FIDMARSEILLE 2003

PARALLEL SCREENS

 

D. FOR DOCUMENTARY

“D. comme Docu” [D for Documentary] – the title of this “parallel screen” firstly reminds us of an obvious separation. The documentary is an area of the cinema which is identified and devised by forms, techniques and processes – sometimes tics and tricks. But these techniques are not usually identified or studied for themselves, whether they appear to characterise all the documentary (the hand-held camera, for example) or whether they appear to involve not so much writing, but rather fixing a foundation on which the film is firmly based. Why correct this neglect? First of all, because we constantly need to explode the myth of the documentary’s “naturalness”: one always has to reaffirm that this particular form of cinema is staged as much as the other one. Secondly, because there is an equally urgent need to criticise a documentary academicism which is never anything other than the naive denial of the devices that are in fact its entire foundation: the camera pressed against the windscreen, the voice-over alternating intimacies and dissertation, dreamy stopping-places at the ocean or on a mountain, the bittersweet overlay of piano or violin, and so on.
In this “parallel screen” there are naturally more joyful reasons. At least in theory, we would like reverse the usual perspective, to approach the documentary by form rather than by content. A form-oriented approach? Maybe so. Risk and chance are in an unstable balance that is precisely the whole challenge of this programming approach. In any case, it was this concern that determined the choice of the eleven selected films, as well as the decision to divide them up into five “séances” (sections/sessions), each defined by a particular form, under the subheadings entretien (interview), photo enquête (photo investigation), leçon (lesson), portrait (portrait), faux documentaire (fake documentary), and document impossible (impossible document). They offer a first overview of the range – which is itself also subdivided into more numerous and more localised techniques and processes: the interview at a table or in a street, on- or off-screen commentary, subjective camera, work with images (photos, archives, excerpts of films), etc. What links these eleven films? It is the brilliance with which they all show one or other of these techniques and processes; and the precision with which they show documentary work, its tools and devices, how it uses them, and so on. This acuity and visibility are remarkable in themselves.
For all that, they are never simple or guaranteed to be successful. The risk mentioned above is nothing else than formalism itself. Complacency, the oretical aridity, the vanity of the selfmirroring “mise en abyme”, and the shifting of the project that starts out as sharpening tools, only to realize their inadequacies. And it is true that in these films there is firstly a wall, or even an impossibility. Intervista (Anri Sala), Johan (Sven Augustijnen) and A Margem da Imagen (Evaldo Mocarzel) seem to say that no dialogue or faithful retranscription of spoken words is possible. A crisis of the interview, which only shows its system – the fluid flow of questions and answers, the lie of equality in the exchange, the illusion of an identity of the spoken word and the body that utters it – to declare itself falsified, destined to fail. Intervista: the impossibility, except through a long round-about device, of putting words back onto the images of a speech delivered from a rostrum. Johan: the impossibility of interviewing someone who suffers from aphasia, for whom understanding the questions is an exhausting task in itself. A Margem da Imagen: the impossibility of questioning the homeless without repeating the eternal clichés of reporting.A crisis also of the photographic investigation: Locke’s Way (Donigan Cumming) and Scintillements (Florent Jullien) are extreme examples of the principle whereby a film consists strictly of photos and the voice of a person who shuffles them and examines them. But they declare: the more photos there are, the less the investigation progresses, the more the truth is elusive. Crisis again – of the portrait this time – in Romy, anatomie d’un visage (Hans Jürgen Syberberg). From intimacy to films, from films to magazine photos, the heart of the portrait – the face – bursts into an irreducible multiplicity of fragments that puts the star’s supposedly single identity out of reach. This omnipresence of the crisis peaks in Wait, it’s the soldiers, I have to hang up now (Avi Mograbi), at the crossroads of two genres, the journalistic investigation and the home-movie. But within the question that Mograbi asks – on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, is anything ever said that is not a complaint, weariness, or a demand? – these two genres join to curtly give the same negative answer.
A dead-end situation? An admission of powerlessness? No, because the critical intelligence of these films is precious. No, because, anyway, the criticism is only a moment within a wider, more generous development. We mentioned a wall: not that of reality, like a blind spot, a horizon or a boundary. There is nothing mystical in these films: they carry out experiments, and wonder only if they work or not. This wall is rather their experimental body: it is what treats them severely and what they dig or reconstruct in return. With a formula: they all face the crisis and overcome it with the same verve. With the same verve, A Margem da Imagen laughs at the opportunism of reporting and finds the formal ruse that takes it somewhere else: you just have to place the homeless in front of their images so that everything is given new impetus and explodes, from the screen to the cinema theatre, the theatre to the street and vice versa. With the same verve, Johan upsets the finely-tuned mechanisms of the interview (with blockages, stalling, and back-pedalling (“Can you can repeat the question?... And the question of the question?”) and isolates the deeply moving figure of the aphasic Johan, who himself does not stall, but spares no effort to ensure that the interview follows its course. With the same verve, Cumming does not manage to piece together the destiny of the man in the photos and, running from floor to floor, trying all montages and all speeds of images and voice-over, he releases a thousand stories, a thousand fates, and a thousand films that are like so many home-made flip books. With the same verve, Romy denounces the silliness of intimate portraits and paints the actress as a goddess of metamorphosis in an extraordinary array of different faces, hairstyles and attitudes.
In these films (to which we should add the Gianikians’ Corps, Labarthe’s Antonioni la dernière séquence, and Syberberg’s Sex Business) it seems that there is a combination of two speeds: stop, hold it here, to accelerate all the more there. You first have to reach the obstacle before feeling the shock that makes the documentary proliferate inside itself. Inside rather than outside, the nuance is decisive: it is not in fiction that films extend or cancel each other. They do not overflow, but dive deeper into themselves, towards a madness or a frenzy that are unique to the documentary. So that, once all the development is accomplished, the critical can no longer be separated from the comical. Little is ever said about the comical aspect of the documentary, probably because we are afraid to imply that there is something ridiculous about the filmed subjects themselves. But comedy has a lot to do with this cinema genre, its modesty and its «poverty», because it is always the art of doing as much as possible, with and against the little means at one’s disposal. Johan, Locke’s Way, A Margem da Imagen, Sex Business, and even Wait, it’s the soldiers, I have to hang up now are great comic pieces. They are full of gags, whether self-mocking or not, and, in so doing, they give the spectator a pleasure through something that firstly appears to be a hindrance or an accident. This was the beauty of F for Fake by Orson Welles, to whom we would like to dedicate this “parallel screen”.
And then there is Bram van Paesschen’s Pas de feu sans fumée. In a way, this film acts as a summary or a final full stop. Naturally, the fake documentary (or mockumentary) is a dubious thing that is only interesting because it shows how easy it is to make images lie, to manipulate archives, and to distort what people say. We are tired of such demonstrations of the charms and dangers of the cinema. But, even here, a change of direction brings the genre to a new height. The film gradually moves away from its starting-point – an actual fire in Brussels that is still unexplained – to touch upon another enigma: September 11th. Not that Pas de feu sans fumée claims to say everything on the destruction of the twin towers, but it is exactly its do-ityourself hoax approach that enables it to place itself within the fantastical aura of the lasting impression left on us by this event. A fascinating enterprise, whose comic dimension often makes the blood run cold.
In the final analysis, this is the ambition of this “parallel screen”. Traditionally, the documentary is envisaged within a scope ranging from bare means that express a “good intention” to the more and more impenetrable opacity of the world. For once, we would like to invite people to take the reverse path: from the device of technical processes to the always unexpected new arrival of a truth – or, better still, several truths.


Emmanuel Burdeau
 
JOHAN
Sven Augustijnen
Belgium, 2001, 23’
SCINTILLEMENTS
Florent Jullien
France, 2002, 28’
SEX BUSINESS - MADE IN PASING
Hans Jürgen Syberberg
Germany, 1969, 100’
   
A MARGEM DA IMAGEM
En Marge de l’Image / On the Fringes of São Paulo: Homeless
Evaldo Mocarzel
BRASIL, 2002, 15’
LOCKE’S WAY
Donigan Cumming
Canada, 2003, 21’
WAIT, IT’S THE SOLDIERS, I HAVE TO HANG UP NOW
Avi Mograbi
ISRAEL, 2002, 13’
   
INTERVISTA
Anri Sala
France, 1998, 26’
ANTONIONI - LA DERNIÈRE SÉQUENCE
André S. Labarthe
France, 1985, 13’
FRAGMENTS ÉLECTRIQUES No 3, CORPS
Yervant Gianikian et Angela Ricchi Lucchi
Italy, 2003, 10’
   
 ROMY, ANATOMIE EINES GESICHTS
Romy, anatomie d’un visage
Hans Jürgen Syberberg
Germany, 1965, 60’
PAS DE FEU SANS FUMÉE
Smokescreen covering Brussels
Bram Van Paesschen
Belgium, 2002, 35’
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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