Monday, March 15, 2004

Delphine Seyrig fan Elisabeth Vincentelli, whose book on Abba's Gold should appear from Continuum this month, comments:

"You owe it to yourself to check her out in Donkey Skin, a truly bizarre musical by Jacques Demy, and Truffaut's Stolen Kisses. Small parts in both, but memorable. Seyrig was one of the few militant feminists in French mainstream cinema and she really stuck to her guns--she even codirected a staged reading of The SCUM Manifesto in the mid-70s."

I've only seen her in Marienbad and Resnais' Muriel, which now strikes me as not unrelated to Dielman. I should have tried to see Daughters of Darkness at LACMA last month, in which she essentially plays a latter-day Countess Bathory, just for contrast. I vaguely remember bits of this movie from early-'80s cable, but I'm sure I never saw it straight through.

I'll be a Europhilic snot for a sec and admit that I wish U.S. film culture had more actress who are genuinely huge stars but are mostly (though not, of course, exclusively) known for appearing in fairly difficult films -- Seyrig, Moreau, Deneuve. I suppose Nicole Kidman has been trying to make these sorts of moves; I'm fond of To Die For, and will see Dogville. (She's just so awful in Moulin Rouge, though.)

Friday's Akerman screening -- Felt distracted/not-quite-there for 1993's Portrait of a Girl from the Late Sixties in Brussels. Autobiographical in tone, if not in fact; the lead actress has the same baby-fat prettiness of Akerman herself in Suite Ma Ville. I don't know, it might have been my mood, but this one didn't do much for me, even though she's picked up in "the dark of the matinee." Sensitive and all that, but talky in an direct, not very interesting way, and the use of songs, esp. "Suzanne" was fairly heavy-handed -- though it's funny when she shoplifts Songs of Leonard Cohen earlier. Noticed what seemed to be a French version of "Black Is Black" early on -- turned out to be by Johnny Halliday, per the credits.

But both films after the intermission were interesting latter-day variants on Snow's Wavelength (as Farber/Patterson say, "a big item in the background of any structuralist."), using the central visual strategy for political ends. Against Oblivion is a 3 min. 4 sec. Amnesty International PSA; one shot, gradually tightening, of city street at night, as Catherine Deneuve approaches the camera reciting a poetic monologue (gist -- "You and your death won't be forgotten") about the death of Salvadoran activist Febe Elizabeth Velasquez. Simple, focussed, and very effective.

A Voice In The Desert is more complicated. This is apparently the single-channel version of an installation video-work, and I have no idea what the other elements are. But: Screen begins completely dark except from a square in the middle, which at first appears to be a digital-editing 'inset.' Here, we get bits of what appear to be aerial surveillance footage, followed by a unedited shot from the front window of the car driving down a section of Hwy. 5, right here in LA.) A voice-over, first in Spanish then in English, describes the apparent disappearance of a Mexican woman working in California ("the money orders stopped coming") -- her son "crosses the line" to look for her, and the 2nd 1/2 of the monologue is the reported speech of the landlady who last saw her. These visual and auditory elements loop (each language, 5 times), as the area around this central rectangle just described gradually lightens -- we're seeing dawn in the desert, seemingly in real time. One or two cars pass, but that's it. As this happens, it becomes clear that the central image is actually being projected on a large screen suspended in midair by guywires leading off screen -- something that looks like embroidery on the sides indicates that this could be a very large sheet, connecting with the domestic work of the 'protagonist.' By the end, it's fully light out, and the image on the screen is barely visible at all. This takes 52 minutes.

The sense of death happening offscreen is common to both pieces, and to Wavelength as well. What's fascinating about this one is that it splits the effect of Snow's shot into two elements: The shot from the car gets the forward motion, though, because of the difference between a road and a room, the scale doesn't change, and there's no logical 'endpoint' to be arrived at. And the desert 'frame' captures the sense of inexorable, gradual change (and produces a change in the effect of the central image w/ out any extra manipulation -- very elegant). The changeover from night to day becomes a metaphor for the desert's contested space between nation's. The position of the screen is interesting as well -- does it stand in for the 'border' (it implies a plane parallel to the camera), or does it obscure the border (it hides part of the road that runs through the middle depth of the external shot)? The notion that borders aren't physical, but still real, is a cliche, of course (see also the last sequence of Grand Illusion), but no less powerful for that.

I think the piece would have been just as effective with one fewer iteration -- by the fourth, I had parsed the monologue (which is difficult to follow at first, even in English), and the light didn't change much in the last 8-10 minutes. But it didn't feel exasperating or overlong at all to me (though there was some attrition in the audience from about the 1/2 hr. mark on). Possibly the best thing I've seen in the series, along with Dielman itself. I don't remember another occasion when I've seen a narrative film and a non-narrative film in the same evening, and preferred the latter. I'm surprised; I didn't know I'd become so comfortable with this sort of thing.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?