Benoît Jacquot: Documentary Films, Part 2

The second series of documentaries presented at the Benoît Jacquot retrospective – Nombres et neurons, Jacques Lacan’s Psychoanalysis Part One, La Mort du jeune aviateur anglais, and Ecrire – may be loosely categorized as films that examine the thought process indigenously from within the idiosyncratic perspective of the creative mind. Within this framework, Jacquot’s unobtrusive, “transparent” approach to filmmaking proves especially suited in capturing the unique and infinitely fascinating personalities of the respective subjects of his films – mathematicians, scientists, psychoanalysts, and writers – allowing them to emerge, not as objects of momentary curiosity, but as impassioned visionaries seeking, in their own irrepressible ways, to reconcile the world around them with the idealized images of their imagination.


Nombres et Neurones, 1990

A filmed conversation between mathematician Alain Connet and neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux on the nature of applied mathematics provides the framework for Benoît Jacquot’s examination into the rapid-fire process of logical thought and philosophical argument in Nombres et Neurones. At the heart of the irresolvable argument is the idea (as articulated by Connet) that applied mathematics is not an abstract concept but rather, a reduction of derived formulas and equations that, when juxtaposed against physical reality, invariably verifies the behavior of (conceptually) tangible, real-life phenomena – in essence, that mathematics self-converges towards only equations and solutions that analytically describe natural phenomena that, in turn, serve to validate its own existence. In order to illustrate this point, Connet cites the anecdote of a man who proposes to guess a mystery word that has been agreed upon by a group simply by asking a series of questions. Selecting the word “cloud” after an unusually extended series of questions, the man discovers that the group had secretly arranged not to preselect a word before the question and answer session and instead, had just agreed on a pattern of answers to the questions. Through the episode, the argument presents that even if a solution is not known beforehand (i.e. not based on “reality”), the analytical process will still invariably converge towards a solution that is based on reality. However, in defining the discipline of applied mathematics as a kind of self-editing mechanism that instinctively discards impossible equations – analytical resolutions not rooted in reality – a converse argument for human interference also becomes valid: that in generating theoretical equations that are not immediately rooted in problems derived from reality, there is also the risk of conforming reality to the limitations of provable theory.


Jacques Lacan’s Psychoanalysis Part One, 1974

In contrast to the exhilarating philosophical arguments presented in Nombres et Neurones, the intriguing concept behind psychoanalyst and theorist Jacques Lacan’s one-man lecture show fails to crystallize into any accessible or illuminating form in the oddly sterile documentary, Jacques Lacan’s Psychoanalysis Part One. Fractured, dry, and monotonic in his manner of speech and constantly looking down to read from his reference notes that he keeps in front of him as if conducting a class lecture (he rarely, if ever, looks into the camera), the quintessentially eccentric Lacan manages to dodge, circumnavigate, or otherwise evade every question presented to him by deploying tangential semantics and unrelated theoretical concepts (then expounding on them) that invariably stray ever further from the nature of the question. Inevitably, what results from Lacan’s murky, long-winded, and fragmented expositions is a kind of maddening, obfuscated, syntactic free association responses to the questions presented that paint a curiously unresolved portrait of the iconoclastic Lacan as seemingly ever teetering between dotty intellectual and charlatan, abstracted genius and raving lunatic.

La Mort du jeune aviateur anglais, 1993

The friendship between Jacquot and novelist and filmmaker Marguerite Duras results in a sublime and palpably intimate organic conversation on the nature of evocation, history, memory, transference, and artistic creation in La Mort du jeune aviateur anglais. A wartime anecdote recounted by Duras – a story that would subsequently serve as the basis for her latest novel Ecrire – provides an appropriately poignant, somber, and thoughtful introduction to the Duras and Jacquot’s incisive and illuminating dialogue: a young English aviator – an orphan – who had been shot down during the war and crash landed in a forest in Trouville was adopted in death by the town and given a proper burial and annual commemoration. The gesture would move Duras profoundly, a story that, as she subsequently muses, perhaps resonates with the trauma of her own brother’s death at a young age, or perhaps with the romantic idea of lost youth. From this seemingly innocuous episode, Duras embarks on a thoughtful meditation on the frailty of the human condition, her meticulously detailed, proposed manner of filming the site of the aviator’s grave (which Jacquot faithfully recreates on film), the ephemeral process of remembering, the isolation of memory, and the happenstance of inspiration.

Écrire, 1993

Serving as an anchoring film of sorts to the equally fascinating and indelible, anecdotal side story of La Mort du jeune aviateur anglais, the double-entendred, titular Écrire of the film is not a contextual reference to Duras’ latest novel, but rather, to the indefinable method – and madness – of writing. Speaking candidly, and often humorously, about her own idiosyncratic rituals and complete immersion into her own personally attuned creative environment for the indeterminate duration of the process, from the necessity of profound isolation (inhabiting a psychological nadir that she illustrates with an amusing anecdote of her one-time obsession with the frenzied trajectory of a dying fly’s final moments in the house during the height of her own self-imposed exile to finish writing the novel), to a kind of arbitrary, alienated resonance with characters from finished works drawn from her own imagination (Duras admits her continued affinity with the Vice Consul’s inconsolable grief in India Song even as she feels disconnected from the equally haunted memories of Anne Marie Stretter and Lola Valérie Stein), to the almost superstitious introversion involved in social conversations that may broach unwritten ideas and undeveloped concepts in order to avoid contaminating the purity of the written word before the moment of its inception on the blank page of a manuscript. But beyond the casual documentation of an artist’s craft, what inevitably elevates the film is Duras’ own thoughtful and enlightened ruminations on an artist’s visceral imperative to create – not as an expurgation of the soul or a validation of ego – but as a morally integral, existential duty to contribute to the collective culture of humanity.

© Acquarello 2006. All rights reserved.