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May 22, 2007

Diary, 1973-1983

pervlov_diary.gifA connecting thread that invariably weaves throughout documentary filmmaker David Perlov's organically unfolding, yet instinctively lucid, pensive, insightful, and intimately observed personal essay film, Diary is the recurrence of unconscious, naturally occurring patterns - at once, symmetric, convergent, and coincidental, but also paradoxically autonomous, singular, and bifurcated - that continue to resurface and permutate within the unexpected thematic trajectories, understated compositions, and evocative juxtapositions that integrally shape the film's sublime and enrapturing stream of consciousness. This sense of intrinsic, yet divergent (and inevitably recombinant) symmetry is foretold in the film's preface, an unattributed, seemingly quoted passage that cites the bureaucratic practice (perhaps in Perlov's native country of Brazil) of placing two X marks above the photographs of illiterate peasants, one to indicate a person's first name and another to denote the surname, that serve as default representations of their pseudo-signatures - visually identical glyphs that conceptually signify two separate names, but that, taken together, ascribe a single, unique (and implicitly marginalized) identity. In a sense, Perlov's epic, decade long chronicle of everyday events and mundane encounters also converges towards as a multivalent singularity that locates his own consciousness - at once intimate and anonymous - within the complex intersection of personal and collective histories, where diurnal life cycles of migration and homecoming, separation and reunion, death and renewal, connection and exile play out against a seemingly unchanged, yet ever transforming cross-cultural, transcontinental landscape.

In fact, the presence of complex, patternistic, bifurcated images pervade even the earliest of Perlov's shot footages from his (then) newly acquired camera in 1973, most notably, in the domestic images from the family's first apartment of his wife, Mira and their teenaged, twin daughters, Naomi and Yael who, despite the commonality of their shared birthday, are shown to assert their own separate identities even in the most banal of morning rituals, an individuality that will inevitably lead to artistic professions in unrelated disciplines (as the film begins, Naomi has recently abandoned her music studies in order to study dance, and subsequently, Yael develops an interest in her father's ongoing project and offers to edit the shot footage from his archived diaries) but that will, nevertheless, propel both daughters, as grown, independent women, to relocate to Paris after the conclusion of their symbolic rite of passage - their compulsory military service - in order to pursue their respective careers (in a subsequent chapter, Yael, now in her twenties, is shown assembling and editing archival footage for Claude Lanzmann's seminal documentary, Shoah, and Naomi is rehearsing choreography with students at a dance studio).

The duality of images is further reinforced in the early shot of an idyllic sunset along the cityscape of Perlov's adopted hometown of Kikar Malchei Yisrael on the seemingly auspicious eve of Yom Kippur - the day of atonement - on what would prove to be the calm before the advent of the Yom Kippur War. Staging his camera at several shot positions in order to find the ideal perspective from which to capture the solemnity of worshippers praying along the Wailing Wall on the fateful morning after the outbreak of war, Perlov's aesthetic preference for the frontality of images becomes a metaphor for his own quest to transform cinema, not as a medium for the illustration of ideas, but for the documentation of "faces" - a theme that is subsequently repeated in the sobering footage of people searching for information on the fates of their missing loved ones by scanning the backgrounds of photographic stills developed from news footage taken by war correspondents. In Perlov's film, the subject is not found in the foreground of the sensationalized pictures of the battlefield, but in the granular periphery of its anonymous, incidental images that reassert the human face into the collective consciousness of the toll of war - a humanization that is, in turn, reflected in the Israeli public's outrage over the subsequent massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila by Christian Phalangists during the War in Lebanon, a tragedy that was indirectly enabled by the military's inaction.

It is interesting to note that in presenting the coincidental intersections between personal experience and contemporary history, Diary transcends the role of cultural testimony and instead becomes a complex autoportrait of Perlov as artist, intellectual, person of conscience. Filming encounters with such notable figures as the inimitable Klaus Kinski on the set of Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt (from the low budget, action film production team of Ken Globus and Menahem Golan) and documentary filmmakers, Joris Ivens and Claude Lanzmann with equal consideration (and affection) as his lifelong friends from Brazil, especially a psychiatrist named Julio and his wife, Fela, a former singer dubbed "the nightingale from Montevideo" who visit the family several times in Tel Aviv during the course of the film (a visit that is invariably accompanied by the gift of records from their native country), and friends from his student days in Paris (including a poignant visit with a bed-ridden, terminally ill friend, Abrasza who reveals his intention to commit suicide when his condition becomes unbearable, and whose final act of despair is subsequently recounted by a witness during one of Perlov's return trips to the city). Perhaps the most indelible of these incidental convergences occurs in Fela's performance of a melancholic Brazilian folk song that implores painters of churches not to leave out the "angelitos negros" from their cathedral illustrations for they, too, are loved by God and reside in Heaven, a curiously worded and distinctive plea for social tolerance and equality that surprisingly resurfaces during Perlov's assignment to film a documentary on the near extinct language of Ladino, a Romance language that is rooted in both Castillian Spanish and Hebrew, where a participant in the documentary plays a soleá on the guitar that echoes the familiar passages and intrinsic sentiment of Angelitos Negros. It is these unexpected, fleeting instances of remarkable, seemingly fated coincidences - these integral, chance moments that reflect an acute awareness for an overarching universal design and interconnectedness - that inevitably captures the indefinable grace and quotidian poetry of Perlov's groundbreaking Diary: a dissolution of the bounds between author and subject, face and idea, where the ritual of filmmaking transforms into the essential ritual of life itself.

Posted by acquarello on May 22, 2007 | | Filed under 2007


May 16, 2007

Le Lit de la vierge, 1969

lit_vierge.gifThere is an understatedly crystalline moment in Le Lit de la vierge (The Virgin's Bed) when the scarlet woman, Marie Magdalène (Zouzou), having encountered the fragile and aimless Jesus (Pierre Clémenti) for the first time, cryptically explains that the men of the village pay for her company through the archaic currency of stones - and along the way, has amassed a collection that seemingly serves no other purpose than to have the potential having things to throw. The allusion to the casting of stones proves particularly incisive, not only within the loose, Biblical allegory of Philippe Garrel's reconfigured tale of a dislocated, modern-day prophet who crosses paths with (and shows compassion towards) an adulterous woman, but also within the contemporaneity of the widespread social unrest that had defined the political and moral climate of May 68 - a turbulent, yet profoundly transformative era when emboldened, young radicals like Garrel who saw film as an integral instrument of protest were galvanized into direct social action, hurling rocks (as well as more incendiary objects) at riot police during the infamous Night of the Barricades (a personal watershed that Garrel would also recreate in Regular Lovers).

Filmed in the smoldered ashes of the failed social revolution as Garrel and a community of young artists from Zanzibar film (a film collective of like minded, radicalized artists financed by heiress Sylvina Boissonnas) abandoned the emblematic barricades of domestic protest and retreated to Africa to transfigure their ideological disappointment into subsumed cultural action through the creation of an intrinsically personal, revolutionary cinema, Le Lit de la vierge is, in a sense, the reconstitution of a fevered, post-traumatic creative manifesto - an impassioned, reflexive apologia composed in the fog of a drug-fueled delirium that not only reflected a not yet resigned sentiment of implicit denial over the failure of the revolution, but also served to reinforce the counter-culture generation's delusive posture as alienated and discarded messianic ideologues who, nevertheless, continue to hold the keys to an ever-receding utopian paradise. In presenting an idiosyncratically distorted embodiment (or perhaps, resurrection) of fringe society through a sensitive, misunderstood, outcast savior plagued by self-doubt and dispirited by a pervasive sense of impotence against the weight of human suffering, Garrel illustrates, not only the profound loneliness and alienation caused by a singularity of vision (a recurring idealized representation of the May 68 generation as well-intentioned holy innocents that seeks kinship not only with the abstracted heroes of Carl Theodor Dreyer's cinema - most notably, The Passion of Joan of Arc and Ordet - but also posits their intrinsic state of immanence, as revealed through their allusive alter-ego's consuming empathy for the oppressed and the marginalized (an altruistic desire for connectedness that is reflected in Jesus' despair over the seemingly anachronistic sight of bohemians being harassed by authorities within the sanctity of their own commune-like cavern dwellings).

But more intriguingly, Garrel's fusion of iconic cultural history and allegorical social commentary also provides the prescient framework for what would become the inevitable mythologization of the events of May 68, where personal memory has been tinted by the idealized nostalgia of unrealized history, and irreparably altered by the intoxicated haze of (trans)formative years lived under the influence - creating an illusive (and delusive) romanticism borne of a need to reconcile a generation's spiritual desolation with a sense of irrecoverable enlightenment that has been obscured (if not extinguished) by its own reclusive, escapist, and self-destructive behavior. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that the seemingly irreverent, Freudian casting of Zouzou in the dual role of the Virgin Mary and Marie Magdalène alludes to a duality of human nature that filmmaker Jean Eustache would subsequently explore in The Mother and the Whore, a film that also chronicles a moral self-destruction in the aftermath of the failed revolution. It is this perverted romanticization of incorruptible idealism and integrality of vision that is inevitably captured in the film's final image of Jesus marching out to sea that, like the indelible image of the wide-eyed innocent child of Le Révélateur, becomes a symbolic act of willful resistance against the raging tide - a gesture, not of benevolent self-sacrifice, but a staged, empty spectacle of quixotic defiance.

Posted by acquarello on May 16, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Philippe Garrel


May 6, 2007

2007 NY Human Rights Watch International Film Festival Schedule

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Just a short note to mention that the 2007 New York Human Rights Watch International Film Festival schedule has been posted at the HRW.org website, along with the film descriptions. The festival runs from June 14-28. On my short list of films to see are:

• The opening night film, Mon Colonel by veteran political filmmaker, Costa-Gavras,

• Marcel Schüpbach's Carla's List on the inner workings of the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague,

• Katy Chevigny's Election Day whose previous collaborative documentary, Deadline was a highlight from HRWIFF 04,

• James Longley's Sari's Mother, the extracted "fourth vignette" from Iraq in Fragments,

• Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes,

• Chema Rodriguez's Railroad All-Stars, whose DVD in Spain I've been eyeing since it was released earlier this year,

• Steven Okazaki's White Light/Black Rain on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Posted by acquarello on May 06, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Quick Notes