-4 seats away on the left, reproached me for kicking the seats because I was leaving my leg on it, and that managed to break me out of the spell. At one point, the woman stood up and left, about half an hour before the film was over. I walked back home in the rain once more, since my bus pass only comes into effect in October. Still, there is something beautiful and soothing about walking through Paris in dreary, cold weather – the true Paris, seen when people wrap themselves in a random coat and wander around, confused, through the puddles.

Reflet Medicis
Sursă foto: Time Out Paris

 

4th of OCTOBER

This morning, at MK2 Beaubourg, Konchalovsky’s Dear Comrades!: academical and “beautiful” just as any of his films. But this one, in particular, should have been anything, anything else but another chain of pretty images. Since, if Konchalovsky, while busy denouncing the demons of communism, has time to think about framing and formal arrangements, then I know all too well – from the times of Jacques Rivette – that his case should be closed.

 

6th of OCTOBER

I just came back from town, where I went to the preview screening of Joachim Trier’s Julie (en 12 chapitres) at MK2 Beaubourg. Full house, I was a bit worried that I might have to go back home empty-handed. The line went down from the cinema all the way down Rambuteau St. all the way to the grand boulevard, stretching over 200 meters. In the end, I found out that the screening was going to be attended by the director and a translator who was adding some of his own things to the French version. After all that, I discovered a film that was much better than I had expected, which acts as a sort of run-down of all of the tricks – and there’s not many of them – that Trier knows how to pull off (a couple where they’re ripping each other to pieces, the melancholy of endings, grey mornings) and of the ones he botches. This results in a film that has a lot of parts that drag on and is rather bland, even though, in theory, it’s preoccupying itself with the matters of the heart, which is something that we should never be numb to. Still, what a failure: to keep on jamming love into machinery, and the end result to be trivial, overwhelmingly trivial. Trier has either turned bourgeois, and so the lamentations of these people are starting to sound odd-key, or he simply is no longer able to find the righteous inspiration which he managed to nail in every single shot of Oslo, 31 August (2012). Still, there are some moments where things are in their right place – once the very bulky introduction is over, and once he forgets its stupid partitioning into chapters, which nullifies the entire mood -, like the scene of the break-up, or that in which death is nearby, where Julia realizes that she is out of time and everything turns into a mournful stream, impossible to verbalize. In fact, I think that this director’s greatest advantage is actor Anders Danielsen Lie – with his minimal melancholy, his charmingly disgraced visage, he offers enough for these films to transcend into a sort of secondary state, where there is nothing else to say. It’s a pity that in this case, in contrast to his older film, everything is much too haunted by the specter of triviality and is much too programmed – and the main heroine cannot deliver anything else but a character that is almost abandoned to the impossibility of taking destiny into her own hands.

 

7th of OCTOBER

I woke up early to arrive at the La Fémis at nine in the morning, where S. invited me to see the short film which she produced, Phosphore. I arrived a bit earlier, she arrived at 9:20, so I ended up spending around 40 minutes shifting my weight from one foot to the other, and looking at the students who were entering the school’s gates and the warden who spoke to each of them in a warm tone. In the end, S. arrived, and we went to the small screening room. It was the two of us, Antoine, the director, and another 6-7 people, most of them guests just as me, who were coming in as a blind audience, to give their opinions on a content they were discovering ad hoc. The film isn’t of the kind that will become the talk of the town – it’s a story with students, with their moments of intimacy in rooms that are too small, with strange dialogues, even stranger ceremonies, empty campus grounds, traumas. The story – a suicide which leaves its mark on the world – hardly sustains itself; it treads into several time-frames and I have the feeling that this is where it loses its footing because we never really know when we are witnessing the past or the present, if we’re seeing a dream or not. In fact, this is what I insisted upon in my discussion with S. – especially because I had to insist on something, otherwise, there would have been no point to my presence there, even though I am well aware of the fact that I’m not good at dissecting a film scene by scene; in fact, to be honest, there is something in this surgical type of analyzing a sequence that instinctively pushes me away. I like hanging onto a film’s global ressenti, onto the intuitions which it activates in its subterranean, onto the things which it’s showing me under the shape of fireworks that light up the night sky, under the shape of trajectories that are impossible to sum up. Otherwise, I was pretty indifferent to this hesitant drama, which comes across as a hat trick, but I was happy to notice it has a certain something which doesn’t exist in our cinema, but which is quite frequent in France, under the shape of passing hypotheses: a sort of uncontrollable urge towards a realm of fantasy and emotion, which shakes up the settled-down, realist architecture which the film had duly followed up to that point. There’s a scene in here where the character, distraught after this girl’s death, wakes up facing a horse, in the midst of a lonely night – a gimmick that might be clumsy, but which suggests that our world sometimes prolongs itself until the farthest of depths at times, and that nowadays, the salvation of cinema results precisely from these deviations that it can authorize itself of its own volition. 

 

An important day, in ways which I couldn’t have even dreamed of yesterday. After the day’s first private screening in the morning, in the evening, I am invited to my first press screening, courtesy of F.G. from Cahiers du cinema, at Club Lincoln, next to Champs-Elysées. I arrived two minutes before showtime at Cinéma Lincoln. I ask if there is one Los Lobos screening that evening and I am told that no Los Lobos is screening, that there will be a preview screening at one point, but not today, and that it will run in cinemas sometime later. “Are you expecting any screening today?”, the ticket vendor asked me. “Yes, and it should be happening right now”, I replied. “Might it be at Club Lincoln?” I nod my head and he tells me that it’s further down the street, at no. 10, and that I first have to pass through an inner courtyard. This is what I end up doing – it’s a most bourgeois building, and the cinema hall is not flagged in any way. Still, I guided myself after a small place that seemed to have something about “Cinéma” written on it. I go down one level and I happen upon a metal door that seemed to say “Salle de projection”, I pull the lever, it’s locked. I turn around and face a glass door, and behind it, I see a woman sitting at a low table, the kind you’d find in a hotel lobby. “Dîtes-moi tout”, she says, and I tell her my name. She puts it onto a list and I finally enter the chic screening room, with five rows of padded seats, a reasonable screen, and around 8-9 men who are sitting in separate places. The severe, bourgeois kind of men, who you don’t really want to mess around with. As soon as I sit down, the door is closed, and the film starts running. And it doesn’t even matter how the film was – a story set at the periphery of American motels à la Sean Baker, combined with indie films in the vein of Songs My Brothers Taught Me –, since I end up with the feeling of breaking into a secret community, which intimidates and fascinates me at the same time. There was no discussion at the end, each of them went their own way. A rose-tinted sunset extends beyond the Champs-Elysées and the L’arc de Triomphe; it’s not bad to be in Paris these days.

 

8th of OCTOBER

I’m so happy to have seen Alain Cavalier’s splendid 1986 film on a 4K restored copy. The kind of film that tries something with its scenic dispositif, and that manages to change everything. Thérèse has a purely theatrical set design, in the midst of which it cuts up pieces of the visible due to a camera. Thus, a necklace of gestures, gazes, isolated interactions is born, which have something about them that is not inasmuch Bressonian, as it is worthy of a children’s book from back in the day, the kind that had majestic and delicate illustrations. Here, Cavalier constructs a puzzle around the image of this young woman who strives for piety and spiritual heights, only to find an early and mostly senseless end, at the hands of the most earthbound of causes: disease. An incredibly sensorial film – and just how sublime is the shot where the nuns are discussing while gutting fish, casting aside their entrails with disgust -, visually rarefied and reduced to an insane combination of suffering and of voluptuousness in suffering. Here, Cavalier created a visionary film, where the scene of a theater opens up, liberates, illuminates with the kind of sharp light that will forever haunt an empty room, furnished only with basic necessities.

 

And I was even happier that I had the idea to go back to MK2 Nation, at around 9 PM, where I’d seen Thérèse at midday, and to thus retrieve the scarf that I had forgotten on a chair in the small room no. 6.

 

9th of OCTOBER

[…]

I then continued with my first Jean Grémillon film, L’Amour d’une femme, at the Forum des Images, part of a cycle thought up by Christophe Honoré. Sometimes – about once every 6 months – I fearfully set out to see one or two films belonging to the so-called “Qualité Française” and I almost invariably end up saying to myself, upon the film’s end, that I’ll do this more often, and then I forget about it. Truffaut’s gang has decisively won the battle of imposing canonic references – and who watches films by Autant-Lara or Julien Duvivier (just to blatantly drop two names who made a couple of films that I saw and mostly liked) nowadays? -, but I also think that their preemptive verdicts, although they have aged quite well in general, tend to start shaking when you look at them in detail. Just look at this honorable melodrama, in which a young doctor who has studied in Paris ends up on an isolated island and tries to impose herself in the airtight community (a typical western script in which two unwritten laws are at odds with each other), and on her journey, she also discovers (a) love. Interestingly, love is found mostly by force, guided by the fear of loneliness, and the ending – at least at an immediate level – is not at all a happy one. But a breeze of maturity and, if I may, feminism is in the air of this film, a pretty hefty feminism, taken on by a woman who might fully give herself to her man, only on the condition that he deserves her. And how this is not at all a certainty, she prefers to stay behind in that isolated and exotic place, while the man, a construction engineer (evoking the ethos of Ciulei’s The Eruption), packs his bags and leaves for the continent. A film that didn’t start any revolutions, and didn’t even set out to do so. But still, a film that manages to advance quite a lot into the swampy territory of feelings, thus showing that the young writers at Cahiers might have been driven by a certain kind of arrogance in their battles. And if Grémillon ended up being mostly spared, in comparison to others, it’s maybe because of this devotion towards a character that is willing to truly suffer, away from the shelter given by lukewarm, consensual scripts.

 

10th of OCTOBER

The first film that I managed to see at La Clef since last year’s autumn. I arrived ten minutes late – nothing runs according to schedule in the City of Lights – and dear old Ioan asked the clefists to wait for me before running the film (only a handful of people had gathered there, anyway). It lasted 70 minutes and was called Substitute – after a song penned by The Who – and was what we could call a football anti-film. In short, in 2006, a filmmaker (Fred Poulet) gave a Super8 camera to a footballer (Viskash Dhorasoo) and asked him to record his life. The filmmaker was in the mood for experiments, the footballer was on the national team of France, and his life pivoted around a sort of malentendu: the athlete reached the peak of his career in the year in which France, led by Raymond Domenech, ended up in the finals of the World Cup, where was to face Italy; up to that point, he had been a decisive contributor to his country’s qualification in the final rounds, but meanwhile, Zidane returned to the national team, sending our good old man back to the bench. In April, when Poulet gave Dhorasoo the camera, none of this could have been foretold; Dhorasoo is a tenured player, France has not yet lost its match with Italy, and the film that he is aiming for is an experimental short. As such, Zidane should also be cited as a co-responsible of the film – for its force in showing how the absolute counter-shots of customary football imagery (matches, training sessions, press statements) are these precise images of a man that is haunting the corridors of expensive hotels, crushed by the fact that he cannot perform, reduced at being a spectator of his own sport. If there is absolute merit to this film, it lies in its inspiration – which is still a gesture of mise-en-scene – to endow this man with a tool of production, to give him a job. It’s funny – and simultaneously horribly sad – to see how Dhorasoo arrives in Germany not to score goals, as he believed he would, but to shoot the images of his own documentary about himself. By and large, this is what I said during the following Q&A session with Fred Poulet, which would have been a very cool one – the man beautifully underlined the reasoning behind using Super8: he didn’t want to put Dharsoo in the position of “stealing” images, something which digital technologies always enable – had it not been extended into oblivion by a moderator that kept on hijacking the discussion to talk about the increasing prevalence of depression in the world of sports (see Osaka) and others. Mais quel rapport? Osaka is a tennis player – an individual sport – and is much more exposed to media pressure, while footballers, to quote Poulet, have developed an impeccable boilerplate (“the 3 points are the important” and other such platitudes). And then it seems to me that the source of Dharsoo’s deception is as palpable as it can get: the man feels betrayed by Domenech, who had promised him glory, only to strip him of everything. A bonus for Dharsoo, because he says some pretty touching things in the voice-over about the loneliness of a hotel room and the fact of reading Jonathan Coe. As someone in the cinema said: if we had more footballers like him, maybe we’d watch football matches more often and with much more pleasure. Anyways, a very interesting film. It was worth dragging myself all the way down to Rue Monge.

 



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.