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August 23, 2009

Paria, 2000

paria.gifParia opens to a Felliniesque shot of a man suspended between earth and sky: in this case, a vagrant - perhaps under the influence - swinging from pipes along the walls of a subway station tunnel. But rather than a metaphor for the struggle between the body and the soul, the suspended state in Paria is one of social uncertainty - a sense of limbo that is also reflected in the disembodied, back of the head shot of a state worker seemingly floating as he looks out from the windshield of a social services van, cruising the evening streets in search of homeless people to transport to the local shelter. The first installment in what would become Nicolas Klotz and screenwriter Elizabeth Perceval's provocative and impassioned trilogy of modern times (along with La Blessure and La Question humaine) - named in homage to Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, a satire on mass production (and by extension, the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s) - Paria also presents a collective portrait of lives that have been figuratively caught within the cogs of a monolithic, dehumanized system at the turn of the century. One such story is Victor (Cyril Troley), a farmer's son who moved to Paris in search of better job opportunities, only to end up living at a tenement (and makeshift hair salon) eking out an existence as a video store courier. Already behind on his rent, his circumstances become even more precarious when his motorcycle is stolen during a visit with friends. Another story is cocky, silver-tongued Momo (Gérald Thomassin), a homeless young man who spends his idle hours prowling commuter stations. Presented with an opportunity to earn some money by entering into a paper marriage, he begins to insinuate himself into his prospective bride's bemused family.

Proceeding in flashback, the interconnected plight of Momo and Victor (who is first seen struggling with him, resisting attempts to be loaded into the van) seems destined - a fatedness that is revealed in an earlier episode in which Momo steals Victor's shoes after he falls asleep on a train platform, in essence, demonstrating their physical - and socioeconomic - interchangeability. The shot of an African immigrant girl passing Victor in a hallway illustrates another point of intersection among the disenfranchised, alluding to a sense of shared station (note a similar passing encounter in La Question humaine in the interstitial image of immigrants - including Adama Doumbia from La Blessure - being targeted by police for a random identification check). Similarly, Momo and Victor's encounter with an ailing homeless man, Blaise (Didier Berestetsky) on New Year's Eve seems fated, bound by the community of resigned marginalization. Within this context, Victor's search for Annabelle (Morgane Hainaux) in a crowded café and Momo's celebration of his nuptials also represent a paradoxical juncture, converging towards a fleeting glimpse of respite and normalcy, even as they reinforce their increasing distance from them.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 23, 2009 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2009

August 16, 2009

La Vie moderne, 2009

modernlife.gifIn an episode in Richard Copans's autobiographical essay, Racines, an elderly man provides Copans with a tour of his grandparents' house in Picardy, explaining that, like the expression "to put under glass" something that is cherished, he was inspired to convert the modest, turn of the (nineteenth) century home into a museum as a means of capturing the essence of a way of life that no longer exists. In a sense, La Vie moderne, the third chapter in Raymond Depardon's pastoral work in progress Profils paysans, expresses a similar sentiment of admiration and nostalgia. Returning to the farming village of Le Villaret in the mountainous region of Cévennes in the Massif Central, Depardon first visits the remote farm of cattle ranchers, brothers Marcel and Raymond Privat who, both already in their 80s, find the physical demands of their livelihood an increasing challenge, even with the begrudging addition of a family member, Cécile, the new wife of their middle-aged nephew Alain, who left the city life of Calais to live as a farmer after meeting her future husband through a personal ad in the newspaper. Struggling to adjust with unfamiliar household dynamics caused by Cécile and her teenaged daughter, Camille's introduction into what had been a bachelors' home for decades - and perhaps more subtly, their waning authority over family matters as a result of Cécile's influence on Alain - Marcel and Raymond bristle at the idea of a generation gap that has widened since Cécile's arrival, even as they complain of a general lack of deference to elders and the old ways.

Incorporating recurring, seasonal images of long, winding roads that weave the farms together into a collective portrait of isolation and obsolescence - a theme that is insightfully prefigured in the landing shot of Marcel grazing a flock of sheep with his Occitan-trained dog, Mirette - Depardon further juxtaposes images of death that implicitly correlate the fate of these ancestral farms: a visit to the reclusive Paul Argaud who is watching a televised broadcast of Abbé Pierre's funeral; the rapidly declining health of Raymond's prized cow; the news of Marcelle Brès's death, who had been the last inhabitant of the neighboring hamlet of Lhermet. However, the crisis of a disappearing way of life is not only relegated to an aging rural population, as a younger generation of farmers also echo similar tales of hardship and a limited future: Brès's former tenant farmers, Jean-François and Nathalie recount their struggle in the previous year with a virulent parasite that killed several cows, providing not so subtle encouragement to their son to study hard in order to have better opportunities and not follow in their footsteps; Germaine and Marcel Challaye, planning for their retirement, are resigned to selling the family farm after their children expressed a lack of interest in assuming control; Abel Jean and Gilberte Roy have entrusted the farm to their youngest son, Daniel who, in turn, resents being rooted to one place, and prefers the itinerant life of a seasonal worker; a young mother, Amandine Valla, eager to try her hand at farming, cannot afford the added maintenance of raising livestock and is forced to abandon her avocation. Closing with the shot of a sunlit narrow road that now leads away from familiar pastures, Depardon abstains from a direct commentary on cultural extinction and instead, captures the ephemeral moment under his own preservative glass, casting a lingering, reverent gaze over a gradually transforming landscape that is distant and sublime.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 16, 2009 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2009

August 2, 2009

On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time, 1959

passage_few.gifThe panning shot of an anonymous city street establishes the tensile, yet integral relationship between citizen and environment in Guy Debord's dense and minimalist essay On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time, describing the rows of generic apartment buildings as places of refuge from the constant social immersion imposed by the shared spaces of urban living. Like the market-based industries that propel the economy of these interchangeable cityscapes, social progress has also come to be measured by the mechanism of consumption, and by extension, leisure and recreation have also become commodities. In a sense, culture is not only a reflection of the present but an ingraining of the past, and as a consequence, cannot objectively reflect on the problems of the environment - the society - that cultivates it. This symbiotic relationship between culture and civilization is also contained in Debord's comment that one cannot challenge an organization without challenging its medium of exchange - its language. Visually, Debord reinforces this idea of language as currency through repeated use of interstitial blank screens that suggest both the hollowness of the mediated image and its implicated role as an instrument of social whitewashing. Perhaps the most telling of this compromise is the refiguring of the concept of social gathering from a forum of interaction to a marketing tool for selling beverages and reinforcing the notion of public (and often commercial) spaces as venues for exchanging ideas.

However, mediated images are not only relegated to the fiction of commercial advertisement, revealing itself in the realm of non-fiction in the way a filmmaker defines the scope of a documentary, where the subject is strategically (if arbitrarily) bounded into titrated, consummable sub-doses of a larger, unfilmable reality - a correlation that is reinforced through a similar suturing of a white screen with documentary footage of "real life". Within this paradigm, filmmaking - whether fiction or non-fiction - may also be seen as inherently a construction that, like the urban landscape, is created in the image of the society that consumes it, and therefore, is a tainted medium for creating social revolution. Rather than breaking away from the cinèma de papa that a liberation of cinema represents, the liberation of society requires the destruction of cinema itself as an enabling medium of social language, dismantling an apparatus of projected ideals in exchange for the tabula rasa of an amorphous and indefinable social ideal.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 02, 2009 | | Filed under 2009