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April 2008 Archives

April 23, 2008

Orienteering (Concurs), 1982

orienteering.gifSet in a company-sponsored orienteering contest - a false peril, team-building competition that pits administrative departments against each other in navigating their way out of a vast, public recreational park in the least amount of time by locating a prescribed series of trail markers using only the provisions and equipment provided to them at the start of the race - Dan Pita's Orienteering (Concurs) chronicles the adventures of a group of functionaries who, cajoled by their ever-obliging supervisor to enter in order to curry favor from their superiors, have reluctantly agreed to take part in the competition. From the onset, the group's ability to participate is already cast in doubt when the supervisor's wife feigns illness and immediately withdraws, leaving the rest of the team scrambling for a last minute substitute. Enlisting the aid of a young man (Claudiu Bleont) who, because of his small frame, fits the wife's track suit (and who, coincidentally, had just arrived to the park on a bicycle only moments before the team's bus), the team begins its journey through the woods, led by the imposing, if ill-equipped supervisor. But as the team invariably finds itself hopelessly lost, depleting their limited provisions, chasing personal distractions, squabbling over responsibility, and running in literal circles in the thick of the disorienting forest, frustration soon turns to distrust at the stranger whose resourcefulness is now viewed as a ruse in an elaborate sabotage. Funny, whimsical, and densely metaphoric, Orienteering is as equally potent as a wry allegory on the Ceauşescu regime under the thumb of Soviet-era communism as it is an acutely observed satire on the petty dynamics of office politics. Capturing the base instinct, incompetence, misdirection, and deflection of accountability innate in the false, surreal atmosphere of a contest, Pita exposes the myth of collaborative teamwork in the everyday conduct of intrinsically competitive - and self-preserving - sociopolitical institutions.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 23, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Romanian Cinema

April 22, 2008

The Paper Will Be Blue, 2006

paper_blue.gifA droll and acerbic fictional corollary to Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica's Videograms of a Revolution, Radu Muntean's The Paper Will Be Blue, like Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an odyssey through the crumbling institutions and broken social systems of a country in the throes of precarious transformation. Set on the evening of Nicolae Ceauşescu's fall from power after going into hiding in the wake of widespread anti-government demonstrations, the film follows the overnight patrol of a militia unit headed by the diligent and fatherly Lt. Neagu (Adi Carauleanu) who has been dispatched to the suburbs to spot check vehicles on the main roads in order to prevent protestors from making their way to the cities. At first, the unit passes the hours uneventfully, using the roadblock as a ruse to chat up young women driving alone at night rather than as a deterrent to keep away agitators, until a group of protestors arrive at the checkpoint with the news that the television station is under siege. Overcome with patriotism and a sense of impending history, Neagu's young recruit, Costi (Paul Ipate) impulsive decides to abandon his post and join the troops in defending the television station from apparent terrorists, leaving Neagu and the rest of the unit to try to track down the errant recruit before the end of their shift in order to avoid harsher punishment (and perhaps cancel New Years Eve leave passes) from headquarters. From the jarring, chaotic opening image of a civilian and a militiaman being accidentally killed in a barrage of confused gunfire from an apparently mistaken command to shoot (after haplessly emerging from an armored car to smoke a cigarette), Muntean illustrates the integral role of communication in the events surrounding the Revolution of 1989. Framed against Costi's idealistic attempt to defend the television station as the symbolic last bastion of a collapsing, old order, the siege is emblematic of the critical struggle over the control of information itself, where modern day victory lies, not in the occupation of physical spaces, but in invisible - but powerful - airwaves.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 22, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Romanian Cinema

The Return of the Banished, 1979

return_banished.gifRecalling Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible in its atmospheric, if tempered historical epic on the bloody reign of sixteenth century Moldavian despot, Alexandru Lapusneanu, Malvina Ursianu's Return of the Banished is a trenchant allegory on the moral corruption and madness of absolute power. Unfolding though a series of flashbacks and flash forwards, the film opens to the image of Lapusneanu's eldest son and heir, Bogdan, and his mother, Doamna Ruxandra (Silvia Popovici) traveling across a mountain pass in a private horse-drawn carriage, separated from the family's entourage and Bogdan's younger siblings, asking her how to properly address his father (George Motoi) now that he has returned from exile and, once again, ascended to the throne as the rightful ruler of Moldavia. In hindsight, the chronological ambiguity created by the film's atemporal structure also reinforces the idea of recursive history. Once a pragmatic, magnanimous ruler eager to redefine social structure based on meritocracy rather than noble birth - a more egalitarian (and inferentially socialist) perspective that is reflected in his controversial decision to redistribute the property of a boyard who was executed for treason to his loyalists rather than allow the surviving relatives to inherit the generations-owned land - Lapusneanu soon becomes increasingly distrustful of the guarded boyards who, in turn, see the gesture as evidence of his flaunted authority and a prelude to a class war. Eager to centralize - and legitimize - his authority over Moldavia, Lapusneanu embarks on a series of strategic, pre-emptive campaigns against neighboring kingdoms and rebellious boyars to ensure his legacy, and in the process, falls deeper into the isolation and paranoia of his quest for historical immortality. In a sense, Lapusneanu's evolution from benevolent ruler to tyrant also becomes an allegory for Nicolae Ceauşescu's own political transformation, morphing from popular national leader willing to stand up against the power of the Soviet Union, to secretive, Stalinist head of state inspired by the claustrophobic governments of North Korea and Maoist China. Framed against Lapusneanu's assassination of his own installed boyers, the film becomes a sobering commentary on the social revolution coming full circle in the delusive pursuit of marking history.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 22, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Romanian Cinema

April 21, 2008

Occident, 2002

occident.gifSomething of a cross between Julie Bertucelli's Since Otar Left and Bohdan Slama's Something Like Happiness in its wry and affectionate portrait of Eastern European diaspora after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cristian Mungiu's refined and ingeniously constructed first feature film, Occident also evokes the spirit of Krzysztof Kieslowski in its bittersweet, delicately interconnected tale of chance, coincidence, and longing. Similar to the three part structure of Nae Caranfil's Don't Lean Out the Window, the interlocking chapters of Occident chronicle the same unrequited tale, each gradually revealed through the peeled layers of the characters' own unfolded, often comical stories of miscommunication, failed connection, and lost opportunity: an underemployed man, Luci (Alexandru Papadopol) who tries to win back the affections of his girlfriend, Sorina (Anca-Ioana Androne) after being evicted from their apartment (and who, in turn, has since moved in with their passing Belgian samaritan, Jerome (Samuel Tastet) after Luci is unexpectedly hit on the head with a flying bottle); his frail aunt Leana (Eugenia Bosânceanu) who has decided to leave everything for him in her will in the absence of her estranged son in Germany; his friend Gica (Ioan Gyuri Pascu) who tries to reunite the couple through unorthodox means (often with hilarious consequences); his co-worker (and fellow product mascot), Mihaela (Tania Popa), recently left at the altar by her fiancé on their wedding day, who sees in Luci a kindred spirit in their mutually wounded hearts; Mihaela's father (Dorel Visan), a retiring police officer (and throwback to Securitate-styled surveillance tactics) who tries to feel useful by setting things right with his only child, searching for a suitable, foreign husband who will help her establish a new life elsewhere. Ever converging towards a flight away from the country (whether out of romantic impulse, career opportunity, or even adoption), Luci's quixotic quest becomes integrally connected to the ephemeral pursuit of a distant, idealized West itself, where destiny lies, not in the alignment of fate, but in its sad divergence.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 21, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Romanian Cinema

Ryna, 2005

Ryna.gifIn a way, Ruxandra Zenide's debut film, Ryna suggests Claudia Llosa's Madeinusa in its allegorical tale of a young woman coming of age under a moral vacuum of isolation, lawlessness, and repressive authority. Set in a poor rural community along the Danube delta where the town's depressed economy is as tied to the commerce of fishing as it is to preying on the gullibility of others (a stagnation that is also implied in the grandfather's life savings of useless, communist-era currency), the film chronicles Ryna's (Doroteea Petre) process of maturation and self-awareness after a fateful encounter with a visiting French doctoral candidate, George (Matthieu Rozé) who has come to the region on an anthropological research study of the town's inhabitants in search of the origin of Latin. The only child of a tyrannical and increasingly desperate gas station and garage owner, Biri (Valentin Popescu), Ryna has obediently, if reluctantly, acquiesced to her father's whims, keeping her hair closed cropped and donning an oversized mechanics coveralls (but whose beauty, nevertheless, catches the eye of the passing researcher and the mailman (Theodor Delciu)), as well as sabotaging parked cars and inflating charges by diagnosing non-existent mechanical problems to unsuspecting stranded motorists. Facing the loss of their primary source of revenue when the town bypass road is completed to accommodate better interstate traffic, Biri has begun to ingratiate himself into the company of the town mayor in order to obtain a permit to relocate his business new the new road, a nefarious alliance that grows even more sinister when the mayor, still continuing to delay approval of the permit in order to extract additional favors from Biri, takes a romantic interest in young Ryna. Like Salvador, the passing stranger in Madeinusa, George becomes a catalyst for Ryna's awakening, representing the possibility of connection, liberation, and self-identity away from the oppressive captivity of the insular town - the link to a transcendent elsewhere.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 21, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Romanian Cinema

April 20, 2008

Maria, 2003

Maria.gifChanneling the spirit of Italian neorealism in its bleak and unrelenting portrait of abject poverty, Peter Calin Netzer's Maria is a provocative and articulate social interrogation on the role of globalization, international charity, and the media on the socioeconomic polarization of the working class. Based on a true story (an sad truth that is reinforced in the film's postscript dedication to the real-life Maria who lived from 1962 to 1995), the film resurrects the specter of Ceauşescu's short-sighted natality policy in the opening shot of a pregnant Maria (Diana Dumbrava) picnicking with her six children (and underscored by her son's innocent reiteration of a neighbor's comparison to the family as breeding like rabbits), an idyllic afternoon that soon takes a somber turn when she starts to go into labor in the open field. Cutting to the shot of her husband Ion (Serban Ionescu), a balloon factory foreman listening to the news with his enterprising friend Milco (Horatiu Malaele) that the factory's new owners have rejected their counter-offer and instead, have decided to immediately disband the union and shut down operations (allotting each worker two boxes of balloons as compensation in lieu of reconciling the former owner's debt of unpaid back wages), the sense of inescapable misfortune and cruel fate is foretold in Ion's all too frequent bouts of drunkenness, violent rages, and reckless gambling following his unexpected unemployment (note the interrelated role of delusive games of chance and insurmountable debt that also pervades Djibril Diop Mambéty's Le Franc). Struggling to raise the family singlehandedly in the wake of Ion's increasing abuse and abandonment, she finds momentary solace in the company of her resourceful and good-hearted neighbor Maia (Luminita Gheorghiu), until a tragedy drives her deeper into isolation and despair. Far from a facile portrait of domestic abuse and marginalization, Maria proves to be a potent indictment of the dysfunctional, post-communist society itself - in its abandonment of humanist ideals in the pursuit of wealth, and even media responsibility in the tidy repackaging of human interest stories as entertainment (an exploitation that, in the wake of reality television, proves especially relevant). This sense of moral self-assessment is perhaps best encapsulated in the shot of Maria appraising her looks in front of a full-length mirror - an act that is ominously repeated by her daughter - that is also evoked in her transmitted, real-time television image from a video camera connection at a shop window: a sobering reflection of our complicity in the trivialization of human suffering as commodity and spectacle.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 20, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Romanian Cinema

Don't Lean Out the Window, 1994

dont_lean.gifA thematic structure that continues to surface in several of the post 1989 Revolution films during the Shining Through a Long, Dark Night: Romanian Cinema, Then and Now series is the use of an intertwining, circular narrative as a metaphor for national self-reflection - and re-evaluation - in the aftermath of the Nicolae Ceauşescu regime and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and this aesthetic is reflected in the composition of Nae Caranfil's watershed film, Don't Lean Out the Window, a story in three parts showing the intersecting lives of young people in transition. The film presciently opens to the idyllic image soldiers conducting their field maneuvers on an open field near the side of the road, their mock drills briefly interrupted by the sight of a young woman looking out the window of a nearby passing train. In hindsight, this image crystallizes the sense of transience and coincidence that would briefly connect the lives of Cristina (Nathalie Bonnifay) a student nearing graduation, Dinu (George Alexandru), an itinerant stage actor (and erstwhile film star) separated from his wife, and Cristina's suitor, Horatiu (Marius Stanescu) a soldier serving the final days of his compulsory military service in the small town. Set in the waning days of communism, the sense of disorder and collapse of authority is established in the earliest shots of the first chapter, The Student, as a teacher's rote regurgitation on the state policy of natality plays out before an unruly classroom as students openly distribute birth control pills obtained from the black market. Alternately occupying her time sorting potatoes for transportation at a collective farm and preparing for her university admissions exams with the bookish Horatiu in a decommissioned train car at an abandoned rail yard, Cristina's life in the small town seems equally derailed until the dashing actor, Dinu approaches her with an enigmatic question over the authorship of some secret admirer letters, and with it, the possibility of life away from the insular town. Infused with a dry humor and situational absurdity that has also become characteristic of certain noteworthy, contemporary Eastern European cinema (most notably, Béla Tarr and compatriot Cristi Puiu), Don't Lean Out the Window is a well crafted, if occasionally caricatured portrait of a nation at a profound political and cultural crossroads, where the anonymous, if familiar structure of repression has begun to collapse under the anarchic weight of an uncertain, encroaching liberation and (re)emerging identity.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 20, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Romanian Cinema

April 14, 2008

Numéro zéro, 1971/2003

numerozero.gifComposed as an uninterrupted conversation with Jean Eustache's sprightly, talkative, nearly blind, septuagenarian maternal grandmother, Odette Robert, Numéro Zéro prefigures the studies in narrative construction of Une Sale histoire in its illustration of performance and interpenetrating film reality. Inspired by their conversation during an afternoon stroll, the film reflects Eustache's assumed role as archivist, creating a two camera composite, unedited recording of Odette's memories of village life. Told with self-effacing humor and bracing candor, Odette weaves organically through the extraordinary density of her seemingly "ordinary" human experience, from the trauma of her mother's death from tuberculosis when she was seven years old, to her strained relationship with her demanding stepmother, Marie, to the austerity of life during the war, to her turbulent marriage to a skirt-chasing war veteran, to the deaths of her three young sons from childhood illnesses, to the care of her elderly, terminally ill father and stepmother during their final days, and lastly, to her arrival in Paris (at Eustache's invitation) to help take care of her great-grandson son, Boris. As in the Le Cochon and La Rosière de Pessac, Eustache captures, not only an overlooked, rapidly disappearing way of life, but also the continuity of a collective history itself, a passing between generations that is implied in the film's silent preface showing Boris accompanying Odette to a corner shop, before briefly walking away on another errand (similarly, in La Rosière de Pessac, the oldest living Rosière symbolically passes the torch to the next generation). Moreover, in maintaining the footage of clapperboard marks - often, interrupting Odette in mid thought to signal the necessity of a reel change - Eustache also creates a sense of intersecting reality, briefly disengaging Odette (and the spectator) from the reality of her vivid memories towards the parallel reality of her role as storyteller in Eustache's latest film (an awareness of the artifice of film construction that is further reinforced in a Dutch television representative's coincidental call to Eustache inquiring about purchasing rights to Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes). It is in this dual role as personal testament and performer that Numéro Zéro also becomes a metaphor for coming full circle, where life and film are integrally connected to the evolutionary cycle of chronicling complex, human history.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 14, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Jean Eustache Retrospective

La Peine perdue de Jean Eustache, 1997

peineperdue.gifAngel Díez's reverent and elegiac rumination on the iconoclastic, deeply personal cinema of Jean Eustache, La Peine perdue de Jean Eustache (The Lost Sorrows of Jean Eustache) hews closer to essay film than straightforward documentary, a muted, brooding tone piece where loss, grief, and mourning are reflected in the images of empty spaces, fragmented figures, and extended silences. Shot in high contrast black and white that evokes the stark, rough hewn quality of The Mother and the Whore, Eustache's conflicted sense of inspiration and desolation is articulated in the delayed, enigmatic remark from his abandoned script La Peine perdu, dispassionately read by actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, that opens the film: "For the first time, I think I see things more clearly". Disenchanted by a cultural complacency that has led to a lack of engagement in "real politics", Eustache's aesthetic approach converges towards the idea of a marginal cinema, not from a production or economic perspective, but from an observational point of view - challenging the spectator into new ways of seeing - whether through the humor and nobility of quaint, local customs that define small village life in the forgotten, out of fashion, "other France", or the moral stagnation of a lost generation in the wake of a failed May 68 revolution, or the relationship between images and sound that define the nature of cinema itself.

Not surprisingly, Eustache considers his role in filmmaking to be that of archivist instead of author, a respect for the subject and sacredness of images that is especially reflected in his provincial documentaries, Le Cochon and La Rosière de Pessac (and indirectly, Numéro Zéro). On his decision to remake La Rosière de Pessac, Eustache argues that the annual celebration could have easily been remade many times over, noting that the local mayor revived the village festival in 1896, loosely coinciding with the creation of the earliest Lumière films. In this sense, the Rosière ceremony represents not only a chronicle of French history, but is also integrally connected to the evolution of cinema. Moreover, on Le Cochon, Jean-Michel Barjol reinforces the idea of a filmmaker's archivist role by respectfully disagreeing with Eustache's earlier comment that their individually shot footage would have produced a different film from the actual final collaboration, arguing that their independent efforts would have invariably converged towards a near identical film to the resulting collaborative one, arbitrated by the (re)assertion of reality into the shot images. Ironically, the archivist versus author debate is seemingly upended in a subsequent episode in which an image of Eustache is momentarily observed walking along the other side of a wall during the dressing sequence of Le Cochon, and becomes a fitting metaphor for Eustache's abbreviated legacy: the faint, fleeting image of a wandering spirit, and the indelible imprint left behind in its passing.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 14, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Jean Eustache Retrospective

April 9, 2008

Une Sale histoire, 1977

dirtystory.gifComposed of two separate, near verbatim vignettes - alternately framed as a documentary, then as fiction film - Une Sale histoire is told from the perspective of a recovering peeping tom who tells his sordid tale of voyeuristic obsession before an intimate, predominantly female audience. In the first part, the spatial relation between the speaker, played by actor Michael Lonsdale, and the listener, played by film critic Jean Douchet - a distance that is reinforced by the latter's invitation to sit on a couch to tell his story - suggests the role of subject and interviewer (or perhaps, patient and analyst), as the glib, animated speaker recounts his accidental discovery of a cleverly concealed (and intentionally created) gap in the doorway of the ladies' room while using the public telephone of a local bistro, and the figurative Pandora's box that his newfound secret, erotic gateway unleashes in his quest to find the perfect woman whose physical appearance complemented the images created by his aroused fantasies. In the second part, the deliberation and exactness of the speaker, this time, played by the author of the story, Jean-Noël Picq, suggests a formal re-enactment of the earlier "interview" - the staging of a non-fiction fiction. Upending conventional roles by casting actor as storyteller (Lonsdale) and storyteller as actor (Picq), Jean Eustache creates a radical and intriguing exposition into the nature of narrative and performance itself, proposing that the boundaries of filmmaking do not exist between reality and fiction, but within layers and permutations of equally modulated fiction.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 09, 2008 | | Comments (5) | Filed under 2008, Jean Eustache Retrospective

April 8, 2008

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes, 1966

santaclaus.gifDroll, charming, and picaresque, Jean Eustache's Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes chronicles the empty hours, petty capers, and amorous misadventures of Daniel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), an unmotivated (and consequently fired) erstwhile bricklayer and modern day dandy who, rather than admit to his blue collar roots, has concocted an elaborate tale of paternal conspiracy and social consciousness for his perennially cash-strapped circumstances and habitual unemployment. But with few prospects to win a girl's heart without going (and more pressingly, spending money) on a date, and the impending arrival of colder weather, Daniel and his equally fashionably underemployed friend Dumas (Gérard Zimmermann) arrive at the conclusion that the answer to their winter doldrums lies in saving enough money to buy a stylish, a la mode duffel coat for the new year. To this end, he decides to accept a job offer from a photographer (René Gilson) to work as a sidewalk Santa, soliciting people in the street to have their pictures taken with him for a fee. Donning full costume, the roguish young Santa freely chats up women on the street who eagerly stop to pose for a picture (and unwittingly, an opportunistic grope from the all too insinuating Father Christmas), and bewilder unsuspecting acquaintances as he catches them off guard with his seemingly omniscient personal knowledge. In disguise, Daniel soon finds paradoxical liberation in his newfound anonymity. In its lyrical and ribald treatment of idle (or more appropriately, stunted) youth, it's easy to see the rudiments of the posturing, self-absorbed loafer, Alexandre (also played by Leaud) of Eustache's magnum opus The Mother and the Whore taking shape in this brisk and delightful early collaboration. Ironically, devoid of the political context that pervades The Mother and the Whore, Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes becomes an even more incisive contemporary portrait of an adrift, postwar generation, where the aimless pursuit of the here and now reveals the giddy anxiety of lost identity.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 08, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Jean Eustache Retrospective

April 6, 2008

Les Photos d'Alix, 1978

alix.gifOstensibly an informal guided commentary through personal photographs taken by Alix Cléo Roubaud for a young interviewer (Boris Eustache), Jean Eustache's Les Photos d'Alix ingeniously explores the nature of reality and perspective within the framework of documentary filmmaking. This sense of trompe l'oeil is prefigured in an early double exposed photograph of Alix's husband, novelist Jacques Roubaud taken from a London hotel room, explaining that the duality had been intentionally developed in order to simulate an elongated profile that more appropriately conforms to the traditional notion of a Hollywood style bed, a manipulation of image that is also illustrated in a subsequent photograph of an induced sunset created by selective masking. Eustache's approach to the film similarly expounds on Alix's photographic experimentation, juxtaposing the curious image of a smiling, shirtless man seemingly disembodied below the rib cage against Alix's comical, if askew anecdote on plying a friend with alcoholic beverages in order to look more relaxed as she takes his picture on a couch. In another humorous episode, Alix conveys the fond memories her father through what she describes as the most iconic image of him from her childhood, revealing a shot of a driver's ear and receded hairline taken from the back of a car, his face partially visible only through the reflection of the rearview mirror. Soon, the conversation grows even more puzzling, as the young man apparently fails to recognize himself in a photograph, Alix incongruously points out the admirable physicality of an unknown man who was accidentally captured on film, as a naked, overweight man stands on the side of the frame, and her revelry on the coincidence of having two former romantic interests converging in the same shot is seemingly reduced to the banal image of a pair of worn boots. As Alix's insights into her sources of inspiration and creative process become increasingly dissociated from the images, Eustache illustrates the point of rupture between the visual and aural, where filmed storytelling lies, not in the symmetry of information, but in its chance intersections and disjunctions.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 06, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Jean Eustache Retrospective

Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Delights, 1980

bosch_garden.gifFilmed by Jean Eustache for the television program, Les Enthousiastes, Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Delights presents a series of unstructured observations, free associations, and interpretations on the third panel of Bosch's well-known oil on wood triptych by Eustache's friend, Jean Frapat before a small captive audience. From the onset, Eustache creates a wry and playful ambiguity to Frapat's dry intellectualism and occasionally untenable rumination, juxtaposing Frapat's serious-minded struggle on the genesis of a vignette that shows a pig dressed in a nun's habit (suggesting that an anthropomorphic transformation must have taken place before the captured moment), with the implicit humor of the sacrilegious image itself, then cutting to the shot of a woman with an enigmatic expression who then places her hand against her head, perhaps shifting unconsciously out of boredom or subtly expressing her own skepticism over the guest speaker's tangential discourse. At times, Frapat's observations are insightful, noting the absence of expression at moments of death and humiliation, the attribution of animal and mechanical characteristics to the human form, and the Freudian symbolism implicit in repeated acts of stabbing and piercing that dominate the panel. On other occasions, his drawn conclusions seem too ambitious and insupportable (most notably, in Frapat's suggestion that the third triptych is replete with symbolic depictions of the seven human orifices - the six common to all humans, and the seventh, female - but cannot point out an instance of the seventh when challenged (perhaps, not surprisingly, by the same woman shown shifting her head near the beginning of the film), and instead, cuts the inquiry short by suggesting its vague ubiquity throughout the painting). It is interesting to note that while Frapat moves upward during his commentary from the amorous, habited pig in the lower corner, to the images of men fused with instruments, to the "ear cannon" that suggests the man-made nature of warfare, to the decimating conflagration the dominates the upper panel, Eustache films the panel in the opposite direction, incisively illustrating the cycle, not only of the grotesque dehumanization that comes with eternal damnation and the idea of humanity as self-perpetuating, tarnished mechanisms of abject life and death, but also of the interrogative - and provocative - nature of art itself.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 06, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Jean Eustache Retrospective

April 5, 2008

Le Cochon, 1970

cochon.gifSomething of a germinal template for Raymond Depardon's Profils Paysans films on a dying way of life in rural (and largely forgotten) France, Jean Eustache and Jean-Michel Barjol's reverent, vital, and painstakingly observed ethnographic documentary Le Cochon chronicles a day in the life of peasant farmers in the mountainous region of the Massif Central. In hindsight, the central nature of the pig implied by the film's title introduces the element of subverted expectation that would continue to resurface throughout Eustache's body of work. In Le Cochon, the violence of the establishing sequences that record a communal, fattened pig's anxious capture, instinctive struggle, restraint, slaughter, and exsanguination gives way to the unexpected artisanal skill, attentive care, and graceful ritual of its dressing, butchering, food processing, and cooking. In a lingering, stationary shot, the stark whiteness of the dressed pig framed against a bed of straw - still emanating steam from its residual body temperature and the hot water applied during the cleaning - creates an ethereal image that suggests a metaphysical sublimation. In another sequence, a farmer's methodical recovery of the intestines to be used as sausage casing transforms into a seeming rustic ballet in the synchronous sweeping motion of his arms, initially, to obtain equally apportioned lengths, then subsequently, to displace a quantity of rinse water throughout the length of the casing. Later in the film, the delicate precision and innate craftsmanship of sausage making is reflected in the measured drawing and turning of the casing against the meat grinder. In a sense, by presenting these quotidian rituals without narration or intertitles, and relying solely on the words expressed by the farmers in their regional dialect and colloquialisms, the film, too, becomes a sublimation, rejecting the mediation of external translation towards an instinctual coherence of human toil, creativity, and celebration.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 05, 2008 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2008, Jean Eustache Retrospective