Monday, October 26, 2009

Johnnie To's "Vengeance" (2009)


Vengeance was my first Johnnie To in 35mm.

If you take things for granted, it is a mechanical film that drives its plot to more and more action scenes. But if you look carefully, there's something about the obsessive way everybody in the film is obsessed. "What do your primary instincts mean when you've lost all your memory?" is a question To asks, but doesn't delve on much. Vengeance doesn't delve on anything much except the consistently imaginative frames, compositions and the puzzling lighting.

There are many hints of a great vision, but I have to say the film isn't consistent in this. Which is why it's not ranked so highly in my best of 2009 list.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nicole Brenez & Adrian Martin on Stan Brakhage

This is a great article on Stan Brakhage by Nicole Brenez and Adrian Martin. It appeared in Rouge on June 2003.




Brenez and Martin argue that "Brakhage’s films propose a tutoring of the eye, a rapturous attentiveness to the tiniest visual fluctuations and effects."

Somewhere in the article, they quote Brakhage himself:
"This eye is a jelly, and it’s quivering continually, with our heartbeat, with our walking, with our breathing, with anything that happens, any movement we make. And what I did was to make an articulate dance with that possibility, with this lens."

The image is from Cat's Cradle.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Philippe Grandrieux's "Sombre" (1998)



Philippe Grandrieux is one of my favorite filmmakers alive. His films are a new voice, almost a shriek, that could have only been expressed through a rediscovery of the medium it's using. Every new vision, like Sombre, requires its own form of expression, and therefore redefines, and expands the cinematic language. It frees thinking, embellishes our experience of the world.

Here's what Adrian Martin says in his article about La Vie Nouvelle:
"The films of Philippe Grandrieux pulsate. They pulsate microcosmically: in the images, the camera trembles and flickers so violently that, even within a single, continuous shot, no photogram resembles another. And they pulsate macrocosmically: the soundtrack is constructed globally upon unidentifiable, layered, synthesised, ambient noises of breath or wind, sucked in and expelled, which underlie the entire film and constitute its disturbed heartbeat, returning to our ear when all other sounds have disappeared."




Sombre, as Grandrieux's first feature film, establishes some of the important characteristics of his art: An insistence on vision, with characters beyond psychologies, driven by biology or metaphysical forces.

Love (a mix of brotherly and sexual Love, a true awareness of the other, a communion) mostly overrules all, and its discovery by Jean creates waves that emanate in every shot, every cut and every sound in the rest of Sombre.




While the movement in Un Lac is from perfect love (a paradise communion) to the loss of innocence, here the movement is reversed, not in the sense that the film has a happy ending, there are no clear conclusions (nor clear beginnings) in Grandrieux... The discovery of the other (an other?) disturbs the existing rules of behaviour.

This is also true for Claire, who have a face to face conversation with a stranger, something completely unexpected in a film of such few words. A scene that would have been ordinary in another film (except the abusively frontal camera) acquires a huge force by its contrast to the rest of the work.




What is truly impossible to describe in words is the sense of rhythm, and Grandrieux's Brakhage-like belief in the transformative powers of vision and perception. It's a sombre film alright, content-wise, but Grandrieux also shoots in extremely low-light situations, abstracting bodies, faces, expressions. He teaches us to care less about what's happening, and this increases in every new film of his. Instead, we learn to care about the how, and the way, the feeling, the sense of the presence, not of the actual happenings, because the films are not realistic, but the presence of the director, filtering, flirting and dancing with the events that are taking place.

Important to note that he is the cameraman in all his films, he says there wouldn't be a point making films otherwise. Here's something from an interview with him in Balthazar (first in original French, then my English translation):
"Je ne pourrais pas imaginer, même avec le plus grand cadreur du monde avec qui je m’entendrais parfaitement bien… C’est le regard, c’est la vision… C’est le regard : comment moi je vous regarde là maintenant, je ne peux le dire à personne. C’est vraiment une question sur l’altérité, c’est la limite."
"I could not imagine, even with the greatest cameraman in the world with whom I get on very well... It's the look, it's the vision... It's the look: how I look at you here and now, I cannot describe anyone. It's really a question of otherness, it's the limit."




The art of cinema only speaks strongly when every cut matters. In Sombre, every cut is an event, a comment about the rest of the film. Every formal choice, or everything that happens storywise have meanings that constantly expand. Grandrieux never chews on the same idea, the same feeling, he constantly looks for new ways to perceive the rest. And he doesn't stop doing it even after everything is over.

It's unfortunate that I had to see it in a terrible .avi version, but I would call Sombre sublime simply because I felt missing so much by not experiencing it in its true medium. It's a film that asks us to be aware of the film grain. There lies the true expression in Un Lac. And seemingly in Sombre.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Roberto Rossellini's "Blaise Pascal" (1971)



"The vacuum, the void, is the face of the infinite. If I seek the void in nature, it's to discover its mirror in the heart of man" declares Rossellini's Blaise Pascal... He also talks about "la mesure infinie du vide", "the infinite measure of the void"...

This is possibly Rossellini's darkest film. Let's hear what Tag Gallagher says:
"Thus Blaise Pascal is a horror movie, like Dreyer's Dies irae (Day of Wrath) (1943). Everything is drenched in suffering, torture, fear, superstition, blood and penance, masses of black, white and scarlet; everyone is writhing in desperate faith, self-mortification and pain. "



The void Pascal Blaise is looking for in nature, is consistently with him, and with others. Everybody seems to have their souls vacuumed out. People talk about joy, but we never see any of it. I think this sense of the void is the key to the film. But there are also many other levels at work...

It's a film where everything is a ritual (even waking up, even death). The trial scenes summarizes all the injustices in the world (and how there are always people who rationalize other people's sufferings). The cause-consequence in the universe is one of the main subjects.

Using Tag Gallagher's words, Blaise Pascal is "a direct experience."


In his wonderful blog post, Dennis Grunes writes that
Blaise Pascal "begins matter-of-factly, in the middle of a conversation in the street, and ends on the threshold of eternity." And he describes Pascal’s death scene as "a sober, stunning, luminous passage."


Tag on Rossellini's late period (which is, for me, the greatest period of the greatest filmmaker):
"To say, as many have, that these movies lack acting, psychoanalysis, Murnau-like expressionism, overwhelming emotions and the richest possible cinematic art is like closing one's eyes at high noon and claiming the sun no longer exists."