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Raymond Depardon


March 7, 2006

Empty Quarter: A Woman in Africa, 1985

empty_quarter.gifThe untranslated, partial English title of French photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Raymond Depardon's first feature film, Empty Quarter: Une femme en Afrique provides an early clue into the nature of its indirect structure. Serving as a silent, but perceptive, omniscient, and inalterable translator for the unseen filmmaker's retrospection, the camera functions as a voyeur as well as a subjective filter through which he searches the residual aftermath of a failed relationship in the resigned desire to make sense of it. Proceeding in voiceover commentary, the film chronicles the journey of a displaced, globe-trotting filmmaker who offers a spare bed in his hotel room to an aimless, jilted young woman (Fran├žoise Prenant) - a shared accommodation and co-dependency (if not emotional intimacy) that would inevitably lead her to become his constant companion, erstwhile muse, and eventual lover as they travel on an extended road trip from Djibouty to Alexandria. Hiding behind a perpetually recording camera, the unseen filmmaker becomes an existential paradox of presence and absence, directness and evasiveness, estrangement and intimacy, as the young woman begins to fill the empty silence with mundane, passing thoughts, attempting - often in frustration - to communicate with him through the opaque veil of a refracting camera lens (note the recurring images of her silhouette through translucent muslin curtains and mosquito netting). Rather than using the camera as an instrument of direct truth, the object serves as a safe obstruction for the silent filmmaker. But can the camera conceal the implication of his gaze? Perhaps the key lies in his filming of the young woman at a zoological exhibition where her image is captured, not directly, but through her reflections on a series of glass enclosures. Indeed, Depardon's theme of perspective and reflection can be seen in both the temporal and psychological framework for the film, as the cumulative footage of the trip not only serves as a visual chronicle for the failed love affair, but also as a translating mirror for the enigmatic filmmaker's unarticulated desire - where lingering shots of the contours of the young woman's body, her sleeping form, the nape of her neck, and her disembodied legs wading in the water reveal an intrinsic sensuality, melancholic wanderlust, and ache of longing within the intranscendable, empty spaces of the human heart.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 07, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, Raymond Depardon


March 5, 2006

Captive of the Desert, 1990

captive_desert.gifA caravan lackadaisically assembles at the foreground near the site of a desert fortress at dawn, and is spurred into action by the appearance of three figures bisecting the frame as they emerge from the fortress to join the expedition. An extended, medium shot of the cavalcade as they traverse the stationary frame on an undefined journey through the seemingly endless desert reveals the curious sight of a lone, non-native young woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) at the rear of the procession of nomadic tribespeople and camels, as a pair of men dressed in paramilitary gear flank her to prevent escape. A subsequent, sublimely photographed image at dusk taken from an extreme long, axial shot of a crepuscular sun disappearing into the horizon captures the caravan longitudinally traversing the horizon. These establishing images of dislocation, separation, and inevitable transformation provide an understated, yet incisive framework into Raymond Depardon's poetic, elegantly rendered, and thoughtful portrait of alterity and isolation in Captive of Desert. Drawing inspiration from his extensive coverage of the 1974 hostage kidnapping and protracted captivity of French archaeologist Fran├žoise Claustre by Toubou rebels in Chad during the Frolinat Rebellion, Depardon eschews the underlying international politicization, geographic specificity, and social repercussions of the incident to create a broader social exposition on the eternal nature of cultural isolation and assimilation - a sense of timeless division that is established in the introductory sequences of silent migration and decontextualized spaces (note the absence of a specific geographic destination in their tribal migration, only to a series of self-constructed encampments). At the core of the film is the unnamed European woman's paradoxical imprisonment in a land of vast, open - and largely unsecured - spaces, where scarcity of life-sustaining resources and distance from western civilization imposes its own natural and psychological imprisonment. Through recurring aesthetic compositions of intersection, bifurcation, and symmetry, Depardon creates a metaphoric landscape where communion between civilizations is not hindered by ethnography or language, but by the very consciousness of an intranscendable distance of otherness.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 05, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Raymond Depardon