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November 6, 2006

L'Ange, 1982


Connected by the recurring image of floating, disarticulated staircases, Patrick Bokanowski's equally transfixing, mysterious, and impenetrable magnum opus, L'Ange may be characterized as a synesthetic composition - a series of aesthetically distinctive, self-encapsulated chamber pieces, each revealing quotidian, if fantastic, acts of obsessive compulsion and moribund ritual. Converging towards the hybrid animation of his early short films, La Femme qui se poudre and Déjeuner du matin, Bokanowski's curious, often gothic figurations reveal an abstract logic of thematic suites that similarly reveal his penchant for juxtaposing optical experimentation with traditional fine arts, where rended objects (a doll used as a fencing target in L'Homme au sabre), accidental ruptures (a pitcher falls from the dinner table in L'Homme sans mains), and bursts of activity (a bather splashes animatedly in L'Homme au bain, and a group of identical librarians research, file, and reorganize a sprawling library in Les Bibliothécaires) reflect an overarching, universal law of entropy that, paradoxically, enables creation from the very act of friction, disorder, kinesis, and destruction.

Reflecting the seemingly hermetic nature of the individual vignettes through the characters' isolation (reinforced by the dimmed, directional lighting that suffuses the film), Bokanowski, nevertheless, integrally links each episode to the other through modulated visual semblances and recurring images of graduated steps and staircases that bind the assorted leitmotifs together towards an implied vertical movement. At the core of the film's arrangement is a Dante Alighieri-esque (upended) evolution from darkness to light, a conceptual progression that Bokanowski describes as a physical transition through interrelated spaces during his interview with Scott MacDonald for Critical Cinema 3: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers:

"About the overall structure of The Angel, I can say that it is very traditional. You have a staircase, you go from the cellar to the attic. Scenes start falling into place during the dark, shapeless, not very precise starting phase; and then the more the film progresses, the more precise things become, and at the end, it reveals extremely luminous areas.

In one of the earliest stages, when I was doing the scenario, I thought that when one comes to the far top of this gigantic house, to an attic room, a last character would appear, some kind of a giant with barely discernible wings, some kind of angelic figure. He would lift the arm of the phonograph, the music would stop, and one would see all the film's scenes in still frames. Very quickly, I disliked the character. He was impossible to film! So, I did not keep this sequence, but that character did give the film its title."

It is interesting to note that despite Bokanowski's strategy to reject the inclusion of a unifying, iconic, titular image, the idea of an underlying celestial entity continues to pervade the film's visual composition through the application of point source lighting, the aforementioned luminosity, that, through light's integral optical properties of diffusion and diffraction, results in the formation of recursive, concentric rays that project a sunburst or halo effect throughout the film - at times, exaggerated and grotesque (as in the expressionistic, elongated, web-like abstract forms of the opening sequence), warm and pastoral (as in the image of a Flemish painting-styled milkmaid serving "the man without hands"), and saturated and disorienting (as in the frenetic, decontextualized, rapidly edited montage of the seemingly subterranean activities (or perhaps imprisonment) of La Femme qui coud).

Particularly illustrative of Bokanowski's aesthetic is the malleability and relativity of dimensional space: blocky, rough hewn lines that resemble woodcut prints are unsuspectingly animated by the initiation of transversal motion (in the sequence of a turbaned operator of a sextant-like instrument facing a seated, veiled figure), extreme long shots blur the delineation between live action and animation sequences (in the interstitial sequence of the liberated librarians encountering a woman in a boxed enclosure), and painterly images transformed into virtual tableaux vivants (in the Vermeer-inspired, L'Homme sans mains). Subverting the flatness of images in order to continually challenge the viewer's spatial and cognitive perception, L'Ange not only illustrates the intrinsic hybridity of film as a static and dynamic medium, but also reinforces the ambiguity and inconcreteness implicit in the aesthetic presentation of the very images themselves, where chaos transforms into order, frailty into perfection, and quotidian into grace.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 06, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Patrick Bokanowski