Monday, July 28, 2014

Gunki hatameku motoni / Under the Flag of the Rising Sun

軍旗はためく下に / [Sous les drapeaux, l'enfer]. Japon - 1973 - 96’ - D: Kinji Fukasaku. Copie 35 mm, National Film Center, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.
Tetsuro Tamba / sgt. Katsuo Tomikashi
Sachiko Hidari / Sakie Tomikashi, the widow
Yumiko Fujita / Tomoko
Noboru Mitani / pvt. Tsuguo Terajima
Paul Maki / Paul
Kanemon Nakamura / Tesinjara
Shinjiro Ehara / Ochi
Isao Natsuyagi / Teacher
Koichi Yamamoto / Actor
    In scope. In colour (the present) and black and white (the past).
    Viewed with e-subtitles in French at La Cinémathèque française (Bercy, Salle Georges Franju), 28 July 2014
Synopsis: "La veuve d'un sous-officier condamné par une cour martiale et fusillé au lendemain de la capitulation s'élève contre le refus des autorités de lui verser une pension. Elle mène sa propre enquête auprès des anciens compagnons d'arme de son mari et finit par apprendre l'effroyable vérité."

A remarkable war film structured as an investigation of a widow, Sakie Tomikashi (Sachiro Hidari), 26 years after the end of WWII. Her husband Katsuo has been executed on the front right after the war. There is no official record, and she embarks on a journey to interview the front comrades to find out what happened. She is not getting any war widow's pension, but it is not mainly about that.

Kinji Fukasaku's film follows the Citizen Kane / Rashomon structure, and it brings to mind also The Man of Marble (made a few years later), but the subject is diametrically opposite: this is the story of the truly unknown soldier, the one on whom records have vanished.

It's not a nice story. Little by little pieces of the puzzle emerge. In New Guinea there were no provisions left. Soldiers were starving to death. Sweet potatoes were stolen. Even cannibalism was not unthinkable. Men were getting insane. Even the lieutenant went berserk, forcing sick men to hard labour, beating them to pulp, committing the crime of having an American prisoner-of-war brutally executed, and ordering his men to a general attack after the declaration of peace.

Each of the four witnesses tells a different story, but nobody remembers for sure at first. There is a story of a hero at the battlefield, the story of a potato thief, the story of a cannibal, and the story of a sergeant who killed his lieutenant. Each story reveals a new aspect of the war. Even the officers' viewpoint is included: punishment was necessary to maintain order. And that order made post-war Japan the second greatest industrial power.

To be sure, Katsuo had broken the law, but so had everyone else, and most blatantly and repeatedly his immediate superior, the lieutenant.

In his film Kinji Fukasaku casts a multi-angled view on war, but the flashback structure offers also a series of reflections on modern society. Official patriotic flag ceremonies are seen in the opening and in the ending. War criminals have been rehibilitated and paths have been opened to them even to the top position of the prime minister.

Many soldiers have never recovered. "My true life ended with the war", states Corporal Akiba. Sergeant Ochi has become an alcoholic who has lost his eyesight by bad sake; he is also a brutal wife-beater and rapist; in the last glimpse of him he is taken in his coffin to the funeral. "Everybody died the same death", he had said to Sakie. "We all perished on the front". One of the front mates is now an actor, reenacting the madness of war night after night. Another has married the daughter of a farmer and never looked back. Yet another hailed from Hiroshima; his entire family perished in the nuclear holocaust. But "the country had wanted war".

The most striking fate is that of Tsuguo Terajima. Of Katsuo's platoon he is the single survivor. Too weak to move, he had remained in the camp where the mad lieutenant had been slaughtered and buried; only an arm remained. That he ate, and strengthened, he followed the others and told what happened, undermining their official story that the lieutenant had committed suicide having heard of Japan's defeat. All the four others were executed. Only Tsuguo survived. Unable ever again to settle with ordinary life, he lives isolated in a junkyard, literally in a pigsty, for ever in no-man's-land.

Fukasaku juxtaposes war hell with images of modern Japan: skyscrapers, lay figures, and traffic jams.

Among the memorable images is the final handful of rice requested by Katsuo before the execution.

Fukasaku's cinematic means include - newsreel footage - photo montages - information bulletins - statistics - factual captions - - - and zooms - handheld camera - extreme high angle shots - close-ups - freeze frames - tilted angles - slow motion - splatter.

The style is not elegant, but there is a sense of anger and urgency. There are affinities with Oshima and Fuller (Verboten!).

There is a sense of complexity in Sakie's journey to discover the truth, and in the dramaturgy of the irreconcilable differences between the views of the witnesses.

Gunki hatameku motoni belongs to the war films that matter because it conveys Fukasaku's first hand war experience in a unique and unforgettable fashion. Like in Leo Tolstoy's Sevastopol Tales, there is only one hero in this story: the truth.

Gunki hatameku motoni is an anti-war film which is also profoundly an anti-authoritarian film.

Thanks to Sachiro Hidari's deeply felt performance the woman's perspective becomes central in a way that is rare in war stories.

I enjoyed the photochemical quality of the print that seems to convey the original and authentic visual sense. It is a used print, maybe even a vintage one, and I don't mind some scratches in a print radiating such good basic health as this. The scratches are its well-earned war scars.

Le Musée imaginaire d'Henri Langlois (exhibition)

Centenaire Henri Langlois 2014 - L'exposition - Le Musée imaginaire d'Henri Langlois - du 9 avril au 3 août 2014 - Commissariat : Dominique Païni - La Cinémathèque française, 51 rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris
    Visited on 28 July 2014

Official introduction: "La Cinémathèque française rend hommage à son génial fondateur Henri Langlois, personnage savant, pittoresque, qui lança le cinéma à la conquête des arts et le fit passer du statut de divertissement à celui de 7ème art. L'occasion de découvrir cet homme qui a fait dialoguer les plus grands artistes du XXe siècle : Charlot, Marilyn, Warhol, Truffaut, Matisse, Hitchcock, Picasso, Marlène Dietrich, Miró, Disney, Chagall, Man Ray..." (official introduction, more beyond the jump break).

"Une incroyable histoire d'amour du cinéma en 7 étapes!" - 1: Pour saluer Henri Langlois - 2: Le montreur d'ombres - 3: L'enfance de l'Art - 4: Le foyer des Artistes - 5: L'Expérimentation - 6: L'architecture utopique du Musée du Cinéma - 7: Les dessins de Langlois (the structure of the exhibition)

The Henri Langlois story has been told many times before in excellent books and films, but there is always a lot to discover, also in this marvellous exhibition.

For me the most exhilarating part was the "exhibition within the exhibition" of great contemporary artists, friends of Langlois, in sections 4 and 5.
    The giant reconstruction of the Gino Severini painting La danse du pan-pan au "Monico" which used to hang at Palais de Chaillot.
    Henri Matisse's Jazz cycle of colour paper cuts, the creation of which was documented by Langlois in a film project.
    Original poster and logo art for the Cinémathèque by Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, and Victor Vasarely.
    And more: Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Alexander Calder.
    Original art for the experimental films of Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter, Paul Sharits. An early abstract film by Léopold Survage (Rythme coloré, 1913, a reconstruction?).
    The torch was being transferred to young artists such as Kenneth Anger and Philippe Garrel.
    Never forgetting Jean Cocteau.
    Nor the art-relevant and experimental film projects co-directed by Langlois himself, most importantly, Le Métro.

Langlois was many things, and in all of them always a historian of the cinema, and simultaneously a historian of art. He had a strong sense of the place of the cinema in the world history of art, and based on that sense, a passionate affinity for artists working in other fields, most importantly in visual arts. This exhibition helps clarify Langlois's vision of the cinema as a plastic art.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

La Chambre bleue / The Blue Room

Mathieu Amalric and Stéphanie Cleau as the secret lovers
FR 2014. Paulo Branco presents / A film by Mathieu Amalric / From the novel by Georges Simenon.
    Photography: Christophe Beaucarne. Sound: Olivier Mauvezin, Séverin Favriau and Stéphane Thiébaut. Editing: François Gedigier. Screenplay: Stéphanie Cléau et Mathieu Amalric. Music : Grégoire Hetzel. Set Designer: Christophe Offret. Associate producer: Dorothée Guiraud. Producteur associé : John Simenon. Produced by Paulo Branco.
    A co-production: - Alfama Films Production, Film(S), ARTE France Cinéma, With the participation of the Centre Nationadu Cinéma et de L’image Animée, CANAL+, CINE+, ARTE France. In association with Cofinova 10. With the support of the La Région des Pays de la Loire. This film was made in collaboration with Georges Simenon Limited. International sales Alfama Films.
    Cast: Léa Drucker : Delphine Gahyde
Mathieu Amalric : Julien Gahyde
Stéphanie Cléau : Esther Despierre
Laurent Poitrenaux : The examining magistrate
Serge Bozon : The captain of gendarmerie
Blutch : The psychologist
    Technical specifications: - Duration: 76 minutes - Support: DCP - Format: 1.33 - Sound: 5.1 - Visa: 136.519 - Released on the 16th Mai, 2014
    Based on the novel by Georges Simenon (1964). It has not been published in Finnish.
    Final music: J. S. Bach: Chaconne from Partita II d-Moll, BWV 1004, piano transcription played by Itamar Golan.
    Sony 4K digital presentation at Cinéma Studio 28 (Paris 18), 22 July 2014.

– “Seriously, Julien, if I were suddenly free, could you free yourself too?”
– “Say again?”
A man and a woman, secretly in love, alone in a room. They desire each other, want each other, and even bite each other. In the afterglow, they share a few sweet nothings.
At least the man seemed to believe they were nothing.
Now under investigation by the police and the courts, Julien fails to find the words.
“Life is different when one lives it and peels it off afterwards”.
What happened? What is he accused of?

A story of destructive passion, love drive turning into death drive.

They are both married. In the final trial, both are widows.

It's very well acted. This is a performance driven movie, most shatteringly by Mathieu Amalric, his wife Stéphanie Cleau (not a professional actress, instead a scenarist), and Léa Drucker.

It has been very sensually shot. There are the four seasons. There are the passionate love scenes, essential for the story, because this is a story of sex being a good servant and a terrible master. Sex scenes rarely succeed, but La Chambre bleue is an exception.

This is a crime film, a story of a double murder investigation, but there is something missing in the storytelling, and I felt that the broken narrative with the four different chronological levels was an attempt to cover the deficiency.

There is no love. There is no warmth at home, and the wife feels icy, glacial. With the mistress there is fire, a burning passion, but no love, either.

This is a story of a man who has lost himself, his life, between a cold wife and a murderous mistress. He has been going through the motions like a somnambulist. He wakes up when it is too late. The moment of insight, the moment of revelation, the moment of self-revelation comes in the last sequence of the movie.

The final music selection, Itamar Golan's piano interpretation of Bach's famous chaconne, stays in memory. Here it becomes a theme of terrifying self-awareness.

Sensuality has been difficult to convey in digital, but in this presentation it is quite successful.

Musée de Montmartre et Jardins Renoir: Picasso à Montmartre (temporary exhibition)

Picasso à Montmartre: The Comic Book "Pablo" by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie. 28 March - 31 August, 2014. A temporary exhibition at Musée de Montmartre, 12, rue Cortot, 75018 Paris, Tél: + 33 (0)1 49 25 89 39,
    Of the permanent exhibition I blogged in December 2013:

Official intro: "Quand Picasso avait vingt ans : tel est le sujet de la formidable bande dessinée écrite par Julie Birmant et dessinée par Clément Oubrerie, que publient les éditions Dargaud depuis janvier 2012. À l’occasion de la parution du quatrième et dernier tome de la série, le Musée de Montmartre présente des dessins originaux et des sculptures de Clément Oubrerie, intégrés dans les salles du Musée et complétés d’œuvres et de documents (photographies, dessins, livres….) provenant des collections permanentes."

"Se recrée, dans la BD comme dans l’exposition, le Montmartre des années 1900 : celui de Pablo Picasso et de Fernande Olivier, les deux héros romantiques de cette histoire ; celui des poètes, de Max Jacob à Guillaume Apollinaire ; celui des lieux de fête et de création, du Cirque Medrano au Bateau-Lavoir.

Julie Birmant wrote the text and Clément Oubrerie drew the comic strip on young Pablo Picasso living Bohemian life at Montmartre with the model and artist Fernande Olivier. Their affair lasted from 1904 until 1912. Birmant had gotten her inspiration from the memoirs of Fernande Olivier, herself, called Picasso et ses amis (1930 / 1933, complete edition in 1988).

During these years, Picasso embarked on Cubism, painted Demoiselles d'Avignon (with Fernande as one of the models), and met friends including Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas. This bande dessinée exhibition is a popular extension of the Picasso phenomenon, and there are interesting extras in the exhibition such as authentic voice documentation of Fernande Olivier. The drawings offer an interesting reconstruction of the surrounding Montmartre a hundred years ago.

Two black cats - one of them an official museum cat and another a wild guest - still guard the premises. The Renoir garden is now in full bloom, as is the nearby vineyard which one can observe from the bottom part of the garden.

Musée de la vie romantique

Salon de George Sand
Musée de la vie romantique. Hôtel Schefer-Renan. 16, rue Chaptal (Paris 9). Visited on 22 July 2014.

Plan: Rez-de-chaussée: - 1. L'antichambre. - 2. Le cabinet des bijoux. - 3. Le salon George Sand. - 4. Le peit salon bleu. - 1er étage: - 5. La chambre des portraits romantiques. - 6. Le salon des Orléans. - 7. Le cabinet Ary Schefer. - 8. La chambre Renan.

Off the most beaten track, a charming look into the cultural ambience around Ary Scheffer, George Sand, Frédérick Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, Gioachino Rossini, Franz Liszt, Pauline Viardot, La Malibran, Rachel, Sarah Bernhardt, Ernest Renan... Perhaps no immortal masterpieces here, but a unique, personal, intimate, and beautiful atmosphere. We are taken to the world of some of the greatest artists of all time.

The tea garden is an oasis not far from the bustle of touristic Montmartre.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gett / Le Procès de Viviane Amsalem

    FR/IL 2014. PC: Elzévir & Cie. Distr: Les Films du Losange. P: Sandrine Brauer, Marie Masmonteil, Denis Carot, Michael Eckelt, Shlomi Elkabetz.
    D+SC: Shlomi Elkabetz, Ronit Elkabetz. DP: Jeanne Lapoirie.
    C: Ronit Elkabetz (Viviane Amsalem), Simon Abkarian (Elisha Amsalem), Menashe Noy (Carmel), Sasson Gabai.
    In Hebrew.
    115 min
    Date de sortie: 25.6.2014.
    Sony 4K digital projection, avec sous-titres français, at Cinéma Studio 28 (Paris 18), 21 July 2014

"En Israël, Elisha refuse à sa femme Viviane le divorce (guett) qu'elle demande depuis plus de trois ans. Dans ce pays, seuls les rabbins peuvent prononcer ou dissoudre un mariage. Au final, le mari est au-dessus des juges. Viviane montre une grande détermination afin de lutter pour sa liberté."

AA: For a moment I was thinking about Asghar Farhadi's masterpiece A Separation / Jodaeiye Nader az Simin because of the divorce trial impasse situation including two apparently reasonable grown-ups.

But Le Procès de Viviane Amsalem - the top-ranking film on the list of the city journal Pariscope – is completely original. Its theme reportedly grows from the same world of inspiration as two previous films of the brother and sister team Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz.

They are Israeli film-makers – directors and screenwriters – from a family of Moroccan background. Ronit Elkabetz is also an actress, carrying the leading role of Viviane Amsalem here. I have seen no Elkabetz films before but am now looking forward to see the first and second films of their trilogy, all reportedly based on the fate of their own mother.

According to the rabbis marriage is holy. Elisha and Viviane agree that they are not made for each other and cannot be happy together. But in this Elisha sees God's punishment which must be obeyed.

From this paradoxal situation the Elkabetzes develop a thrilling and touching story with various broad implications: – Solomon's judgement – the teachings of Rambam / Maimonides – religious orthodoxy in the modern world – "Russian immigration has killed us".

This film is stark, concentrated, focused, and reduced to the trial only. It is also very intense and suspenseful. The visual syntax is simple and powerful with full shots and medium shots, many close-ups and also extreme close-ups.

No problem with digital in a story shot entirely in interiors and based largely on close-ups. The visual quality of the presentation was excellent.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Les Misérables I–III (1934) (2012 Pathé restoration)

Raymond Bernard: Les Misérables IIII (1934) based on the novel by Victor Hugo, starring Harry Baur (Jean Valjean) and Charles Vanel (Inspecteur Javert).

Kurjat / Samhällets olycksbarn.
    FR 1934. PC: Pathé-Natan. Dist: Pathé Consortium Cinéma. P: Émile Natan.
    D: Raymond Bernard. Ass. D: Lucien Grunberg. SC: Raymond Bernard, André Lang based on the novel (1865) by Victor Hugo dialogues: André Lang. DP: Jules Krüger cameraman: Paul Portier assistant opérateurs: Jean Bourgoin, Pierre Bachelet. AD: Jean Perrier ass. déc: Lucien Carré. Cost: Paul Colin. Makeup: Vladimir Tourjansky. M: Arthur Honegger. M dir: Maurice Jaubert. S: Antoine Archimbaud, Robert Sauvion RCA. ED: Charlotte Guilbert.
    C: Harry Baur (Jean Valjean / Champmathieu / M. Madeleine / Fauchelevent), Charles Vanel (Javert), Florelle (Fantine), Thénardier (Charles Dullin), Marguerite Moreno (La Thénardier), Henry Krauss (Mgr Myriel), Gaby Triquet (Cosette, enfant), Josseline Gaël (Cosette, jeune fille), Orane Demazis (Éponine), Max Dearly (Gillenormand), Jean Servais (Marius), Émile Genevois (Gavroche).
    Tournage: 8.12.1933 September 1933. Studio: Pathé-Joinville. Extérieurs: Côte d'Azur (Biot-Antibes). Première de gala: 3.2.1934. Original release in three parts.
    Helsinki premiere: 8.9.1935 Kino-Palatsi, released by Suomi-Filmi in two parts: I: Jean Valjean (95 min) and II: Cosette (106 min).
    Complete version restored by Pathé in 4K in 2012.
    Premier film: Une tempête sous un crâne [A Storm under the Skull] (111 min).
    Deuxième film: Les Thénardier (82 min).
    Troisième film: Liberté, liberté chérie (84 min)
    4-dvd box set with a 52-page booklet and a bonus disc with supplements. Introduction and sleeve notes by Lenny Borger. Subtitles in French and English. France: Pathé, 2012.
    Viewed with French subtitles on a laptop at home (43 bis, Rue de Cloÿs, 18e arrondissement, Northside Montmartre, Paris), 20 July 2014.

Profoundly impressed by Les Croix de bois, my highlight of this year's Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, we discussed it in extenso with Lenny Borger who let me read his original article on the movie in Cinématographe, no. 91, July 1983, still valid and to the point. While we were enthusing over the director Raymond Bernard, Lenny gave me a dvd copy of the restored full-length Les Misérables, Bernard's adaptation which he directed soon after Les Croix de bois.

During the silent years Bernard had shown his talent in the fields of history and legend (Le Miracle des loups, Le Joueur d'échecs).

Les Croix de bois was a turn to hard realism, always with a sense of the spirit of history.

Such a spirit is also a driving force in Bernard's version of Les Misérables. There is a sense of a great pleasure in telling again the grand story well-known to the majority of the audience. The delights come from the interpretations of the actors and the new choices of settings and locations. For the first time on screen one could hear the famous dialogue in French.

Miraculously, Les Misérables was filmed three times in multi-part in extenso versions in the early decades of the 20th century in France, and always well. Albert Capellani's version (1912), in four parts, starring Henry Krauss, was stark and moving in the tableau style of early cinema. Henri Fescourt's interpretation (1925), also in four parts, starred Gabriel Gabrio, excelled in a fascinating feeling for the milieux; they still managed to find authentic locations which looked like they did a hundred years ago.

Bernard's task was to transfer the story to the more realistic medium of sound film. The characters are still heavily stylized, but the actors bring a lot of nuance to their performances. Bernard managed to find a good balance between a sense of history and a sense of myth. His approach is affectionate to the fairy-tale and mythical dimension of the grand tale.

Harry Baur incarnates the via dolorosa of the hulking Jean Valjean with conviction. Charles Vanel is perfect as Javert, a disciple of Fouché, finally self-destructing by his merciless duty principle. It is a beautiful touch to cast Henry Krauss, Capellani's Valjean, now as Monseigneur Myriel. We believe in him when he saves Valjean's soul by giving him his chandeliers. As we believe in Valjean when he saves Javert's life, displaying a grandeur of spirit unfathomable to the policeman, and shattering him to the core. A further beautiful and meaningful intertextual touch is that Gabriel Gabrio, Fescourt's Valjean, co-starred in Les Croix de bois. The Valjean incarnators acquire varying functions as emblems of the suffering and fighting France.

In female roles, Josseline Gaël is fine as Cosette, and Florelle even better as her mother Fantine, but the most memorable performance is that of Orane Demazis as Éponine, always neglected, but viewed with great compassion by Bernard.

Memorable also: Émile Genevois as Gavroche. There is special gripping touch in the revolutionary sequences.

Thanks to this dvd set I saw this version of Les Misérables in its full length for the first time. The reconstruction may be even slightly longer than the original three-part release version. My impression is that there is little difference storywise, but scenes are longer, and there is much more detail and nuance in the performances. There is a more leisurely breath in this version.

Modernités plurielles 1905-1970 (a new exhibition from the permanent collection of modern art of Centre Pompidou)

Tamara de Lempicka: Jeune fille en vert (1927 - 1930). Huile sur contreplaqué. 61,5 x 45,5 cm © Service de la documentation photographique du MNAM - Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI (diffusion RMN) © Tamara Art Heritage / Adagp, Paris

Plural Modernities from 1905 to 1970. Musée national d'art moderne / Collections permanentes / Art moderne. A new exhibition from the permanent collection: 23 October 2013 - 26 January 2015, Musée - Niveau 5 - Centre Pompidou, Paris. Visited on Sunday, 20 July 2014

The exhibition catalogue: Modernités plurielles 1905-1970. Sous la direction de Catherine Grenier. Paris: Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, 2013. 256 large format pages

Among the riches of Centre Pompidou it is easy to lose from sight the magnificent new (opened on 23 October 2013) basic exhibition from the permanent collection. 

This exhibition alone is worth a visit to Paris.

Catherine Grenier: ""Modernités plurielles" is a manifesto-exhibition, offering a fresh, expanded vision of modern art. Drawing on its rich collection, the Centre Pompidou is now presenting a global history of art from 1905 to 1970 for the first time. Through a circuit of over 1,000 works representing 400 artists and 47 countries, this enriched interpretation of the history of art is a deep immersion in the remarkable diversity of artistic forms." (See the entire text in the previous post.)

There is an overwhelming sense of the unfamiliar in the familiar. Contexts are new, and crucial approaches, styles, and artistic signatures are largely represented by less familiar selections of artworks, including some 200 works which have never been displayed publicly before. Plus there is the widening of the perspective to a much more truly global perspective, including Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This is curatorship of the highest order: making us see in a new light many things we thought we knew already.

Film-related: all.

This is the "Film Age", as Arnold Hauser called it. All the artistic trends covered are also deeply film-relevant. And early on - including cubism - they were also film-inspired as the superimposition, the dissolve, and the montage principles - linear parallel montage but also disparate worlds being juxtaposed in montage - were becoming keys to the modern experience.

I like the film selections of Eugène Deslaw (La Marche des machines), Paul Strand (Manhatta), Joris Ivens (De Brug and Philips Radio), Josephine Baker (The Plantation), Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (Grossstadt-Zigeuner), and the Themersons (Calling Mr. Smith). There is also the beautiful animation revelation of Henry Valensi's unreleased ciné-painture Symphonie printanière. Bruce Nauman's movie brings us closer to our time.

A film-maker is also represented as a photographer: Abbas Kiarostami. It's a delight to notice that Modigliani is represented by a portrait of Gaston Modot, whose incredible film career started in 1909 in the lunatic Les Pouittes farce team filming for Gaumont, continuing until the 1960s, Modot having starred in films by Buñuel and Renoir in between. 

There are many unusual and unique features in this exhibition. Entire rooms are dedicated to collections (Leiris collection, L'Atelier Kandinsky). Rooms dedicated to schools such as Der Blaue Reiter also display a lot of "secondary" material which in a montage like this is rich and meaningful.

Of course there are the global views such as the Brazilian anthropophagic manifesto, Afrique moderne, and Constructing an Indian city.

Most I like in this exhibition the general concept, much bigger than the sum of its parts. Of the parts I I liked especially: - the masterpieces collected on the long corridor which extends from the introduction to the kinetic display on the other end of the space (stimulatingly essential, but the selections are not the most usual ones) - the Matisse room - Der Blaue Reiter room - the Rufino Tamayo selections.

On display is also the reconstruction (1979) of Vladimir Tatlin's Maquette du Monument à la Troisième Internationale (originally created in 1919-1920), inspired by the 1960s Pontus Hultén reconstruction for Moderna Muséet in Stockholm. This reconstruction was created for Centre Pompidou's Paris-Moscou exhibition (1979-1980), the first exhibition I saw in Centre Pompidou during my first trip to Paris in October 1979. Centre Pompidou itself was not old then, and it was quite controversial, as it perhaps still is for some.

Bouleversant. An exhibition like this is a great synthesis and also a great occasion of questioning everything.

The history of modern art has been justifiedly Paris-centric, and with equally strong justification Paris is also a center of renewed global questioning.

As a Finn, aware of the great legacy of Finnish modern art, I saw none of it displayed here, but it would be provincial to complain. Certainly there are dozens of other cultures missing, as the curators of this splendid exhibition know better than anyone.

A unique feature of the exhibition is the prominence given to art journals and magazines - there may be hundreds of them on display. This exhibition is thus also a tribute and celebration of art journalism. (Finnish art journals, again missing here, have also been au courant, as I realize examining this magnificent and fascinating selection.)
Amedeo Modigliani: Gaston Modot (1918). Huile sur toile marouflé sur bois. 92,7 x 53,6 cm. Dation Alex Maguy-Glass, 2002. © Georges Meguerditchian - Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI (diffusion RMN) © domaine public

Catherine Grenier: Modernités plurielles de 1905 à 1970 (Centre Pompidou introduction)

Plural Modernities from 1905 to 1970. Musée national d'art moderne / Collections permanentes / Art moderne. A new exhibition from the permanent collection: 23 October 2013 - 26 January 2015, Musée - Niveau 5 - Centre Pompidou, Paris. Visited on Sunday, 20 July 2014

By Catherine Grenier

"Modernités plurielles" is a manifesto-exhibition, offering a fresh, expanded vision of modern art. Drawing on its rich collection, the Centre Pompidou is now presenting a global history of art from 1905 to 1970 for the first time. Through a circuit of over 1,000 works representing 400 artists and 47 countries, this enriched interpretation of the history of art is a deep immersion in the remarkable diversity of artistic forms.

Open to different countries in the world and a wide variety of aesthetics, "Modernités plurielles" illustrates the complex, dynamic relationships between modernity, identity, universality and vernacular culture running through the entire history of modern art. This contextual exhibition re-situates the masters of the avant-garde within networks of artistic exchange and emulation typical of this period, one full of questions and abundant invention. It embraces all disciplines, showing cross-fertilisation and confluences between the different arts (including the plastic arts, photography, film, architecture and design), together with the interaction of modern art with traditional practices and non-artistic expression. Throwing the focus off-centre to encompass peripheral or little-known territories and practices, it offers a large number of discoveries and establishes new narratives. The main movements are revisited, together with more diffuse aesthetic clusters. For example, the two outstanding landmarks of cosmopolitan artistic life in the capital, the First and Second Paris Schools (before and after the war), are reconsidered in all their diversity. The exhibition is attentive to the different experiences of artists in Western and non-Western countries, and highlights a shared history while proposing a range of essential historical reference points. In this respect, a new approach has been adopted, with highly varied documentation consisting of art reviews from all over the world provided beside the works.

Adopting a historical perspective, the exhibition follows a chronological order. But it also bears witness to open and discontinuous temporalities generated by exchanges and artists' processes of reaction to avant-garde ideas. By confronting the canonical, linear viewpoint of movements with a history of marginal and peripheral approaches, it replaces a history of influences with a map of connections, transfers – and resistance movements too. Different sections in the rooms, staged as mini-exhibitions, trace the international fortunes of certain modernist impulses (Expressionism, Futurism, Constructivism, etc.) while presenting local movements that arose in connection with these impulses, or in reaction to them. With the Fifties to Seventies period, the exhibition casts light on themes common to many areas (Totemism, Outsider art) and global constellations that developed around certain aesthetic currents – constructed and informal Abstraction, Kinetic art, Conceptual art – which continued into the Seventies. Above and beyond the international expansion that characterises the exhibition, it also provides a wider overview of aesthetic creative forms. Thus the spotlight is on aesthetics hitherto little represented or not given their full due. A large section is notably devoted to the different sorts of realism that appeared between the Twenties and Forties, notably in Latin American countries. The "Magic Realism" movement and its international echoes are shown alongside international Surrealism, whose presentation is associated with the unifying figure of André Breton. In another register, several iconic Naif art and Outsider art works will be found along the circuit. Lastly, artists' interest in non-Western arts, the popular arts, modern life and the applied arts is revived in several sections that illustrate this broader view so characteristic of the modern period. Thus, for example, the room devoted to "expressionisms" brings a wide range of artists together (Macke, Kirchner and Nolde; also Picasso, Matisse and Delaunay) and varied forms of art, called up by the Almanach of the Blaue Reiter, compiled by Vassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. The section dedicated to the Michel Leiris donation reunites – for the first time – the Western art works in this collection with the non-Western works allocated to the Musée du Quai Branly when this prestigious donation was made. The French art scene, attracting artists from all over the world, either to study or in exile, was particularly cosmopolitan up to the Second World War.

The Fifties, Sixties and Seventies likewise experienced an influx of artists from various parts of the world. The Centre Pompidou collection reflects this history, with a large number of works from art scenes now being rediscovered. In the modern and post-Second World War periods, this is particularly the case with Asian artists, especially from China and Japan, to whom a whole section is dedicated. The exhibition also sheds light on the work of artists from the Maghreb and the Middle East. A number of major pieces by these artists, now swelled by recent acquisitions, are presented in the section on the development of abstract art between 1950 and 1970. For the first time, works by Baya, Abdelkader Guermaz, Farid Belkahia and Huguette Caland are on show. The spotlight is also on the artistic scenes of Central Europe, where many artists contributed to constructivism, and later conceptual art. They have been studied to a greater degree, but are still regrettably unfamiliar. There is an accent on artists from European countries that are sometimes neglected, like Spain, Portugal and the Scandinavian countries. As regards Africa, this exhibition includes for the first time a room showing the different forms of artistic expression that developed there between 1950 and 1970, about which no documented history has yet been written.

Visitors can discover over two hundred completely unfamiliar works from the collection: works brought back into the spotlight, new acquisitions and donations. The preparation of the presentation went hand in hand with an ambitious research programme on the collections, and an active acquisition policy. The exhibition thus reveals all the diversity of one of the world's top-ranking collections in terms of quality, and also – something not many people know – in terms of the number of countries and artists represented.

WOMEN ARTISTS OF THE WORLD This history of art, dedicated to a wide range of artistic expression, also focuses on a large number of works by women artists. Forty-eight artists from nineteen different countries are represented in the many sections making up the exhibition. Alongside well-known figures like Natalia Goncharova and Sonia Delaunay, many important artists can be found, whose role and work have been forgotten or relegated to the sidelines, although several of them, like Maria Blanchard, Chana Orloff, Pan Yuliang and Baya, were much appreciated by their colleagues during their lifetime, and enjoyed a high public profile. With works by Frida Kahlo, Suzanne Roger, Maruja Mallo, Tamara de Lempicka, Alicia Penalba and Behjat Sadr, among others.

THE WORLD IN REVIEWS The remarkable documentary collection of the Kandinsky Library has been brought into play to provide a journey through the different facets of modernity within the exhibition "Modernités plurielles". Art reviews from every continent (Ma, Zenit, Proa, Život, Black Orpheus, Souffles) are displayed alongside the works, shedding informative light on the tour. These documents, of remarkable visual quality, bear witness to connections, exchanges and sometimes disputes, bringing to life a modern art scene that was already more globalised than we realised.

ASIAN MODERNS The Centre Pompidou collection presents visitors with both the modernist styles of Asian artists established in Western countries (Léonard Foujita, Takanori Oguiss, Liu Haisu, Zao Wou-Ki) and those of traditionalist schools (ink paintings), who opted for a cultural alternative to Western modernity. Among these Chinese and Japanese artists who adapted tradition to only a few modern characteristics, some are now very famous, like Zhang Daqian, Wang Yachen and Xu Beihong. These works, shown for the first time in the museum circuit, evoke a lively debate in artistic Asian communities on the desire to participate in European modernity versus that of asserting a Pan-Asian identity.

INTERNATIONAL FUTURISM The exhibition endeavours to show the broad sweep of international developments in the artistic avant-garde. The rooms devoted to "International Futurism" show the wide range of reactions to Futurist thinking: Simultaneism, Rayonism, Vibracionism, Synthetism and so on. They bring together works by artists of various movements, like Balla, Boccioni, Duchamp-Villon, Picabia and Larionov. The widening of the geographic field brings to light major works by lesser-known artists (Yakulov, Baranov-Rossine, Souza-Cardoso). One focus rediscovers an unjustly forgotten artist, Henry Valensi, whose "musicalist" work lies at the crossroads of Cubism and Futurism.

THE EXAMPLE OF INDIAN ARCHITECTURE Architectural work in India represented a major landmark in the contemporary urban situation: the relationship of the city to its environment and that of architecture with its cultural imprint in the face of industrialisation were tackled head on by the architects in the Fifties, avoiding the traditional opposition between East and West, modernity and tradition, learned and vernacular culture, industry and craft, modernity and spirituality. "Modernités plurielles" presents the work of the architect Raj Rewal (b.1934) and the numerous drawings and models of architecture he has donated to the Centre Pompidou.

(Introduction by Catherine Grenier)

Friday, July 18, 2014

La Ritournelle / Paris Follies

Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Pierre Darroussin et des vaches charolaises. Click the images to enlarge them.
FR 2014. D: Marc Fitoussi.
    Liste technique:
Scénario, dialogues et réalisation: Marc Fitoussi
Produit par Caroline Bonmarchand
Coproduit par Isaac Sharry
Direction de production Frédéric Blum
Image: Agnès Godard - AFC
Son: Olivier le Vacon – AFSI
Décors: François Emmanuelli
Costumes: Marité Coutard
Maquillage: Thi-Loan N’Guyen
Coiffure: Fred Souquet
Montage: Laure Gardette
Montage son: Benjamin Laurent
Mixage: Emmanuel Croset
Musique originale: Tim Gane & Sean O’Hagan
Une production Avenue B
En coproduction avec Vito Films
En coproduction avec SND, France 2 cinéma, Les Films de la Suane
    Avec le soutien de la Région Ile-de-France, en partenariat avec le CNC, du fonds d’aide Région Haute-Normandie en partenariat avec le CNC et en association avec le Pôle Image Haute-Normandie, de la PROCIREP et de l’ANGOA
    Avec la participation de OCS, France Télévisions, Ciné + et du CNC
    En association avec Indéfilms, Indéfilms 2 & Soficinéma 7 Développement
    Liste artistique:
Brigitte / Isabelle Huppert
Xavier / Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Jesper / Michael Nyqvist
Stan / Pio Marmaï
Régis / Jean-Charles Clichet
Christiane / Marina Foïs
Laurette / Audrey Dana
Marion / Anaïs Demoustier
Grégoire / Clément Métayer
Apu / Lakshan Abenayake
    On the soundtrack: "Trubbel" perf. Monica Zetterlund live 1968 (the lyrics are relevant to the plot). - "The Good Life" ("La belle vie", comp. Sacha Distel 1962, American lyrics by Jack Reardon, 1963) perf. The Drifters (1965). - "The Good Life", perf. Julie London
    Sony Digital 4K projection at Cinéma Studio 28, Paris, 18 July 2014

"Brigitte et Xavier sont éleveurs bovins en Normandie. Elle est rêveuse, la tête dans les étoiles. Lui, les pieds ancrés dans la terre, vit surtout pour son métier. Avec le départ des enfants, la routine de leur couple pèse de plus en plus à Brigitte. Un jour, sur un coup de tête, elle prend la clef des champs. Destination : Paris. Xavier réalise alors qu'il est peut-être en train de la perdre. Parviendront-ils à se retrouver ? Et comment se réinventer, après toutes ces années ? La reconquête emprunte parfois des chemins de traverse..." (La Ritournelle Pressbook)

Ritornello ("a little return", from the Italian: ritorno = return), in Baroque and Classical solo concertos the term used for the first and the last of the frequently recurring orchestral parts, flanking solo sections.

What I liked:
    A realistic, almost documentary approach to contemporary beef cattle breeding. Humoristic angles in the opening agricultural exposition and in the scene where city girls witness a cow giving birth to a calf.
    A strong sense of location shooting in Normandy, in a touristic Paris (sightseeing boats, the Ferris wheel, Musée d'Orsay), and in Israel at the Dead Sea.
    An original interpretation of the comedy of remarriage. At the farm, Brigitte has apparently mostly been taking care of home, but now the children have grown up. There is a turning-point, and a loss of purpose. Brigitte goes to Paris to see the world and meet other people, including attractive men, young and grown-up.
    Jean-Pierre Darroussin is reliable and convincing as the master of the cattle farm.
    Isabelle Huppert displays new and fresh sides of her talent in scenes of comedy, celebration, dancing, and having fun. But she incorporates also a deep and troubled side of Brigitte, the expression of which is her eczema.
    Michael Nyqvist interprets with charisma and dignity the role of the Danish dentist Jesper who stays in Paris in the same hotel as Brigitte.
    The motif of the painting Le retour du troupeau (Charles Sprague Pearce, 1880) with its bergère associations rooted in the school days of Brigitte and Xavier. There are also the Biblical associations of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18) and the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:4-7). Those associations are reinforced in the conclusion in Israel.
    There is sensitivity and tact in Marc Fitoussi's* way with the story of a middle-age crisis. And a fine touch of ambiguity in the conclusion at the Dead Sea: is it a moment of regeneration or a start of a final stagnation? Or even imminent death?

I relished the full, rich resolution, the natural colour, and the fine texture in the 4K projection which did justice to the cinematography of Agnès Godard. Nature is difficult in digital, but in this film, in which nature is of the essence, I enjoyed the strengths of digital, and suffered of none of the limitations. There is an oil-painterly quality in the cinematography here while digital cinema often looks like acrylic painting. To be sure, La Ritournelle has been shot in winter which is easier for digital to convey than summer. And at the Dead Sea.

* Fitoussi est un patronyme originaire de Tunisie. "L'origine de ce nom viendrait du sicilien et du grec ancien. Fituso se traduirait par pâtre, berger du peuple. En hebreu רועה et en arméen רעיא. L'origine de la famille remonterait à l'exil romain du peuple d'Israël. Une branche s'installant dans le sud de l'Italie une autre en Grèce. La branche grecque principalement implantee a Yanina, migra vers Venise. La branche italienne migra vers Livourne, et de la vers la Libye, la Tunisie et l'Algerie - le Constantinois." (Wikipedia)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

L'Homme qu'on aimait trop / In the Name of My Daughter

Adèle Haenet, Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve. Click to enlarge the images.
French Riviera [The English title at the Unifrance site]. FR 2014.
Directed by André Téchiné
Produced by Fidélité Films
Genres : Fiction - Runtime : 1 h 56 min
French release : 16/07/2014
Production year : 2013
    Production and distribution:
Associate production company : Fidélité Films
Co-production : Mars films, Caneo Films
Film export/Foreign Sales : Elle Driver
French distribution : Mars Distribution
Executive Producers : Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Assistant Director : Michel Nasri
Authors of original work : Renée Le Roux, Jean-Charles Le Roux: Une femme face à la mafia (1989)
Line Producer : Christine de Jekel
Screenwriters : André Téchiné, Cédric Anger, Jean-Charles Leroux
Director of Photography : Julien Hirsch
Sound Recordists : Brigitte Taillandier, Francis Wargnier, Boris Chapelle, Damien Lazzerini, Cyril Holtz
Production Manager : Bruno Bernard
Press Attaché (film) : André-Paul Ricci
Editor : Hervé de Luze
Continuity supervisor : Claudine Taulère
Production Designer : Olivier Radot
Music Composer : Benjamin Biolay
Costume Designer : Pascaline Chavanne
Catherine Deneuve : Renée Le Roux
Guillaume Canet : Maurice Agnelet
Adèle Haenel : Agnès Le Roux
Pierre Michiels : servant of Ms. Le Roux
Jean Vincentelli : Robert Prudhomme
Even Zakine : Guillaume Agnelet (enfant)
Judith Chemla : Françoise Lausseure
Runtime : 1 h 56 min
Visa number : 136.552
Color type : Color
Aspect ratio : scope
Sound format : Dolby 5.1
    [Franz Schubert: D 279, Piano Sonata (No. 2) in C Major (1815, unfinished – first three movements are extant; the Allegretto in C Major, D 346 fragment is probably the fourth movement)] [tbc]
    2K DCP viewed at La Pagode (57 bis, rue de Babylone, Paris 7), 17 July 2014

Synopsis: "1976. When her marriage falls apart, Agnès Le Roux moves back to the South of France from Africa to live with her mother, Renée, owner of the Palais de La Mediterranee casino in Nice. There, Agnès falls in love with Maurice Agnelet, a lawyer and Renée’s business advisor, who is ten years her senior. Maurice continues to have relationships with other women. Agnès is madly in love with him. As a shareholder in the Palais de la Mediterannee casino, Agnès decides to sell what should have been her inheritance to go it alone. A fixed card game threatens the casino’s financial stability. Someone is trying to intimidate her mother. Behind the scenes hangs the shadow of the mafia and Fratoni, the owner of a rival casino, who wants to take over the Palais de la Mediterannee. Agnelet, who has fallen from grace with Renée, introduces Agnès to Fratoni. Fratoni offers her 3 million francs to vote against her mother in the shareholder’s meeting. Agnès accepts the offer. Renée loses control of the casino. Agnes finds it hard to cope with her betrayal. Maurice also distances himself from her. In November 1977, after a failed suicide attempt, Agnès disappears. Her body is never found. Thirty years on, Maurice Agnelet remains the prime suspect in a murder case with no body and no proof of his guilt. Convinced of his involvement, Renée is prepared to fight to the bitter end to see him put behind bars..." (L'Homme qu'on aimait trop pressbook)

AA: L'Affaire Le Roux is one of the most haunting criminal cases in France since 1977, still topical. In the end credits of L'Homme qu'on aimait trop there is a résumé of the latest turns of the case - from April 2014.

André Téchiné has made a bold decision to film such a true, controversial and topical story, but it has been done before, for instance by Barbet Schroeder in Reversal of Fortune. Téchiné's film remains impartial in the question to Maurice Agnelet's guilt of murder.

From this material one could make be an exciting policier, a bloody mafia thriller, a casino suspense story, or a courtroom drama, and Téchiné's film is a bit of all of that, but mostly is a psychological study.

The formidable Nice casino empress Renée Le Roux is played eminently by Catherine Deneuve in her seventh performance in an André Téchiné film, again different from the previous ones.

Her vulnerable daughter Agnès is interpreted with raw nerve by the new hot young talent Adèle Haenet whom I saw a month ago in Sodankylä Film Festival in her breakthrough role as Suzanne's sister in Suzanne.

Some might see these charismatic women stealing the show and leaving in their shadow Guillaume Canet as the mysterious lawyer Maurice Agnelet. But it is in the nature of the character of Maurice that he is a cool operator, never flamboyant, always in control. From subtle nuances in his eyes and slight changes of expressions on his face one may try to decipher what is going on behind the icy facade of the master seducer. None of that is proof of his being a murderer, though.

In the heart of the film is the pain and suffering of Agnès, who has been unloved by her mother, and is now easy pray for the snake-like Maurice who exploits her self-destructive and suicidal tendencies callously.

More than the loss of her casino in the mafia wars of Nice the disappearance of Agnès is the decisive turning-point for Renée who launches an untiring legal campaign against Maurice and the mafia. She turns into a mother tigress after all. It is too late for Agnès now, but not too late for those who exploit and harass defenseless ones.

Further aspects of interest:
- Swimming is the most characteristic activity of Agnès, and Maurice is usually there watching her.
- Questions of national identity are essential for Téchiné: here a focus is on the African experience of Agnès.
- Maurice is always recording his phone calls, including the suicidal monologues of Agnès.
- The confession of the family chauffeur: from what you overhear from the back seat you can get an insight to what people really are.
- All Maurice's women have been suicidal.
- Maurice's nightmare 30 years later.

The visual focus is on the three main characters, and the authentic and magnificent Nice locations are impressively used to give the film a fully-formed sense of place and atmosphere. There have been many casino and gambling stories in the history of the cinema, and L'Homme qu'on aimait trop copies none of them.

The restrictions and limitations of digital have been avoided in the cinematography. Only in some nature footage those limitations are fleetingly evident.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adieu au langage / Goodbye to Language (3D)

adieu au langage. FR 2014. Année de production: 2012.
Un film de Jean-Luc Godard

Production et distribution
Production déléguée : Wild Bunch
Exportation/Ventes internationales : Wild Bunch
Distribution France : Wild Bunch Distribution

Générique détaillée
Scénariste : Jean-Luc Godard
Directeur de la photo : Fabrice Aragno
Attachée de presse (film) : Matilde Incerti
Monteur : Jean-Luc Godard

Héloïse Godet
Kamel Abdelli
Richard Chevallier
Zoé Bruneau

Mentions techniques
Genre(s) : Fiction
Sous-genres : Drame
Langue de tournage : Français
EOF : Oui
Nationalité : 100% français (France)
Année de production : 2012
Sortie en France : 21/05/2014
Durée : 1 h 10 min
Numéro de visa : 133.501
Agrément : Oui
Formats de production : HD
Type de couleur(s) : Couleur
    2K DCP in 3D viewed at Panthéon (Quartier Latin, Paris) with English subtitles, 16 July 2014

The trailer and the pressbook by Godard:


le propos est simple
une femme mariée et un homme libre se rencontrent
ils s'aiment, se disputent, les coups pleuvent
un chien erre entre ville et campagne
les saisons passent
l'homme et la femme se retrouvent
le chien se trouve entre eux
l'autre est dans l'un
l'un est dans l'autre
et ce sont les trois personnes
l'ancien mari fait tout exploser
un deuxième film commence
le même que le premier
et pourtant pas
de l'espèce humaine on passe à la métaphore
ça finira par des aboiements
et des cris de bébé
- Jean-Luc Godard


renoncer à la liberté
et tout vous sera rendu

que se passe-t'il, fin de
ce monde, avènement d'un


évite, et vite, les souvenirs brisés

le philosophe, est celui qui

la tribu des Chikawahs,
ils appellent le monde la forêt

c'est une guerre, de
la société contre l'État


la mariée mise à nu par
ses célibataires, même
- Marcel Duchamp

ne pas peindre ce qu'on voit,
puisqu'on ne voit rien, mais
peindre qu'on ne voit pas
- Claude Monet

personne ne pourrait penser
librement si ses yeux ne

le seul livre
à raconter
du cinéma
(Text written upon a collage image of extracts taken from Passage du cinéma, 4992, by Annick Bouleau)*
[* Passage du cinéma, 4992. Composition, choix des fragments et montage d'Annick Bouleau | Ed. Ansedonia, 2013 | 992 p.]

- Jean-Luc Godard (Adieu au langage pressbook)

AA: A 3D digital film which is also a work of modern poetry and belongs to the context of contemporary gallery art.

Jean-Luc Godard has been making films for 60 years, and if he had done nothing since his first stormy nouvelle vague period, he would still belong to a handful of the greatest artists of last century.

But he still keeps reinventing the cinema in our current century. Adieu au langage is a crazy explosion of poetry. The rhythm of the montage is exhilarating. The collage of quotes and associations is breathtaking. The commentary and the dialogue is based on quotes to such an extent that I don't know which parts are original.

Wordplay has been a constant feature in Godard's films. Puns, bons mots, aphorisms, mottoes, paradoxa abound. But there is more than that. The wordplay is the surface. Evoked are books that have changed the world or interpreted historical violence decisively: The Gulag Archipelago (Solzhenitsyn), The Possessed (Dostoevsky), Frankenstein (Mary Shelley). Auschwitz is never far from Godard's thoughts ("hier ist kein Warum"). Tiananmen is evoked, as well as the 200th anniversary of the French revolution celebration during that same year ("it is too soon to know" was Zhou Enlai's comment about the significance of the French revolution, and the same remark now reverberates about Tiananmen). There are references to philosophy (Plato), sociology (Ellul), and mathematics (Riemann).

Adieu au langage belongs to the Walter-Benjaminian Passagenwerk tradition like Godard's magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinéma. I'm intrigued by Godard's highlighting in his pressbook Annick Bouleau's Passage du cinéma, 4992 (2013), which seems to be another work of the Passagenwerk inspiration.

3D adds a new layer of density to the art of the collage, but essentially 3D is but another surface phenomenon of playfulness. "3D malheur historique" states the pressbook. The 3D palimpsest is a new device in the Godardian syntax. Dissolves and superimpositions are disorienting in 3D.

Beyond all those references there is authentic Godardian imagery of: - Washing bloody hands. - The four seasons. - Autumn leaves. - Reflections in the water on the asphalt. - The freeway at night. - Views through the rainswept windshield. - The forest and the lake. - The dog. - The wintry shore.
    3D adds new occasions to visual poetry in images of multi-layered reflections.

This work has been reportedly shot on HD (high definition), but in the cinema it looks like it has been shot knowingly in low definition, turning the limitations and restrictions of the format to means of expression of colours - electric - and psychedelic - with overexposures - and high contrast - denatured colours - exaggerated oranges and blues - and yellows and reds - playing with television static - as well as sound disturbances.

The focus turns into writing itself (with the fountain pen, with the quill), as well as to the act of painting (with watercolour).

Increasingly, the focus shifts to a dog. We may think that there might be a pre-lingual dimension in a philosophical evocation of the nature of perception as we eye a dog with its superior senses. In the conclusion we hear the sounds of a baby (sounds before the emergence of the symbol function = the insight that a word can represent a phenomenon). Goodbye to language? Or welcome to the birth of language?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Au fil d'Ariane / Ariane's Thread

Ariane Ascaride
Au fil d'Ariane. Une fantaisie de Robert Guédiguian. FR 2014.
Une fantaisie de Robert GUÉDIGUIAN
Scénario: Robert GUÉDIGUIAN et Serge VALLETTI
Directeur de la photographie: Pierre MILON (AFC)
Ingénieur du son: Laurent LAFRAN
Chef décorateur: Michel VANDESTIEN
Chef monteur: Bernard SASIA
Directeur de production: Malek HAMZAOUI
1er assistant réalisateur: Ferdinand VERHAEGHE
Régisseur: Général Bruno GHARIANI
Créatrice de costumes: Juliette CHANAUD
Chef costumière: Anne-Marie GIACALONE
Chef maquilleuse: Mayté ALONSO-PEDRON
Mixeuse: Armelle MAHE
Producteurs: Robert GUÉDIGUIAN et Marc BORDURE
un film produit par AGAT Films & Cie
en coproduction avec CHAOCORP
avec la participation de Canal+, Ciné+
en association avec Indéfilms 2, Cinémage 8, La Banque Postale Image 7
avec le soutien de La Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
en partenariat avec Le Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée
avec la participation de Marseille – Provence 2013 Capitale européenne de la culture
Ventes Internationales: Film Distribution.
Jacques BOUDET
Youssouf DJAORO
Judith MAGRE a prêté sa voix à la tortue
    1h 32 – format 1.85 – son 5.1 – DCP
    On the soundtrack: - Jean Ferrat chansons. - "Comme on fait son lit on se couche" ("Das Lied der Jenny" / "Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man") (Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht: Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, 1930), perf. Ariane Ascaride. - Classical favourites from Rossini, Verdi, etc.
    Sony 4K Digital projection at Studio 28 (Paris), 15 July 2014

SYNOPSIS: "C’est le jour de son anniversaire et Ariane est plus seule que jamais dans sa jolie maison."
    "Les bougies sont allumées sur le gâteau. Mais les invités se sont excusés... Ils ne viendront pas."
    "Alors elle prend sa jolie voiture et quitte sa jolie banlieue pour se perdre dans la grande ville..."
(Au fil d'Ariane pressbook)

AA: A playful interlude in Robert Guédiguian's usually serious body of work, "une fantaisie", a tribute to Ariane Ascaride with whom Guédiguian has made 16 films.

Set in the native Marseille of the film-makers, events and aspects of Au fil d'Ariane include - a lonely birthday party like in the films of Chaplin and Moodysson - leaving on a ferry - car hauled away - purse stolen by a passing motorcyclist - a colourful bunch of characters around the Café d'Olympique - staying at a motorboat - the music of Jean Ferrat - a talking turtle - fishing trips - rescuing embryos and other exhibits from the museum of natural history and "liberating" them to the ocean - presenting a number from Mahagonny at the ruin of an ancient amphitheatre - waking up to meet all the dramatis personae in their normal habitus as birthday guests.

There is a sense of airing in this film, with experimentation with all kinds of approaches, also paying hommages to other films including L'Atalante. The film is often song-driven: the communal singing episode is moving; the Brechtian "Comme on fait son lit on se couche" sequence is a musical production number. There are various openings to sensuality, including an extended celebration of the nude beauty of Anaïs Demoustier. The talking turtle and the split screen of the production number undermine any sense of credibility. At times there is a mannered quality in the fantasy.

But like in Guédiguian's previous film, the memorable Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro, there is gravity underneath, a concern about the young: "our generation has no future".

Traditionally there has been a gritty photochemical sense of reality in Guédiguian's films. It fits the experimental quality of Au fil d'Ariane that Guédiguian starts by flaunting its digital artificiality with opening images that resemble computer animation. Hyperrealistic brightness here is an expression of the dream mode. The fine soft texture of reality is missing.

Cinéma Studio 28

Cinéma Studio 28, 10 Rue Tholozé, 75018 Paris. Click to enlarge.

Friday, July 11, 2014

On a failli être amies / [We Were Almost Friends]

Karin Viard (Marithé the blonde), Emmanuelle Devos (Carole the brunette), and Roschdy Zem (Sam). Click to enlarge!
FR 2014. 
Directed by Anne Le Ny

Production company : Move Movie
Film export/Foreign Sales : SND Groupe M6
French distribution : Mars Distribution

Executive Producer : Bruno Lévy
Assistant Director : Anne Felotti
Screenwriter : Anne Le Ny
Director of Photography : Jérôme Alméras
Sound Recordists : Frédéric de Ravignan, Benoît Hillebrant, Cyril Holtz
Production Manager : Sylvie Peyre
Press Attaché (film) : André-Paul Ricci
Editor : Guerric Catala
Continuity supervisor : Sylvie Koechlin
Production Designer : Yves Brover
Music Composer : Éric Neveux
Casting : Tatiana Vialle
Costume Designer : Isabelle Pannetier
Location Manager : Marie-Hélène Labret

Feature film
Genres : Fiction
Sub-genre : Drama
Production language : French
EOF : Oui
Nationality : 100% French (France)
Production year : 2013
French release : 25/06/2014
Runtime : 1 h 31 min
Visa number : 134.757
Screening format : DCP
Color type : Color
Aspect ratio : CinemaScope
Sound format : Dolby SRD

Karin Viard : Marithé
Emmanuelle Devos : Carole Drissi
Roschdy Zem : Sam Drissi
Anne Le Ny : Nathalie
Philippe Rebbot : Pierre
Annie Mercier : Jackie
Marion Lécrivain : Dorothée
Yan Tassin : Théo
Marion Malenfant : Cynthia
Xavier de Guillebon : Vincent
Philippe Fretun : Michel
Xavier Béja : Pascal
Pierre Diot : le jogger
Diane Stolojan : une ouvrière
Adeline Moreau : la serveuse
Jonathan Cohen : le chef de salle

Tournage : du 28 mai au 20 juillet 2013 à Orléans, dans le Vexin, entre les communes d'Épiais-Rhus et de Livilliers, dans les Yvelines, aux Essarts-le-Roi.

2K DCP viewed at Pathé Wepler (Paris 18), 11 July 2014

Pressbook synopsis: "Marithé works in a training center for adults. Her mission: to help other people to change direction in their work and to find their vocation. Carole, who lives and works in the shadow cast by her husband, Sam, an energetic and talented Michelin-starred chef, arrives in the center one day. It's not so much a change in job that Carole seems to need, as a change in husband. Marithé does everything she can to help Carole set out down a new path. But what are the real motives behind this devotion? After all, Marithé doesn't seem to be impervious to Sam's charms, or to his cooking." (pressbook synopsis)

AA: The story of two grown-up women at the crossroads of their lives. Marithé is the single mother of a son who is now grown up and moving to America to study at the university. Carole is the patronne at a top restaurant run by the charismatic chef Sam. Carole finds she has untapped potential for something quite different, independently from her husband, and Marithé instinctively realizes that.

Secretly from Sam Carole visits the adult reorientation center where Marithé works, and Marithé starts to provide alibis for Carole not only in her reorientation but also in her private affairs. Marithé goes too far helping Carole, which finally results in Marithé having to give up her job. The women now take distance from each other, and they both find themselves in parallel situations of reorientation in both their professions and their private lives.

The strength of the film is in the performances of the two female leads, Karin Viard and Emmanuelle Devos. They create three-dimensional, nuanced, inspired characters of Marithé and Carole. There is a feeling of authenticity, of real life in their relationship. This is a story of an encounter that transforms the lives of both parties. The plot is based on the conviction that we can change our lives, that we can have completely different stages in our active, grown-up lives. The approach is humoristic and life-affirming.

Fundamentally, it is about our finding our true capacities, especially so for women, because Marithé has observed that in employment interviews women systematically draw attention to their flaws, men to their qualities.

On a failli être amies is also a restaurant film, and I don't think it's going too far to say it takes the original meaning of "se restaurer" - "to restore oneself" - literally. In The International New York Times (24 July 2014) Mark Bittman writes how French food is going down, Frenchmen relying increasingly, as everyone else, on fast and pre-prepared food. You really need to have good advice now to discover truly good restaurants even in France.

The restaurants of Sam Drissi (Roschdy Zem) would be good enough for Mark Bittman. Sam has his own garden, grows his own fines herbes, bakes his own bread, and makes his own peanut butter. Marithé lands into the spell of Sam via his cooking, and is also charmed by him as a man, but Sam does not mix erotic pleasure with business, and does not stray anyway as long as he's married.

On two occasions, before they have any kind of an affair, Sam gets to touch Marithé to clean her: when some plaster has fallen on her on the building site of the new restaurant, and when a new and inexperienced waiter has spilt some food on her. On the first occasion Sam instantly forms a scent concept of her: no parfum, instead a sense of fresh bread, pears, and champignons. On the second occasion the wet-shirt revelation of Marithé's bosom makes Sam turn bashful.

In a late sequence with a private wedding party (not of the protagonists') being celebrated in Sam's restaurant the running joke is that after each course there is an opportunity to state in a chorus: "like the young bride would say". ("Tous les amuse-bouches sont finis! On peut rentrer dans le sujet, chef." - "Comme dirait la jeune mariée!"). At night, after the party, Sam picks for Marithé mint leaves and lemon balm. Sam: "You chew well, but you do not swallow." Marithé: "The bridegroom would never say such a thing... "

There is an interesting coincidence with On a failli être amies and the Indian hit film of the year, The Lunchbox / Dabba. Good cooking brings people together and the rapture and ecstasy of taste can ignite a love affair.

Beyond the jump break: Anne Le Ny's interview from the pressbook of the film.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014 afterthoughts

A screening at Piazza Maggiore. Photo: Cinefilia Ritrovata, 14 July 2014. Click to enlarge.
The centennial of the First World War was a central theme in this year's Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. Hundreds of hours of authentic WWI footage have been preserved and made available online. However, as the great French historian Marc Ferro has stated, no non-fiction film footage manages to convey the horror of the war as the best fiction films have done ("Les images d'archives ne créent pas l'horreur comme la fiction", Marc Ferro interviewed in Le Monde Télévision, 3 Jan 2014).

Screened in Bologna was the prophetic Ned med Vaabnene / Lay Down Your Arms! (DK 1914) directed by Holger-Madsen, written by Carl Th. Dreyer and based on the novel by Bertha von Suttner, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Remarkably, the film was released just before WWI and displays an opening vignette of Bertha von Suttner months before her death. The film has been beautifully preserved by the Danish Film Institute.

As we have seen in stunning images during the last years in Il Cinema Ritrovato's A Hundred Years Ago project, the peace movement was powerful preceding the great war. Alas, the movement did not prevent the war, but the foundation of pacifism was getting stronger. Precedents and models were set.

The strongest film of the festival for me was Les Croix de bois / Wooden Crosses (FR 1931), produced by Bernard Natan, directed by Raymond Bernard and based on the novel by Roland Dorgelès. More than a movie, it became a WWI memorial, accepted as truthful by the veterans themselves. Pabst and Milestone had just released their WWI masterpieces, and, having seen them, Bernard went even further in his attempt to convey the horror that transcends the limits of ordinary understanding. - Bernard and Antonin Artaud were not veterans (they were not passed to the military because of medical reasons) but Natan and most of the cast were.

Two of the directors of the main retrospectives were coincidentally veterans of WWI. William A. Wellman fought first in the French and then in the U.S. Air Force and was invalidized for life with back injury. Merciless back pains finally interrupted his film career in the early 1960s. Of Wellman's 11 flying movies none were screened in Bologna. (Instead, we saw three of his train films.) We saw Wellman's breakthrough film, the Murnau-influenced triangle drama of Russian circus acrobats You Never Know Women (1926), a Florence Vidor vehicle for Paramount. Producers such as David O. Selznick, Darryl F. Zanuck and John Wayne could cope with "Wild Bill". Wild Boys of the Road (1933) belongs to the key Depression era films in the Warner Bros. mode of social consciousness. The unglamorous Westward the Women (1952) from MGM, the studio of glamour, impresses with harsh truths about the 1850s gold rush. Good-bye, My Lady (1956), Wellman's final film for John Wayne and Robert Fellows, displays tact in a growing-up story about an orphan boy and the dog he has to give away.

Werner Hochbaum was a WWI veteran, too. We saw highlights of the short career of the master who became one of the best German-language film directors remaining in Germany and Austria after Hitler's ascent to power. Hochbaum kept the great art of the Weimar cinema alive as long as he could. Brüder / Brothers (DE 1929), a milestone of militant cinema, is a sober account of Hamburg's epochal dockers' strike of 1896-1897. Razzia in St. Pauli (DE 1932) is an atmospheric, perhaps Sternberg-influenced, tale of the Hamburg underworld. Morgen beginnt das Leben / Life Begins Tomorrow (DE 1933), characterized by Alexander Horwath as the final great example of German interwar cinema, takes us to Berlin, to the stream of consciousness of a musician who is released from prison. He has committed manslaughter in the heat of the moment, the victim being a restaurant owner who had tried to take advantage of his wife. In its visual inspiration the film can be compared with the best Weimar achievements and can also be seen as an hommage to them. After the ascent of Hitler Hochbaum moved to Vienna, and we saw Vorstadtvarieté / Suburban Cabaret (AT 1933), a love story across class boundaries, Ophulsian in its sense of the life force vs. the death drive - the world of the music hall versus the world of the military. Hochbaum was back in Germany before the Anschluss, and with Ein Mädchen geht an Land / A Girl Goes Ashore (DE 1938) Hochbaum returned to Hamburg (albeit mostly shooting at Ufa Studios) creating an unromantic drama of a woman of inner dignity who changes the lives of those who meet her. A film of conformism or about transcending prevailing conditions.

The third retrospective I focused on was The Golden 1950s: India's Endangered Classics curated by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, a case of film programming of the highest order, bringing fresh sense and depth to our understanding of the magnificent cultural legacy of the world's biggest film-producing country. "It was difficult for me to choose just eight films from the three major film industries of the time – Bombay, Madras and Calcutta", stated Shivendra Singh. Chandralekha (S. S. Vasan, 1948) is a singing and dancing fairy-tale blockbuster crucial to the development of the film culture of the newly independent India. Awara / The Vagabond (Raj Kapoor, 1951) brings Chaplinian inspiration to a delirious Oedipal melodrama of extreme injustice, set in the palace of a noble judge and the slums of Bombay. Do bigha zamin / Two Acres of Land (Bimal Roy, 1953), inspired by Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves), charts the adventures of a farmer father and son in Calcutta to earn the money needed to redeem their land from a greedy landlord. In Ajantrik / Pathetic Fallacy (Ritwik Ghatak, 1957) the saga of a taxi driver's perseverance with his 35 year old jalopy expands into epic insights into Indian reality. Bharat mata / Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957) is the mother of Indian cinema: a bigger-than-life melodrama of exploitation, survival, reconstruction, and struggle against overwhelming circumstances of nature and society. Pyaasa / The Thirsty One (Guru Dutt, 1957) is a grand story of a poète maudit, his fight against injustice, incomprehension, and madness. Madhumati (Bimal Roy, 1958, based on a story by Ritwik Ghatak), a haunting supernatural love story set in sublime landscapes, is also an exposé of corruption in a massive scale. Kaagaz ke phool / Paper Flowers (Guru Dutt, 1959) is a formidable meta-film letting us see many aspects of a big studio production behind the screen; and like Pyaasa, it is another tragic study of a suffering, misunderstood artist, interpreted by the director himself.

The directors displayed in the Indian retrospective (Raj Kapoor, Bimal Roy, Ritwik Ghatak, Mehboob Khan, Guru Dutt) are famous, and although many of them died young, they have never been forgotten. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur's programming highlighted the generation experience: these were young men full of hope who came from villages to cities, and generated a new vision, a new myth, a new kind of cinema full of excitement and poetry during the first decade of independent India. Their cinema was an important factor in the spiritual regeneration and reconstruction of India.

70.000 Indian films [correct me if I got this number wrong] have been made in 32 languages, most have been lost, and even the preservation status of the most famous masterpieces is precarious. This preservation mission is urgent.