Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Lettre de Sibérie / Letter from Siberia (2013 restoration)

FR 1958. D: Chris Marker. SC: Chris Marker. DP: Sacha Vierny, Chris Marker. M:  Pierre Barbaud. S: Studios Marignan. Reader: Georges Rouquier. P: Anatole Dauman per Argos-Film, Procinex. Premiere: 29 ottobre 1958. 2K DCP. 58'. This screening 61' Col. Da: Argos Films. Cinema Lumière - Sala Scorsese (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), earphone translation into Italian and English, 2 July 2013

Restored by Éclair laboratories from an internegative and L.E. Diapason (for the sound)

Peter von Bagh: "I am writing to you from a faraway country... The most famous of commentaries begins what is perhaps the origin of the species – the modern essay film, defined essentially by the multiplicity of materials (photos, anthropological materials, images of ancient animals as well as Laika and Mishka, engravings, ritualistic performances, even animation, the constant mix of the serious and the joyous, always wondering about the encounter between the very ancient and the modern); respecting the concrete and the imaginary alike (where reality most beautifully reveals itself); with sound track and image in constant dialogue, the visual and the aural intermingling into an art of invisibility."

"The originality of Lettre de Sibérie was best characterized by André Bazin in a contemporary review (written only a few days before his death in 1958): “Lettre de Sibérie is an essay in the form of a cinematographic report about the reality of the Siberian past and present. Or again, adopting Vigo’s description of À propos de Nice (‘a documented point of view’), I would say: an essay documented by the film. The important word, essay, is understood in the same sense as in literature: an essay that is both historical and political, and written by a poet”. And: “The primordial element is the sonorous beauty and it is from there that the mind must leap to the image. The editing is done from ear to eye”. Which should be mentioned as one definition of a new dimension of montage."

"The dimensions of Yakutsk are surely perplexing; its river, called Lena, is five times broader and 50 times longer than the Seine. As the director remarks, the Soviet Union is a country that is always spoken about only in the terms of hell or paradise. This is beautifully observed in the famous repeated image where the same shot of a street corner is interpreted from three angles: the communist (mocking gently “the documentary style of Soviet social realism in which the rule was that all images, like the wife of Stalin, had to be above suspicion. Positive – Positive – Positive until infinity – something which is very strange coming from the country of the dialectic”), its antithesis or capitalist, then the neutral one, or perhaps more accurately the mock-objective."

"Again, Bazin sums it up best: “The single antithesis would already constitute a brilliant find, sufficient to delight the mind, but it would remain facile, like a joke: that’s when the author gives us the third commentary, impartial and meticulous, which objectively describes the unfortunate Mongol as a Yakout afflicted with a squint. And this time we are far beyond jokes and irony, because what Chris Marker just demonstrated implicitly is that objectivity is more false than the two partisa points of view, which is to say that, at least with respect to certain realities, impartiality is an illusion. The operation we have witnessed is therefore precisely dialectical, it consisted of sending three different intellectual beams to the same image and receiving their echo”."

"Lettre de Sibérie is an ennobled version of a travelogue, known as the most pitiful variation of the documentary: facts about a place that at first is simply non-descript gradually and almost mysteriously become the kindest of reflections about the people and the private chambers of their minds, beyond ideology. As the creative life of Chris Marker has ended, we can see that this film has kept its special position as his most famous trip: a voyage to nowhere, or more accurately to the center of the world, the very ordinariness inspires a film of strange beauty and – paradoxically being about a country full of compromises – one of the defining moments of a cinematographic world view that is uncompromising Left." Peter von Bagh

A masterpiece of the essay format. There is a realistic dimension which evokes the Siberian tales by Vasily Shukshin. There is a heroic montage dimension, following Vertov, about the building of giant power plants and bulldozing the earth. There is the travelogue aspect which connects with the Siberian letters of Anton Chekhov, and brings to mind to a Finn the recent Siberian novel of Rosa Liksom. And there are the dimensions of play: animation, songs, poems, dances, including demon dances. We see the people, we see the animals, we see the primordial landscape. We see the modern ways, we see the ancient ways. The final perspective is cosmic: Laika the space dog has just been launched into orbit in a Sputnik.

According to the programme information a DCP was shown, but the visual quality was weak. It looked like a dvd.


danyulengelke said...

Great review!

We're linking to your article for Chris Marker Documentaries Thursday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

Keep up the good work!

LEE Ming Yu said...

Hi, love this article!
I'm just wondering, where does the Bazin quotation
in the fourth paragraph ("The single antithesis
would already constitute a brilliant find,
sufficient to delight the mind,..") come from?
Thank you!


Antti Alanen said...

I quote Peter von Bagh quoting André Bazin in France-Observateur, 30 October, 1958.

LEE Ming Yu said...

Thank you!
Is it an article or a book of Peter von Bagh?

Antti Alanen said...

That blog note was written last year at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, and the Peter von Bagh quote in italics is the presentation from the festival catalogue.