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March 2005 Archives


March 30, 2005

The CinemaScope Trilogy, 1998-2002

Peter Tscherkassky's elegantly conceived, idiosyncratically transfixing, and neuron-saturating CinemaScope Trilogy is made without a camera - a series of films entirely realized in the dark room using techniques of contact printing and variable exposure to transfer found film into unexposed film stock, then manipulated and processed to create the final works. Serving as both an homage to film as cinema, as well as an experimental study on the physical materiality of the medium (a philosophy similarly echoed by Peter Kubelka during the lecture and screening of Truth and Poetry at the 2004 Views from the Avant-Garde), the films reflect an intrinsic ability to distill the essence of human observation, sensation, and even psychology into the assimilation - and fragmentation - of interplayed images, rhythms, impulses, associative cognition, and instinctual responses.

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L'Arrivée, 1998. Constructed as a multi-layered study on the meaning of "arrival", the first layer is a point of reference on the implicit audience anticipation for the seemingly delayed start of the film, as the familiar, audible hissing and popping of a recorded soundtrack accompanies an extended white screen that intermittently (and teasingly) reveal the silhouette of linear film stock straying into and out of frame to create a playful and evocative interactive illustration of the process of engaged waiting. The second layer is an ingenious reference to the Lumière brothers' L'Arrivée d'un train à la Ciotat as a steam engine train slowly approaches the station, a selection that seems particularly appropriate, not because of their pioneering work in filmmaking, but because of their continued influence in defining the structural conventions of narrative film with their microcosmic encapsulations of the "real" world - a series of visual stories with a beginning (or setup condition), an action, and a resolution. In L'Arrivée, the "action" comes in the synthesized forms of image duplication, fracture, collision, and decontextualization that result in the unsteadied and imbalanced chaos of a virtual train wreck. For the final layer, Tscherkassky impishly follows the Lumière narrative code in the tongue-in-cheek, hyper-romantic image of a luminous Catherine Deneuve in period costume emerging from the train and into the arms of an (understandably) enraptured Omar Sharif, a sequence from Terence Young's film, Mayerling (1968).

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Outer Space, 1999. The most complex and innately unnerving installment of the CinemaScope Trilogy, the film immediately creates an atmosphere of sinister foreboding in its liminal, transitory images of an amorphous night sky, heightened ambient sounds, and skewed, awkward angled framing of a modest home on an eerily tranquil rural street. Assembled from excerpts of found film from Sidney J. Furie's, The Entity (1988), Tscherkassky transforms the introductory images of a deserted, seemingly alien landscape into a startling, profoundly fractured (or as the filmmaker suggests in the end credits of L'Arrivée, "manufractured"), and increasingly haunted portrait of human desolation and descent into madness. In addition to creating apparent visual malleability and disjunctions of space and linear time through the manipulation, superimposition, and resequencing of images, what is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the film is Tscherkassky's implemented strategy for reflecting the unnamed heroine's (Barbara Hershey) ambiguously real or imagined assault through the sensorially unrelenting stimuli created by an extended sequence of hyperkinetic, strobing flashes of intense light that seemingly explode and burn out before dissolving into unidentifiable abstraction, leaving in its wake the residual, irreconcilable fragments of a complete psychological rupture of the image and the self.

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Dream Work, 2002. The film opens to the static shot of a pendulum-like, window shade pull against the sound of the ticking of a clock, a juxtaposition that seemingly reinforces a (waking) consciousness of time and physical presence, as a woman (Barbara Hershey) eventually enters the frame, slips off her shoes, brushes her hair, prepares for bedtime, and falls asleep. From this fleeting, introductory image of mundane ritual, the film then departs into unexpected and amorphous trajectories of dream state as residual imprints of memories and human interaction fragment, dislocate, replicate, and free associate within the subconscious - while simultaneously infused, reinterpreted, or transformed under the influence of fear, individual will, and desire. The most overtly sensual and tactile of the CinemaScope Trilogy (note that the images of disrobing serve as an apparent metaphor for the nakedness of the subconscious in dream state), the film is an appropriate homage to avant-garde artist, photographer, and filmmaker Man Ray whose early photographs not only represented the human body as a synthesis of malleable, abstract forms, but also pioneered the production of rayographs by placing three-dimensional objects in front of a photographic plate and exposing the composition to light in order to create an indirect, superimposed, composite image (a precursor to the film process implemented by Tscherkassky for the trilogy). Indeed, there is an inherent texturality and voluptuous to the film in the repeated sensorial cues of ticking clocks, personal grooming, massaging of limbs, and breathlessness and involuntary spasms of sexual arousal that are cinematically echoed in the sequence looping and frame stuttering of the physical film itself. It is this organic malleability of recollected images coupled with ritualistic repetitiveness that intrinsically illustrates the reiterative correlation between dream and reality in the film: a representation, not of a soul in conflict, but a mind in tenuous self-reconciliation.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 30, 2005 | | Comments (11) | Filed under 2005, The CinemaScope Trilogy


March 21, 2005

The Bridesmaid, 2004

bridesmaid.gifWhen the attractive widow Christine (Aurore Clément) asks her children for permission to offer a statue in their garden - a gift from their late father - as a housewarming present to her new beau Gérard Courtois (Bernard Le Coq), the eldest child, Philippe (Benoît Magimel) appears visibly disconcerted by the proposal, but nevertheless acquiesces for the sake of unanimity and subsequently insists on personally hand carrying the object to Gérard's home. However, it seems that the nature of his apprehension does not stem from a suppressed Oedipal rage or the traumatic idea of Gérard taking the place of his late father, but rather, from a curious attachment to the statue itself: an idealized image of classical beauty that would seem to have come to life in the soulful and enigmatic gaze of his sister's beautiful and alluring bridesmaid, Senta (Laura Smet). Living alone in the basement of a large, dilapidated country estate (and apart from her estranged stepmother and her lover who live two floors above) that she had inherited from her father, Senta's obscure personal history would seem to be as near-mythic as the Hellenic statue that she resembles: an Icelandic mother who died in childbirth, a reckless, disreputable past as an exotic dancer in New York City, an evil stepmother who has emotionally abandoned her to pursue a career as a tango dancer. Aroused by Senta's uninhibited desire and touched by her fragile vulnerability, Philippe is all too willing to embark on Senta's seemingly operatic (and fated) course of romantic destiny, and in the process, becomes increasingly entangled in her myopic - and delusive - quest for love and loyalty. Adapted from the novel by Ruth Rendell (whose novel La Ceremonie also provided the basis for the earlier Claude Chabrol film), The Bridesmaid exhibits a similarly deceptive and slow-building narrative crescendo as La Ceremonie and is bolstered by the fine performances of Benoît Magimel as the bumbling, eager to please lover and in particular, Laura Smet as the emotionally needy seductress. However, the film ultimately suffers from an almost caricatured - and incongruent - lighthearted direction which creates tonal inconsistency from the film's gradually unravelling mystery. Recalling the oppressively hermetic bohemianism of his earlier film Les Biches, the film serves as a competent, though superficial psychological examination of obsession, rootlessness, and co-dependency.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 21, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

When the Sea Rises..., 2004

sea_rises.gifEach day, a struggling touring comic named Irène (Yolande Moreau) checks out of a modest hotel, packs a large, aluminum gear case and a wooden chair into the trunk of her Peugeot, drives through long stretches of empty, rural roads along the northern towns straddling the Franco-Belgian border, sets up her minimal equipment on the stage of a small theatrical venue (often, local clubs, town auditoriums, nursing homes, and converted classrooms), selects a volunteer "chicken" from the audience who will act as her partner in crime for the comedy skit, performs her comedy routine before an animated crowd, checks into a convenient hotel in town, and calls her supportive husband and daughter to dispense and receive equal measures of advice, encouragement, and affection before turning in for the evening. It is a lonely and uneventful, but personally fulfilling routine that Irène knows all too well, buoyed by her brief, yet affectionate connection with her appreciative audience, the adrenaline rush of the performance, and the warmth and generosity of the townspeople she meets along the way, until one fateful day when Irène becomes stranded on a empty stretch of road and is assisted by a flighty, but genial parade float conductor named Dries (Wim Willaert). Marking the debut feature film of actress turned filmmaker Yolande Moreau, When the Sea Rises... is an irrepressibly eccentric, thoughtful, and infectiously whimsical comedy on loneliness and emotional synchronicity. Inspired by Moreau's own experiences as a traveling comic during the 1980s, the film affectionately captures the laid back, free-spirited, and interpersonal indigenous character of the northern border towns that, as the filmmaker comments, "do not take themselves too seriously". Following in the similar vein of idiosyncratic, bittersweet, muted kitsch comedies often associated with Swiss and Belgian cinema, and infused with the intimate insight of Moreau's first-hand experience and clear passion for the region and her craft, the film is a quietly observed portrait of the disconnected lives of traveling performers, and a humble and tender love letter to a surrogate community that had nurtured and supported her career before achieving fame and success.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 21, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

Me and My Sister, 2004

me_sister.gifIn an early episode of Me and My Sister, the younger sister Louise (Catherine Frot), having been picked up from the train station and driven home by her older sister, Martine (Isabelle Huppert), discovers her manuscript haphazardly tossed in the trunk of her sister's car as she retrieves her luggage, yet says nothing about the apparent slight to the culmination of her dedicated hard work. It is an episode that speaks volumes on the nature of the relationship of the siblings. Rejected by their alcoholic mother and forced to lead independent lives at an early age, the pragmatic and sensible Martine has consciously worked to shed her provinciality and cultivate an air of sophistication and bourgeois respectability in Paris while the fanciful and quirky Louise remained in Le Mans to lead a humble life as a beautician and aspiring writer. However, Martine's seemingly comfortable, lush life is also far from ideal. Trapped in a passionless marriage yet bound to the social comfortability afforded by her husband's success, Martine has become increasingly exacting and hardened to the people around her, and invariably, Louise's unpolished manners, idiosyncrasies, and interminably bubbly personality quickly begin to fray her carefully cultivated social decorum. Alexandra Leclère's film is a slight, yet charming, admirable, and effervescent comedy on manners, sibling rivalry, and the unbreakable bonds of family. By examining Louise and Martine's lives through the reflective prism of their interactions with each other, Leclère also creates an insightful social allegory for elitism, classism, denial of roots, and cosmopolitan arrogance.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 21, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Rendez-vous with French Cinema


March 20, 2005

L'Intrus, 2004

intruder.gifL'Intrus opens to a shot of the Franco-Swiss border as a border guard performs a customs check and inspection of a random vehicle with the aid of a contraband-sniffing dog. The seemingly mundane image of frontier, wilderness, and deception provides a curiously appropriate introduction into the Claire Denis' impenetrably fractured, enigmatically allusive, otherworldy, and indelible metaphysical exposition into the mind of an emotionally severe, morally bankrupt, and profoundly isolated heart transplant patient named Louis (Michel Subor). Idiosyncratically unfolding in elliptical, often reverse chronology (with respect to the heart surgery) through the lugubriously fluid intertwining of Louis' alienated existence and deeply tormented subconscious, the film is a fragmented and maddeningly opaque daydream (or perhaps more appropriately, a haunted nightmare) of the price exacted by his disreputable past, estranged relationships, hedonism, and instinctual quest for survival: his inability to reconcile with his only son and his family; his sexually motivated, yet emotionally distant relationship with a materialistic pharmacist; his dubious, transcontinental past (a suppressed history that may have included murder). Perpetually followed by a beautiful, enigmatic sentinel (Katia Golubeva) - or conscience - who seems to have been instrumental in obtaining his new heart, what emerges is an indelible, elegiac, and poetically abstract dreamscape through the wondrous, alien terrain of unreconciled (and irreconcilable) personal history, unrequited longing, and haunted memory.

Transcribed notes from the Q&A with Claire Denis:

• Denis initially envisioned L'Intrus to be three distinct parts: northern hemisphere, limbo, and southern hemisphere. She then found out that Jean-Luc Godard had conceived of a three part structure to Notre Musique (Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise) at Cannes and consequently, collapsed the three parts into one fluid, hyperextended dream sequence to avoid incidental comparison (or implications of creative appropriation). She envisioned the southern hemisphere to be a kind of parallel (or existential) universe of the northern hemisphere, and therefore, images in the two hemispheres become mirrored converses of each other and together create a closed cyclicality to the film.

• Denis proposes that the only two instances of "real" people in the film are Louis and his estranged son (Grégoire Colin) (and by extension, his son's family). The other characters are manifestations of Louis' imagination, but like all mental constructions, are not purely fictional but rather, based on varying levels of an underlying reality: a "real" person whom Louis has encountered or interacted with sometime during his life.

• Denis describes the film as an adoption rather than an adaptation of Jean-Luc Nancy's novel L'Intrus which, in turn, was inspired by Nancy's own experience after undergoing a heart transplant operation. Denis was equally haunted and fascinated by the idea of a foreign body's "intrusion" into another body, and how that organ(ism) is rejected by its "new" body even as it needs it for survival and viability (Note: This metaphor can also be applied to the image of illegal immigrants crossing the border: a broader social commentary on the pervasive mistreatment (and marginalization) of migrant workers and immigrants in "civilized" countries). Also, intrinsic in this idea of transplantation and rejection is the paradoxical coexistence of life and death that a heart transplant patient's post-surgery life represents (Note: I had also thought that perhaps this coexistence extended to the merging and coalescing of life experiences as well within Louis' subconscious, who begins to daydream seemingly abstract, fragments of personal histories that are not always his own. This may also be an extension of the earlier note on the "variable" degrees of reality, although Denis doesn't mention this idea of "collective" memory/dream).

Posted by acquarello on Mar 20, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

Clean, 2004

clean.gifOlivier Assayas' latest film, Clean, is a sincere, well-intentioned, and technically proficient, but uncharacteristically trite and formulaic portrait of a drug-addicted, washed up celebrity and recent widow named Emily Wang (Maggie Cheung) who, having lost custody of her son Jay (James Dennis) to her Canadian in-laws, Albrecht (Nick Nolte) and Rosemary Hauser (Martha Henry) while serving a prison term in North America for drug possession, decides to return to France in order to forget her personal tragedy, embarking on a long, emotionally draining, uncertain, and lonely journey to rebuild her life in an attempt to earn the Hausers' respect and repair her estranged relationship with her abandoned son. It should be noted, however, that as in his earlier demonlover, Assayas displays an uncanny insight and well-researched, indigenous authenticity into, not only the creation of the subject art and its corresponding medium (in this case, music), but also the formative pulse of its supporting industry. During the Q&A, Assayas remarked that he had envisioned Cheung's character as a kind of updated insight into the true nature of the actress that, unlike her character in Irma Vep (which the filmmaker admittedly describes as a superficial characterization of an "outsider" Hong Kong actress in France), incorporates more of her intrinsic Western characteristics, having lived in England in her youth and attained a level of fluency in both English and French. The thoughtfulness of this vision is clearly evident in Cheung's complex, sensitively realized, and indelible portrait of fragility and resilience, vulnerability and determination, and uncertainty and sincerity.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 20, 2005 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2005, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

Local Call, 2004

localcall.gifDuring the Q&A for Local Call, filmmaker Arthur Joffé expressed his great fondness and respect for the works of Nobel laureate author and playwright, Isaac Bashevis Singer, whom he credits as his primary screenwriting influence, and from the complex tragicomic, impassioned, affecting, and deeply humanist tone of the film, the affinity is easy to see. As the film begins, the neurotic, well-to-do, and (perhaps all-too) comfortably settled astrophysicist Félix Mandel (Sergio Castellitto), arranges to meet with his first love Wendy (Emily Morgan) during a working trip to London and returns home with her gift for his son, an overfamiliar gesture for which his wife Lucie (Isabelle Gélinas) responds with an order to clean out his wretchedly overfilled, disorganized home office. Leaving only a box filled with his late father's belongings for storage, including a cashmere overcoat that Félix had retrieved unaltered from the tailor for him on the day of his death, Félix decides to offer the overcoat to a homeless man who then promptly sells the article to a near-mythical, joy-riding, motorcycle daredevil known in the streets as Le Prince Noir for spare change. However, Félix soon discovers that dispossessing himself of his father's effects will not allow his father, Lucien (Michel Serrault) to rest in peace, as he begins to receive mysterious - and exorbitantly expensive - collect calls from Heaven reproaching him for dispensing of his overcoat so readily. Driven into near bankruptcy (and brink of insanity) by his father's rationally unsettling, yet intrinsically emotionally reassuring conversations, Félix resolves to recover his father's overcoat and complete the alteration that the tailor (László Szabó) had earlier refused to perform. It is important to note that the French title, Ne quittez pas! ("Don't hang up") is more thematically in keeping with spirit of the film. During the Q&A, Joffé also offers two additional anecdotes that greatly contribute to the appreciation of the film: the first is that the alteration that was asked to be performed - and adamantly rejected - by his personal tailor is based on a true incident in Joffé's father's life (both his father and the tailor were children of the Holocaust); the second is that Joffé had intended for a French actor to play the part of Félix, but soon found that cultural and spiritual issues - and social implications in French society - that underpin the story made the role uncomfortable, and none of the French actors whom Joffé had approached with the script accepted the part. Unable to cast locally, Joffé then turned to Sergio Castellitto, with whom he had previously collaborated on Alberto Express, in what turned out to be a stroke of pitch-perfect casting that delicately balances fragility, affection, humor, charm, sophistication, intelligence, turmoil, and spirituality into an intelligent and affirming, yet whimsical examination of cultural rootlessness, despiritualization, filial devotion, and the legacy of the diasporic experience.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 20, 2005 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2005, Rendez-vous with French Cinema


March 16, 2005

About Baghdad, 2004

baghdad.gifIn an episode near the conclusion of the film, the expatriate poet and writer Sinan Antoon, having been allowed entry into the military secured Shaheed Monument - an architecturally impressive outdoor memorial commissioned by Saddam Hussein to honor the fallen Iraqi martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War (in a macabre, self-aggrandizing gesture to commemorate the 700,000 soldiers that the despot had willfully sent to their deaths by invading Iran in 1980) - solemnly surveys the Vietnam Memorial-like list of casualties inscribed on the wall and becomes visibly upset by the sight of intermittently spaced, printed sheets of paper taped over some of the inscriptions. A subsequent terse exchange with his military escort provides a context for the nature of the affront: the placards denoting reserved parking space assignments for the troops stationed in the monument complex sacrilegiously - and ignorantly - taped over the names of the dead soldiers. The seemingly disrespectful and chagrining (if not inadvertently arrogant) display of diplomatic faux pas reflects a deeply rooted national wound that continues to haunt and demoralize the Iraqi people's psyche in post Saddam Hussein Iraq: a systematic trivialization (and erasure) of the rich cultural history of their beloved, ancestral land of ancient Mesopotamia - the cradle of civilization - in the wake of imperialist foreign intervention (first, by the British who captured Baghdad during World War I and subsequently exerted influence over the direction of the nation's governance, then subsequently, by the Americans during the invasions of Iraq in First and Second Gulf War), the reign of autocratic tyranny under Hussein (who not only appropriated - and desecrated - the country's national resources and treasures, but also perverted the meaning of historicity with his own attempts at self-immortalization by installing publicly inescapable commemorative portraits, billboards, and statues throughout the country), and the inevitable collateral destruction of war (most palpably, in the bombing of academic institutions that serve as repositories for art, cultural artifacts, and historical documents including the Academy of Fine Arts and the College of Arts buildings and library at the University Baghdad). Composed of interviews of ordinary citizens, walking tours through the war-ravaged streets, first-hand testimonies by political prisoners tortured under the Hussein regime, conversations with intellectuals, and observational commentaries by the outspoken Antoon, and assembled into a collage of visual styles that structurally evoke the colorfully (and elaborately) interwoven, vibrant hues of ancient tapestry, About Baghdad is an illuminating, impassioned, and provocative exposition on the complex issues and profound emotional conflict surrounding the American occupation of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Capturing a pervasive sense of despair, frustration, anger, resentment, and melancholia that lay beneath the tumultuous and embittering national history of usurped and foreign imposed law, inhumanity (whether through Hussein's arbitrary administration of torture or internationally imposed sanctions that have crippled the country's health care system), and unrequited desire for self-governance, the film serves as a thoughtful, sincere, and articulate human plea for tolerance, respect, cultural preservation, and self-determination.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 16, 2005 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes


March 9, 2005

The Letter: An American Town and the 'Somali Invasion', 2003

letter.gifIn December 1992, the US-proposed Operation: Restore Hope sought to secure Somalia's food supply from warring factions through the deployment of security forces in conjunction with the ongoing UN humanitarian campaign to control the widespread crisis of the man-made famine - a volatile situation that soon became increasingly encumbered with the greater problem of controlling civil violence throughout the unstable country. Subsequently, in June 1993, a team of Pakistani UN soldiers were massacred during routine inspections, an ambush that was believed to have been engineered by one of the country's most powerful warlords, General Mohamed Farah Aidid. The tragedy inevitably led to the Battle of Mogadishu - the violent conflict depicted in Black Hawk Down - as the military sought to apprehend the elusive Aidid. Ten years later, the obfuscated - and increasingly mired - humanitarian crisis would seemingly converge in the traditionally Franco-American New England town of Lewiston, Maine: a community that continues to mourn a fallen son from the fateful battle with a commemorative placard on a state highway and whose wounds were recently re-opened not only by the Ridley Scott film, but further exacerbated by the uncertainty of life in immediate post 9/11 America as a large influx of Muslim-faith Somali immigrants began to settle in the town coincidentally after the terror attacks in what the media dubbed as the "Somali Invasion" of Lewiston. With the city still recovering from the downturn in the economy (caused in part by the manufacturing slowdown in the local mills and the nationwide recession), and the potential of another 1000 Somalis imminently relocating into the area (effectively doubling the ethnic Somali population), the mayor, Laurier T. Raymond Jr. penned a brusque open letter to the Somali elders urging them to use their influence within the extended ethnic community to discourage their families, friends, and native countrymen from similarly moving into Lewiston and further taxing the city's increasingly burdened resources. Emboldened by Raymond's controversial public appeal - and implicitly, the contingent of Lewiston residents who support a similar, intolerant (if not overtly racist) view - hate groups such as the World Church of the Creator began to descend on the town in order to further their own agenda, culminating in a planned rally on January 11 (a date perhaps selected for its fear-mongering evocation of 9/11). Growing increasingly weary of the simplistic, caricatured media portrayal of Lewiston as a haven for xenophobic, unenlightened bigots, members of the community decided to stage their own unity march despite the unapologetic (and perhaps, willful) announced absence of the mayor from the heavily media-scrutinized event (citing pre-arranged vacation plans) in a sincere and defiant gesture of humanity and plea for tolerance. Filmmaker Ziad Hamzeh's articulate and incisive documentary, The Letter, is a thoughtful examination of the interplay between entrenched sociology and overarching cultural and historical dynamics that inexorably converge and perpetuate the legacy of hate and exclusion. Contrasting the overly rehearsed diatribes and instinctive, underformed, stereotypical arguments of the detractors against the impassioned voices of a rended town struggling to move forward in the aftermath of uncertainty and profound cultural change, the film serves as a provocative cautionary tale on intolerance, scapegoating, and myopic vision, and a compelling portrait of the human imperative for empathy and solidarity.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 09, 2005 | | Comments (5) | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes


March 5, 2005

Building Heaven, Remembering Earth: Confessions of a Fallen Architect, 1999

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Oliver Hockenhull's voluptuous, textural, and thematically (and experientially) dense essay film is an intricately constructed, stream-of-consciousness meditation on architecture, memory, immortality, and transcendence. Evoking the sprawling, trans-continental journals of the faceless, globe-trotting (metaphoric) time traveler and ethnographic filmmaker Sandor Krasna in Chris Marker's Sans soleil, Building Heaven, Remembering Earth: Confessions of a Fallen Architect is similarly infused with a certain wide-eyed curiosity and sense of adventure, thoughtfulness, and self-effacing humor.

From the film's introductory anecdote on the first book of architecture, a ten-volume documentation of buildings, machines, and timepieces, Hockenhull presents an implicit interconnection between architecture and time, both serving as materialized representations of projection, shadows, and geometric space. The analogy is subsequently developed in the filmmaker's exposition on the Pantheon in Rome as he reflects on the ancient structure's innate symmetry through negative projection for which the apparent structural complement - and therefore, its spatial negation - occurs at an intersection on an imaginary axis that is defined by infinity. The realization of imaginary intersections and approaching theoretical limits similarly provides the underlying concept for the Aquatic Pavilion in Neeltje Jans, Holland, an example of media architecture in which undulating, nodal mesh forms characterize the functional construct of the numerical data: the ideal form generated by a human-less, synthetic vision of empirical limits and discrete interpolations.

Hockenhull further correlates the process of architectural construction as an innately human quest for immortality - a mortal bridge to the divine (note the thematic correlation to György's underlying futile search for the harmonies of the gods in Béla Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies) - a rapture. It is this ephemeral state of artificially induced transcendence that is thematically threaded to the juxtaposition of images between a heroin addict and the somber, forbidden architecture of New Metropolis, an asymmetric and aesthetically nondescript behemoth commercial space projecting ominously from the industrial landscape of an Amsterdam harbor town, both representing a depersonalization of the individual: the erasure of the human element (which, in turn, expounds on the idea of architecture as a means of achieving closeness to gods).

In correlating the confluence of structure and time, Hockenhull characterizes architecture as commemorations of history. From a statue immortalizing the commander of the Dresden raid (a personally traumatic episode for Hockenhull's father that the filmmaker revisits in the short film Mother, Father, Son) to an examination of the works of artist and architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Hockenhull illustrates the inevitable bifurcation between the conceptually ideal - the "glowing painting of a reconciled world" - and the ravaged artifacts of human history (most notably, in the bullet-ridden pillars of the New Watch Building and the variegated rubble used to line the perimeter of a summer house in postwar, suburban Berlin). It is this corruption and decay of the ideal that is encapsulated in the utilitarian history of the Prince Albrecht Palais, a stately residence later transformed as a headquarters for intelligence gathering and dissemination of propaganda by the Nazis.

Traveling eastward to Asia, Hockenhull then forgoes the inherent politicization of 20th century European history and returns to the more abstract theme of transcendence through architecture, remarking after a Sergei Eisenstein retrospective in Istanbul of the role of cinema as "time and aspiration of memory", and further concluding that architecture and memory are integrally correlated by the nature of their "pure constructions". This idea of continuity through memory and architecture - the intertwining of the mortal and the immortal, life and death - is perhaps best represented in the Indian city of Kashi, known as the city of light - a cremation grounds where nature and structures represent, not only ancient relics of the past, but also a continuity and an afterlife. In essence, the architecture serves as a place of ceremony and ritual: the human imperative to define the amorphous nature of God and consequently, find a path to transcendence. It is this complex interconnection of functionality and meaning that is inevitably embodied by the egg-shaped stone that punctuates the film, an eternal, indefinable object that curiously encapsulates the genesis, mortality, human imprint, and metaphysical enigma of a greater, and unfathomably more complex, immortal design.

Update: The film is available on DVD through Customflix. (04-09-05)

Posted by acquarello on Mar 05, 2005 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes