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November 2, 2009

A Lake, 2008

un_lac.gifWith a Russian cast, minimal French dialogue, and geographically ambiguous setting, Philippe Grandrieux's A Lake (Un Lac), like his multilingual preceding film, La Vie nouvelle, expounds on the notion of a borderless cinema - one that not only dismantles the man-made frontiers between nations and cultures, but also the boundaries between image and sound, material and light, logic and instinct. And like the indeterminate chronology of La Vie nouvelle, A Lake also takes place in a hermetic environment that seems equally primordial and post-apocalyptic, where human interaction is reduced to its essence: a knowing glance, a comforting touch, a frenzied exertion, an anguished cry.

In A Lake, the figurative Garden of Eden is a barren, winter forest shrouded in mist where a lumberjack, Alexi (Dmitry Kubasov) lives in a remote cabin near a lake. Prone to increasingly frequent bouts of epilepsy, Alexi's trips to the woods are as much a necessary ritual for survival as it is a rugged communion with nature, often ending up burrowed by convulsions into the snow until the seizure passes and he is able to walk home. There are other members in the household - a blind mother, Liv (Simona Huelsemann), a returning father, Christian (Vitaly Kishchenko), a younger brother, Johannes (Artur Semay) - but they all remain in the periphery, drifting in an out of his searching gaze, and only his sister and soul mate, Hege (Natalie Rehorova) can penetrate his frustration and despair over a body that continues to betray him. It is a lonely, if reassuring and predictable existence until a stranger, Jurgen (Alexei Solonchev) comes into their lives and, like the felled trees in the forest, momentarily, but irreparably, disturbs their fragile paradise.

Loosely reminiscent of Aleksandr Sokurov's Mother and Son in its invocation of Caspar David Friedrich's gothic landscapes to convey a sense of profound isolation, intimacy, and longing, A Lake, nevertheless, remains very much a Grandrieux film, bearing his singular imagery of synaptic, perturbating camerawork, defocused framing, and liminal compositions that transform everyday movements and rhythms into a frisson of textured, abstract impulses that feed the senses. Eschewing the moral ambiguity and transgressive nature of his earlier films, A Lake also represents an aesthetic shift in Grandrieux's cinema towards the idea of nature as integral character: a transition that is implied in Alexi's recitation of a passage about the unity of the soul between man and beast, as well as his lack of dominion over the ephemeral forces of nature. It is this image of humanity receding into the environment that ultimately creates the visceral poetry of A Lake, capturing the body as landscape in all its gestures and paroxysms, contours and spaces, violence and ecstasy.
First posted on AFI Fest Daily News, 10/01/09.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 02, 2009 | | Filed under 2009, Ancillary Film Notes, Philippe Grandrieux


I happened upon a comment of yours on another blog about Grandrieux, written several years ago, and I was wondering whether you have gleaned any more insight into his worldview/approach/intentions from his latest film, whether you think he has shifted course or whether he has perhaps revealed his long-running but perhaps largely obscured worldview/approach/intentions, and whether your perceptions of him had already changed by the point you saw his new film due to continued experience with his point of view outside of his films (or independent contemplation, perhaps). Of course, if digging up the past is something you'd rather not have done to you, I apologize in advance. Here's the comment in question:

'Grandrieux is probably the closest to Dumont in terms of tossing conventional notions of narrative cinema (or at least, the "morality" of having to make sense of it) out the window, so I'm not surprised that they were feeding off each other's comments during the discussion. I wonder if he's been working on anything since La Vie nouvelle. Like Dumont, I don't quite know what to make of him yet, I see things that make me think one way, then he says (or does something) that makes me think another. Humanist? Provocateur?'

Posted by: LEAVES on Nov 13, 2009 6:48 AM | Permalink

I think it's a little of both. I do like that "essentialist" aspect of his work, and I think A Lake has come closest to illustrating that. I think it's his most accessible film so far. As far as approach, I do get the idea that he frames everything like art objects, but specifically, what I'm resisting in his first two films is the characterization of the women, and I don't see that kind of debasement/victimization at all in A Lake. So in that sense, I think he has shifted a bit - objectification doesn't have to mean dehumanization, and you see that distinction here.

I don't know that it's any more insight in the sense that I didn't see something in the film that made me think back to his other films from a different perspective. Rather, I think A Lake hones in on his aesthetic more precisely, and tunes out the noise better. It definitely stands on its own as a kind of "art stream", it's gorgeous.

Interestingly enough, I think Grandrieux has actually gotten closer to what Dumont was trying to do in Twenty-nine Palms about portraying people in the abstract in the same way as the landscape, and I think this was a much more successful integration than, for instance, having Anna Mouglalis barking like a dog in La Vie nouvelle.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Nov 13, 2009 7:45 PM | Permalink

Thank you for the response, and your efforts in general. They are more appreciated than you know, and by more than you know, unless you're an arrogant bastard. My only complaint is that I wasn't aware of the screening on the 2nd, but that's probably something like 'entirely' my fault. C'est la vie. On to La vie nouvelle...

Posted by: LEAVES on Nov 16, 2009 4:42 AM | Permalink

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