Philippe Grandrieux's "La Vie Nouvelle" (2002)
Let me begin by quoting a part of the lyrics of the famous French song sung by a client of Melania: Jean Ferrat's Aimer à perdre la raison, from a poem by Louis Aragon. I don't find the poem, or the song, that beautiful in themselves, but they mean a lot to me as an element of La Vie Nouvelle:
Aimer à perdre la raison
Aimer à n'en savoir que dire
A n'avoir que toi d'horizon
Et ne connaître de saisons
Que par la douleur du partir
Aimer à perdre la raison
Ah, c'est toujours toi que l'on blesse
C'est toujours ton miroir brisé,
Mon pauvre bonheur ma faiblesse
Toi qu'on insulte et qu'on délaisse
Dans toute chair martyrisée.
In short, the first part talks about loving someone so much that you lose your mind, so much that the only thing on the horizon seems to be the loved one. The second part, not sung in the movie, describes the person being loved, who turns out to be broken, injured, insulted and martyrized by the society.
Perhaps the heart of La Vie Nouvelle, and the sublime art of Philippe Grandrieux can be explained by the two verses above. Broken, painful existences in search of love, seeking some form of communion with the other, who have their own miseries. Many people mistake La Vie Nouvelle for a sick porn movie, which it certainly looks like at points, I admit I had to struggle with it a long time. The violence on the screen is near unacceptable, especially because the director is flirting with it. But in fact, and this is clear to me as sunlight, the violence and the abuses in Grandrieux's films are always confessions, exorcisms. The "New Life" being talked about here begins after the discovery of love, or, maybe a phrase that can be used interchangably with love in Grandrieux's cinema, the discovery of an other. The harsh reality that came before only makes this "new life" more meaningful.
As Grandrieux says himself in the wonderful Nicole Brenez interview on Rouge:
"...always this story of what it is to be human, i.e. confronted with alterity, with the Other who is infinitely possible and yet infinitely closed and inaccessible, no matter what one does. And it’s from there that one journeys, works, loves, fucks…"
By the way, "La Vie Nouvelle" is the official French translation of Dante's text "La Vita Nuova", a collection of gorgeous love poems. The hommage seems unmistakable.
Human beings are animals, dogs in La Vie Nouvelle, with potential for extremely elevated feelings. But the lack of these in daily life is the cause of the suffering. This animality, corporality, and the biology that drives it finds its perfect expression in a scene shot with a THERMAL CAMERA, nothing less, so what is recorded on celluloid isn't light, but the heat of human (and/or animal?) bodies. Here's what Grandrieux says about the scene, again from the Brenez interview:
"(...) the principle is that it is no longer light which makes an impression. With infrared photography, you must use an infrared light, a beaming light that illuminates the bodies, and the reflection of that registers on the celluloid. But here, there is no light. It is the animal warmth of the bodies which imprints itself on the celluloid. The scene was shot in total darkness; no one could see anything except me through the camera. All the participants were in an absolute blackout, and they moved around in a deranged state."
Adrian Martin's incredible article at Kinoeye touches at the heart of the matter. Reading the following paragraph the first time brought tears to my eyes, because it is so accurate, and reminds moments at the very extremes of my cinematic experience. The "French client" he talks about in the last sentence is the one singing the song Aimer à perdre la raison:
"Mise en scène—the art of bodies in space—is always, subtly or overtly, a dance, but this is the dance of death, the living death of everyday power relations. The two scenes of Mélania's prostitution, one placed directly after the other in Grandrieux's cinema of cruelty, provide an inventory of bodily postures figuring fright, uncertainty, panic and stress, a primal, physical language of animals under threat: Seymour's instant post-coital blues, Mélania's vulnerable nakedness, and the icy upper-body stress of the French client, who finally withdraws into himself and away from the Other in order to masturbate in a fuzzy, atomised blur."
Here's Grandrieux talking about the making of La Vie Nouvelle (Brenez interview):
"The film was made under the sign of enormous heat, vital energy, the blazing sun. That surpasses desire, it is even more archaic and formative; it comes from the sun itself, from a star beyond us that we aspire to, in a totally chaotic way. This aspiration towards great energy and happiness, it infused the film, which we made in a wild state of joy, six weeks of shooting like a single stroke, without a second thought [arrière-pensée]."
And finally, and again from the same interview, here's a quote by Grandrieux you might have encountered elsewhere on this blog, one of the finest ideals ever set for art:
"Not a film like a tree, with a trunk and branches, but like a field of sunflowers, a field of grass growing everywhere."