Thursday, August 16, 2018

Image and Fact: Before the Revolution

    Bertolucci. 1964. Before the Revolution 

Hermann Broch an essay by D.J. Enright

Monday, August 17, 2009

Afterlife and the Genius of Perception

Andrey Zvyagintsev, The Return. 2003

NEXT LEVEL No. 8, London, Fall 2005

"Rare and privileged moments allow us to see within 
the usual restraints of conformity to experience 
how the privacy of imagination flows into public space"  

from William H. Sewell, Jr.. in his book, 
Work and Revolution in France: 
Language and Labor in the Old Regime,(1)

In the west, as occasion for manifestoes and insurrection slipped within the shadows and light of capitalist life, the revolutionary spirit was largely abandoned- and its spark, at least- is largely deterred.

Andrey Zvyagintsev, The Return. 2003
Vladimir Garin 1987- 2003 and Ivan Dobronravov

Increasingly, hopes to transform society from within allow us to use the arts of entertainment to inspire change that was ignited- yet, left incomplete by earlier generations.

Gabriele Salvatores
I’m Not Afraid, 2003

Siegrid Alnoy’s recent film , She’s One of Us, shows the psychological landscape we inhabit when we exchange the actual living out of our personal freedoms for mere belief in our imagined abilities to pursue a need for enlightened forms of autonomy. 

This film is a reflection upon hybrid forms of suppression and rage in a familiar new environment: the rural corporate landscape of France.

Siegrid Alnoy, She's One of Us, 
Cinematography Christophe Pollock

This world that offers immediate recognition of how our lives, preserved from riot and rebellion, are staged amidst the ruins and resurrection of earlier collateral damage. 

Through Ms. Alnoy’s collaboration with cinematographer Christophe Pollock, we see a sequence of visual narratives emerge, in which, not a hint of the past is shown. Instead, our collective past is presented as an insistent feeling, drawn into exquisite focus by the heroine, Christine Blanc- entrapped in familiar forms of alienation.  Our attention to her unbearable struggle is affected by sequential diversions by recurrent and extremely subtle, supernatural movements of nature.(2) 

There is no film review that focuses on the power given natural forces in this work that succeeds so well in portraying madness and alienation through landscapes that prefigure the coming apart of a personality.

Director of photography Christophe Pollock allows the Alps to make metaphorical appearances to suggest that climatic evolution and geological time can be suspended, just long enough, for us to notice that we had a past at all and that the past was a theater of differently constructed behaviors.  In the film we see our commonality through the essence of nature in which our cultural pasts, that were lost suddenly and irrevocably on the threshold of the cultural epoch that directly preceded our own. The films speak to what was lost of our physical worlds between 1918-1975.  The final scene of the colorful Volkswagon Beetle eclipsing our view of what ultimately becomes of our anti-heroine states this aim clearly.

Nature is anthropomorphized by Pollock into a form of human ecology.  It is a metaphor for those of us who not endowed with the pleasures of knowing how to act in corporate culture- while others, as exemplified by Ms. Blanc, can find that their trials at exposure to this culture result in a dematerializing experience toward complete psychic dissociation.

Ms. Alnoy created a large, unspoken narrative that Pollock plays out through series of visual contrasts between the Alps and sleek corporate zones in the Rhone Valley. Glass buildings shimmer to reflect how deftly their creators gave these material forms their aesthetic power over the significance of human gestures.

Views of the Alps alternate with psychological panoramas that subtlety flash across glass facades to reveal fault lines in Blanc’s carefully constructed adaptation of what could be free-flowing emotion to an internalized hardened isolation.

Her progressive emotional decline evolves. She searches for work, society and meaning within corporate landscapes where the only variation in form is provided by the appearance of a nearly sacral specter of slowly moving mountain mist, passing by on its eternal course, silent and reserved exclusively for our eyes as if we are entrusted a fellow traveler to this ecological formation. 

Pollock is able to provide scenes that portray the movement of emotional distancing that the troubled experience together with profound environmental silence as a mute character.  

This ghost-like presence lends further definition to what has become normal, our relationship to physical worlds made up of the absence of the past.  The scenes that show these silent narratives of nature mark our gradual and nearly complete progress towards erasing vestiges of past worlds, and, how it is that we can read the erasure of history across our worlds. 

Both natural and corporate worlds are staged as metaphorical, poetic monuments to the loss of cultural landscapes now vanished.  She's One of Us, gives us a nonverbal examination and journey into that void, filling a need to reckon with the dimensions of what we have lost. Its creative energy lies in the ability to create imagery for the loss of the past and give shape to time while traveling along a well known linear narrative of good girl goes bad and tiresomely homicidal.

How we part with the features of our own content is a central theme in this new version of the standard alienation film. The character of Ms. Blanc demonstrates an uncanny ability to watch as the eclipse of her human potential overwhelms then recedes. She observes herself as an inhabitant of a world lacking in definable contexts while she allows the vacuum to engulf her.

Her predicament assures us of how confidently we can send our imaginative powers, and the artfulness of communication, into a collision course with the failure to be simply human and caring.

The duality between a linear narrative of actors and the visual eloquence of silent environments intensifies familiar prohibitions against personal freedom through the unfolding story of realization.  This reality, or, realization is that many of us live with a mere trace of evidence that our present landscapes of corporate enterprise, including our suburbs, overlay nearly all significance of the physical/mental methods of handwork, manufacture and our deeply felt need for creative constructions of culture of material exchange. 

As a result, Ms. Blanc wears a constant expression of doubt as if to wonder what kinds of knowledge we do possess.

She constructs a life of fixed aims, responding to an apparent lack of reason and intimacy by patterning her emotions on an unspoken plan which Pollock shows us through this device of transparent ecological forms and glass, which is, after all, merely melted sand.  

Her lack of outspokenness becomes a kind of delayed fulfillment, prefiguring violence as the outcome of silent frustration. She carries on a restive task, to earn a place within a ring network of local corporate parks. 

The ring pattern of this corporate region is the Rhone Valley, shown to clearly evoke a deadening vacancy in what was formerly the emblematic shape of social life in a parallel world of French royal palaces that simple workers like herself once attacked.
Nowhere have a read anyone note the relationship between Blanc becoming homicidal against a co-worker in the corporation and workers annihilating the aristocracy. 

Along the way,  employs the simplest choices: modify the role of the outsider with modest conduct and meet society each day in obedient conformity. The sequences of nature with unmistakably Asian stylization insist that this individual’s dilemma is not only global but also timeless.  From the very instant the mysterious images of forested hills appear, we are given a primeval alternative to reality; its terms are to be found in how we sustain being and time.

From there we cut away to see how director and cinematographer show us the other world; one of relentless elegance, in people and in things, that conspire to create an eloquence of banality.  Ms. Blanc reacts to this world to feel encouraged toward a form of frustration born of rage at the awful intimacy of delayed and unresolved confrontations.  As if in direct response to this barren world, an unreasonable murder occurs. In it, we see the struggle for life in the victimization and death of an innocent. But is the unreasonableness of rage such a necessary ingredient in this otherwise comfortable middle-class world? In this world, the only apparent collateral damage of the twentieth century seems to be that of longing and estrangement.  Why does this violence occur?  Are there no other ways to show she has abandoned life other than by eliminating her only friend?

The depiction of physical suffering is too often exploited to explain of our failure to repel unwanted voices of our own invention. A scene that should be considered shocking is easily mistaken as weirdly banal. The film opens with a quote from Dostoyevsky's, "Notes from the Underground", in which modern life is blamed for alienation and the threat of violent reprisal is abandoned for a deeper immersion into confusion.  Like Dostoyevsky's scene between a working girl of the sex trade and the man of the underground,  it is only fragility, vulnerability, and nudity that saves the logic of the retreat from the swimming pool scene. The murder is a transformative though, only in its awful futility.  Her psychotic association with life is here clearly expressed. In her madness, Christine mistakes intimacy with the strange utility present in the power of force. The scene reminds us that violence as a form of social protest is all too often employed as the ironic messenger of discontent in safe comfortable societies.

Like She’s One of Us and other recent feature films, The Return, directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev, is a film that demystifies the long shadows of empires over modernity with indelible clarity (Photo No.1). In both, we are given a sudden shift away from our familiar viewpoint from within the center of political power to locations that offer greater clarity concerning the legacies of power. At these locations on the human periphery, we may see that no individual consciousness is as isolated as political demarcations would have us believe. Zvyagintsev's, Return. alludes to the blind aggorance of power, through a portrayal of a father whose long absence is ended only to reveal the range of his brutality towards his young sons.

A persistent discourse with a culture of isolation and suspended hope plays latently until ultimately, the boys reveal a potent balance of power between them and their violent estranged father. The source of his estrangement is never known to them, its value at the scene of his death, inadvertently, at their hands, is filmed as a metaphor for the bitterness to be found in the discovery of sudden liberation through the death of one's tormentor.  Their absence of any knowledge about his inner life is shown through the boys' gazing into his image in photographs as a means to know him when he has first returned.

Konstantin Lavronenko

Films like I’m Not Afraid, by Gabriele Salvatores, and, Since Otar Left, by Julie Bertuccelli (also with Mr. Pollock as DP), are showing how the lament over real sorrows in the impoverished peripheries, for example, or the radiant promise of new beginnings, can transform periods of isolation into the logic of new behavior. And that logic, as we can see, often rises out of distortions of reality. Terry Eagleton has noted our societal tendencies to ignore alternative worldviews that exist within the peripheries of comfortable existence in his study, Ideology, (Verso, 1999). “This impossibly elastic reasoning begs the question, if we all share the same ideological universe, then how do we escape it? What location is the most favorable place to take our leave?”  These films show that "elastic reasoning" as evidence that while we may feel all inclusive of our fellow man in the sympathies we feel, it is only a feeling, not an economic reality that might serve us all in material and psychological form.

I’m Not Afraid, refers to a location where social and economic transformations have long been endured; where Puglia’s economy is unsupported by Milan’s. In Since Otar Left, it is the locus of hope sustained by cultural relations between Paris and Tbilisi, Georgia. In The Return, a far northern landscape, little known by outsiders, is the vessel for an invisible, distant past. To those familiar with the landscapes of the former land of Finish Karelia, (now Russia), the progress of this story of a father’s brutality, and the courage of his sons to address what they can clearly see as distortions of love, takes place in the southern lands of the an Arctic summertime in a world only briefly in flower.

By refocusing familiar narratives of collective dissociation at these end-periods of isolation, life stories that engage transitions between our present epoch and the next, explain the margins of existence as scenes for the next ideological climax.  Which is to say, these long shadows of the past continue to give life and where will that will lead?

The Return, speaks through elliptical visual spectacles to overlay a story about how the burden of guilt is displaced from father to his sons. It is about the attrition of the spirit brought on through association with the remorseless tendency toward conquest that survives in the souls of ordinary citizens of an eroded world power.  These are often personalities for whom the truly ordinary can never exist in a world of isolation, frustrated opportunity and violence.

As is the case in, She’s One of Us, in Since Otar Left and I’m Not Afraid, each visual revelation of persona assures us that “the feelings and atmosphere on screen are not a direct expression of the spoken dialogue.” (Note 2).  Instead, these visual narratives support an enactment or actualization of increasingly unified ideas.  The process of accretion addresses the inadequacy of speech to express the transformative nature of unspeakable experience.  The films all specialize in our universal attachment to one another and show our means to achieve and sustain it.

Esther Gorintin, 1913-2010
Since Ottar Left  2003

This is expressed in I’m Not Afraid by showing us the journey back to consciousness that is shared between a kidnapped Milanese boy whose captivity in an earthen pit transformed him into a feral child, and, the love and courage of the Pugliese boy who saves him.

Each of these films penetrates the surface of dissociative behaviors. Once there it probes deeply within characters to reveal social pressures that can result in an unavoidable surfacing of fault lines in the behavioral structure of people. Here we are spoken to by voices from the peripheries of Europe, those we are only recently accustomed to hearing.  They speak for experience where the end of the old empires intersect. These voices clarify for us what was until recently a mystifying journey that took place in worlds beyond our experience, at the center of once familiar period ideologies, now in ruin.

If we easily recognize these dramas taking place in France, Italy, Russia, Georgia, there is another territory within them, which is made of up broader social geographies, profoundly shifting but little known to us. They are the sites of a protohistoric period of modernity that is laid open to description, now that tales from beyond the historical borders of ideology come home to us.

1. I wrote in direct homage to historian William H. Sewell, Jr.. In his book, Work and Revolution in France: Language and Labor in the Old Regime, he described cultures that surrounded industries. Princeton University Press, 1980. "Rare and privileged moments" is his original and beautiful phrase.
2.  These supernatural sequences such as fog in stasis and fog drifting from view as if through a known intentional force, and, the Volkswagen scene at the end, are absent from press images and reviews. Why? Let's allow the art of the cinematographer a significant place in even casual reviews about film.  Their art determines visuality as a causal feature of narrative as much as characters and their intentions do.  The visual and contextual nature of cinematography is a first tier of viewers' intimacy with the inner mind of the lens.
3. Quote from Director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Los Angeles Times.