This is another unofficial site for Lav Diaz, "...the great Filipino poet of cinema." (Cinema du reel, Paris).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

XIX. The Festival With No Limits: Rotterdam International Film Festival 2005

By Paolo Bertolin

Critics, film journalists and cinephiles tend to describe the Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR) as a cutting-edge, adventurous festival, an event where the multiple shades of cinema, including those forgotten in the shadows by other major film events, shine in full colour. This habitual way of thinking about Rotterdam has almost reached a stage of comfortable stereotype, of assured trope, even this year, when the reins of festival direction fully passed to Sandra den Hamer, after she had been longtime co-director with Simon Field.

I sometimes wonder whether the IFFR is really such an adventurous or cutting-edge event, or instead if it is just eminently and laudably fulfilling the duties and attaining the goals an international film festival should. Even if it is operating at the latter level, this is an outstanding achievement. No other major film event – in Europe at least – devotes such commitment to following, documenting and updating year by year the state of things in the whole scope of worldwide filmmaking. Rotterdam's 360° programming view always encompasses a broad definition of cinema and continues to thematise and question the notion of “boundary”, as clearly stated in the aptly-titled ongoing series of annual panels, “What Is Cinema?”. Rotterdam enthusiastically casts its programming net wide to the broadest span of geographical provenances, each festival covering the six continents of filmmaking. Rarely could a major festival display such independence from criteria of national interest or political convenience to the point of totally omitting entries from the host country in its official competition, as Rotterdam did last year (not to mention the fact that American films are often missing from IFFR's competing arena).

But if it were just the simple matter of mapping the geography of film production, this would still not be a thorough endorsement of a notion of cinema without boundaries. What really makes Rotterdam a place with no limits is the festival's commitment to intersecting geography and culture with another dimension, that of cinematic language: of the experimentation with genre, format, length, and allowing for the “contamination” of the annexed spaces of other arts and media. Cinema at Rotterdam covers a wide spectrum and continually questions the solidity of the canonical definition of film as “feature length fiction”; an act that resounds of perhaps – or perhaps not at all – unconscious, political resistance, when one thinks that this narrowing, blinding notion is mass-inculcated by the only great absentee of Rotterdam, Hollywood.

It is therefore patent that, by any means, the grandest and most representative film of Rotterdam 2005 is Lav Diaz's 10 hour 30 minute Evolution of a Filipino Family (Ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang Pilipino) (2004). No other film could possibly stress to such extent the richness of cinematic language, while blatantly challenging the torpid insignificance of the so-called entertainment or spectacle general audiences are stuffed with in multiplexes. Firstly, because it is a film from the Philippines, it is fully representative of one of the key features of a festival that devotes one of its main sidebars to the surging new waves of South East Asian cinemas. Even more, as it hails from an overlooked national cinema as part of this region, one that nevertheless has produced the wholesome, imperishable talent of Lino Brocka, but that only recently seems to be re-surfacing from oblivion in international film events (only last year Mario O'Hara's Woman of Breakwater's selection at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs put an end to a 15 year absence of Filipino films in Cannes), this one-of-a-kind masterwork should reset our perception of film geography like a portentous seism. Secondly, by being well in excess of the allotted two hours that fits multiple daily theatrical screenings, TV schedules and most people's routines of viewing, Evolution of a Filipino Family frontally undermines our comfortable notions of cinema as leisure, demanding dedication and commitment, depriving us of a full day of multiple occupations – or, at a festival, of multiple viewings. This emphasis on experience and time has to be carefully highlighted because Diaz's film, as inherently asserted by its title, depicts, but at the same time stages, a process that takes place in and through time. The notion of time frame is therefore there on two planes: on the one hand, the diegetic 16 year span between the promulgation of martial law by Philippines President Fernando Marcos in 1972 and the 1987 Mendiola massacre of farmers that put to an abrupt end to the hopes for an epochal change in Corazon “Cory” Aquino; on the other hand, the 10 hour 30 minutes of film projection, of articulation of time through images and sound. These two temporal dimensions find a nexus in Diaz's brave attempt in bringing to cinematic consistency the perception and actual employment of time of his peasant protagonists. From its first sequences, Evolution of a Filipino Family requires a total immersion and abandonment to the slow-flowing, sometimes pleasant, sometimes dull, or even boring and painful, life in the rice paddies of South East Asia, absorbing the viewer into a space-time dimension that is no doubt other and demands adjustment and attunement. Once entered the rhythm of the film, one can easily go with its flow and comprehend the whole abstract architecture of Diaz's time employment strategy. The evolution and changes undergone by the protagonists thus appear as the flipside of the bigger historical canvas that, as in Hou Hsiao-hsien's City of Sadness (1989), are left on the margin of the actual cinematic illustration. As with Hou, Diaz chooses to tell the story of his country and of his people from below, as he resolutely indexes the peasant culture and the kinship system as the emblematic root of Filipino identity. His characters' struggles for a normal everyday life mirror the painful turmoil endured by an entire people, and cinematic length (of the whole film, but of the single sequences as well) becomes the abstraction of the long, never-ending and disillusioned journey of the Filipinos towards their self-assertion. Finally, the presence of Lino Brocka in the film's narration, through the re-enactment of actual interviews and the involvement of one of the main characters in a plot to murder him, represents not only a homage and tribute to the artist who raised his voice against Marcos and often put his feet into the dictator's dish, but also a virtual statement of affinity, if not in style, at least in the truthful commitment towards filmmaking made by and for the people of the Philippines.

Diaz's masterpiece left aside, one should dutifully turn towards a commentary on the official competition for the Tiger Awards. Rotterdam's competition is open only to filmmakers' first and second films; once, this was the main prerogative of Locarno, but as the Swiss festival moved towards a more ambitious and conformist emulation of Cannes, Venice and Berlin in the attempt to become the “fourth biggest festival”, Rotterdam aptly took its place in venturing into the active search for the “big names of tomorrow”. This constant projecting towards the future is perhaps the main consistency in Rotterdam's history, as shown by the multiple initiatives in sponsoring future projects through its own Hubert Bals Fund (for films from the Third, Fourth and former Second World…) and through the CineMart (a market for international co-production of arthouse films) (1). Nevertheless, one cannot escape the temptation to blame Rotterdam's official juries, as more and more elsewhere as well, for lacking perspicuity in some of their choices and being easy prey for short-lasting, inconsistent sensationalism. As for me, this was the case with this year's big sensation in Rotterdam and recipient of a Tiger Award: 4 by Ilya Khrzhanovsky (2004). As a deeply allegorical portrait of contemporary Russian societal malaise, 4 stops at nothing to provide audiences with images of moral decay and urban alienation, coupled with the sordid otherness and horror-like surrealist folklore of life in the countryside. In the end, the film is nothing more than a cunning exploitation of a “self-exoticised” image of Russia, conducted with calculated detachment, but not enough to avoid the pitfalls of overstatement and redundancy. Unfortunately, I cannot comment about the second of the three winners, Daniele Gaglianone's Changing Destiny (Nemmeno il Destino) (2004), because it was the only film in competition I didn't see, but as for the third, Spanish documentary The Sky Turns (El Cielo Gira) (2004) by newcomer Mercedes Alvarez, it seems to me a much wiser choice than 4.

Alvarez's film chronicles a year in the dying village where the director was born and through the passing of seasons composes a visually exquisite and sensitive poem on human impermanence. The film not only relies on the lyrical images and the conspicuous focus on the passing of time, but also benefits from the humorous esprit of the village dwellers, who don't refrain from political chitchat on topics spanning from war in Iraq to the years of the Civil War. The further presence of a painter who is going blind prompts comparison to Victor Erice's The Quince Tree Sun (1992), itself a deep reflection on art, the passing of time, and human transience, although The Sky Turns lacks the full-bodied conceptual containment of Erice's masterpiece (albeit the films are different in scope).

However, if the jury was to highlight what really was representative of landmark developments in recent filmmaking, then it should have not contented itself with just a special mention to the most outstanding film in competition, Ho Yuhang's Sanctuary (2004). A prominent exponent of the Malaysian digital new wave, which in most instances could be described as an emanation of the wider constellation of Chinese diasporic cinema, Ho has consistently improved in ambition and achievement since his already remarkable debut feature Min (2003). In Sanctuary Ho depicts the alienation and dissemination of Chinese Malaysians, focusing, through a neat and articulate formal scheme, on their marginalisation, by conveying a feeling of spatial compartmentalisation and a denial of verbal interaction. Ho refuses to let his three protagonists share with each other the spaces they inhabit, yet at the same time he delineates separate trajectories that refuse direct interplay. For these characters there's no escape from a sense of permanent floating and idleness, since possible redemption through a safe identitary anchor is denied by the loss, or rather hybridisation, of their Chineseness. Inevitably, the pillars of identity provided by family and house (which in Chinese culture, are equated) are here severely jeopardised. At the figurative level, Ho seals his protagonists outside a house that is impossible to share, (re)staging twice a sequence of denied access that is the ultimate key to enter the film; at the semantic level, by questioning the notion of jia (house=family) and the codification of human relationships, Ho ventures into territories close to those mapped by the most famous Malaysian Chinese, the Taiwan-adopted Tsai Ming-liang, however as he does not provide new possible combinations of bonding, and instead stresses the paralysing impasse, Ho's film is even bleaker and more discomforting than those of Tsai. A remarkable detail, nonetheless, asserts the “Chineseness” of this Malaysian film (2): the original title of the film is Wù, meaning fog or mist in Chinese; in the opening credit, the character, whose radical is “rain”, is just followed by an empty shot of falling rain.

Another remarkable competing title also came from South East Asia: Bride of Silence (Hat mua roi bao lau) (2005), made by Vietnamese sister and brother filmmakers Doan Minh Phuong and Doan Thanh Nghia. Described as the very first feminist film out of Vietnam, Bride of Silence is indeed a film that highlights the plight of the female subject, not so much through its apparent, obvious tale of a pre-colonial Vietnam peasant girl who chooses silence and refuses to reveal the name of the man who made her pregnant, and her consequent condemnation from the village community, but for its way of articulating its fabula with narrative devices that stress the notion of enunciation, in terms of subjectivity and gendering. As the whole story is put into images that rely upon concentric and imbricate narrations voiced by male characters, the Doan siblings emphasise the idealisations, manipulations and falsifications operated upon the story of a female character by male narrators. The search for his mother (the “bride” of the title), or rather the story of his mother, by the young male protagonist reveals itself to be a pretext, or better an interface, through which to illustrate and thematise the denial of voice to the woman character/s, who in the end linger/s as impenetrable, ineffable Sphinx/es. The Doans in fact clinch their portrait of feminine elusiveness through a second female character, doomed to premature, enigmatic volatilisation, a singer that fascinates the young protagonist searching for his mother, providing a meaningful décalage, intrinsically resounding of déjà vu, and localised at a different level of narration (and once again voiced or projected by the subjectivity of a male character). Ultimately, the film bravely questions the whole notion of (its) representation and illustration as stated through a haunting sequence in the first half of the film: when the young peasant tells the story of her illicit escape into wilderness (which might surreptitiously conceal the secret of her pregnancy), the camera moves away to the empty courtyard, refusing to apply to her tale the same canon of (male-originated) illustration that organises the structure of the whole film. Bride of Silence also received a special mention (to my personal recollection, it is the first time a Rotterdam jury has awarded special mentions other than the three usual, equal Tiger Awards).

Spying Cam (Frakchi) (2004), by independent Korean filmmaker Whang Cheol-mean (more conventionally transcribed as Hwang Cheol-min), was instead the deserved winner of the FIPRESCI prize. One could easily argue that Whang's film is the most enticing political pamphlet penned through cinema in years. Seemingly starting as an huis clos featuring two men barricaded in a sweltering motel room, playing puzzling games of defiance and domination that cannot fit the external world's attempt of tagging them as a gay couple, Spying Cam slowly descends into the hells of moral theorisation staging the rehearsals of a video-play of Crime and Punishment by the two men. The political scope is not yet revealed, but the different interactions with and fruition of the text and of its meaning provides an abstract, yet powerful factual allocation of the characters in the chessboard of human interaction, and also perceptively plays on a metonymical, though still undefined, level. When, eventually, light is fully shed on the historical and political context (which for Korean audiences is anticipated by the original title, referring to spies infiltrated by the military in youth organisations opposing the regime), the film reshapes itself as a tense thriller, doomed to an ill-fated ending. The intriguing narrative denouement of Whang's film, which seems to progressively track from the more undefined, general and universal to the more specific and circumscribed, zooming on basic details only at the very last minute, acts as a proficient tool to bewilder audiences but, at the same time, promptly allows them to interrogate themselves about the interplay between the macro level of contingent political situations and the micro level of human nature and individual behaviour. The questions Spying Cam raises are indeed gripping, and the way Whang rears them through the dual device of the video camera and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment makes them resound as simultaneously timeless and inescapably contemporary.

In continuity with the best of Cannes last year, apart from Asian features, the picks of the Rotterdam competition were the Latin American entries. The Brazilian Dunor My Friend (O Amigo Dunor) (2005) by José Eduardo Alcazar is a magmatic concoction of disparate images and sounds coming from the editing process of a grotesque B-movie and tells the story of a blind man who wants to get rid of his pestiferous wheelchair-confined wife, and the aulic and exotic notes of travel of a French intellectual visiting Brazil, against the background of military dictatorship in the late '70s. Alcazar's film delves (not so) obliquely into the turmoil of Brazilian history, commenting sapidly on the cultural and social context of those days, but it also functionally fractures itself to question the idea of Brazil at large, in all its external and internal, political and historical and, of course, cinematic implications. From Argentina, Kept and Dreamless (Las Mantenidas sin sueños) (2005), the first feature directed by actress Vera Fogwill and Martin Desalvo was perhaps the most commercially viable and crowd-pleasing film competing for the Tiger Awards, and it is undeniably surprising that apparently it still has not attracted the interest it deserves from international buyers. Filled with witty and humorous lines that are never shallow, this bittersweet and often piercing story of a child who's much smarter than her ten years of age, of her drug-addicted mother, and the oddly eccentric characters that surround them gives an unexpected and insightful view of contemporary Argentina: not only does Kept and Dreamless play whimsically with the tropes of the devastating economical crisis, but it also understatedly examines the role of bourgeois conformism in shaping the country's past and present, thus presenting a memorable collective coming of age story that is telling in its socio-political frame and thoroughly mature in its approach to filmmaking. A real gem of a film.

As for the other titles in competition, as usual at IFFR, most presented reasons or aspects of thematic interest or aesthetic quality, nevertheless what made them pale in comparison with the aforementioned films was the lack of engagement into larger discourse enabling them to overcome the strict individuality or the feeling of “undistinguishedness”. Films like Thomas Durchschlag's Alone (Allein) (2004) – a sensitive portrait of a disturbed woman that features an impressive performance from actress Lavinia Wilson – or Waves (Onde) (2005) by Francesco Fei – a story of the strange love affair between a young woman with a big mark on her face and a blind musician that offers an interesting cogitation on vision and identity and makes good use of refined sound design and the unusual background of the city of Genoa – although they certainly achieved their specific goals, struggle with the palpable, incumbent risks of déjà vu, and seem to obliterate the common concerns about contemporary European (art) cinema as lost into conventional narratives of individual or relational solitude, incapable of mirroring wider socio-political context or engaging into radical formal or narrative challenges. The same syndrome somehow affects another film of the Chinese diaspora, the Dutch competition entry Paradise Girls (2004) by Fow Pyng Hu, whose three portraits of Asian women in different countries never quite escape the limits of a now-conventional conceptual scheme of articulation. The worst example of this lassitude was Norwegian Erik Poppe's Hawaii, Oslo (2004), an overly predictable and lenient urban fresco playing with the usual mechanics of intertwining destinies, or what Fredric Jameson suitably defined as “synchronous monadic simultaneity”, without any vigour or novelty. Russian independent cinema icon Renata Litvinova in her directorial debut Goddess (Boginya: kak ya polyubila) (2004) at least follows the unusual steps of her mentor Kira Muratova; unfortunately her film is ruined by a preposterous narcissism and an embarrassingly ridiculous ending that unabashedly overstates the ultimate “meaning” of the film.

Finally, The Soup, One Morning (2004) by Takahashi Izumi happened to be an interesting counterproof and refreshing answer to the redundancies of most European films in being another film dealing with alienation and relational impasse, mixed with a concern on the growing penetration of the sect phenomenon in Japanese society, but in giving this riskily hackneyed concept a visual treatment of uncompromised rigour that highlights the resourceful skills and invention of the filmmaker in using a limited set of resources (one apartment, two characters) to the maximum aesthetic and emotional profit.


1. Recently inaugurated, similar initiatives of Berlin (Berlinale Co-Production Market) and now Cannes (l'Atelier du Festival) easily demonstrate the groundbreaking contribution of Rotterdam in re-defining the role of a festival.

2. One has here to remind that since the late '70s filmmaking in languages other than Malay was officially banned in Malaysia (the so-called bumiputra-ism of cinema, bumiputra meaning “son of the earth”). All Chinese filmmakers of the new wave of Malaysian cinema have thus been actually operating in illegality.

Senses of Cinema issue no. 35, apr-jun 2005

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

XVIII. The Political Matters. The Soul Does, Too. Wise Old Men Rule.

The Venice Film Festival, 2007

By Barbara Wurm

Every big festival comprises a minimum of two festivals, no matter how you differ your own private cine-right from cine-wrong – high vs low, mainstream vs avant-garde, Hollywood vs small film cultures, industry vs auteur cinema. Venice offers a lot more than that. Not because its program divides into a multiplicity of subsections, segregating – like so many others do – the (suggested) commercial from the (suggested) cinephile, but because, quite on the contrary, it allows to be screened right in the heart of grandezza films which you would probably never get to see if you relied completely on your national distribution machinery. With a countless number of extraordinarily special films – films taking high aesthetical risks, films with a maximum of determined and yet idiosyncratic decisions in form and content – Venice is at the same time the most interesting of the three big A-list festivals as it is a real quarry for real cine-buffs. Whereas Cannes establishes a strict, hierarchical system intentionally creating atmospheres of stars vs wisdom, and Berlin owes much of its (seemingly vanishing) intellectual acceptance to the Forum section, in Venice the gesture of benevolence in programming seems to apply rather to big film industry products than it does to the multitude of (elsewhere) so-called “special” or even “nutty” cases. Marco Müller is a canny programmer with a broad spectrum of world cinema knowledge. The ’07 edition of the mostra demonstrated this on several levels, the most noticeable being the careful and accurate (pre-)selection within certain regional fields. In the broader context they were granted, a number of films from beyond the (US-)empire proved to be of eminent importance for an international, global cine-world – even if this message doesn’t seem to have got around to most anglo-saxon film journals and sales distributors. For them, not very surprisingly, Venice was the festival of Todd Haynes and Wes Anderson, Woody Allen and Ken Loach, maybe even Kenneth Branagh and Peter Greenaway, Tony Gilroy and Paul Haggis; or, to name those who really deserve it, of Abdellatif Kechiche’s La Graine et le mulet (The Secret of the Grain), Brian de Palma’s Redacted, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, or the well-merited Golden Lion winner, Ang Lee’s Se, jie (Lust, Caution).

If one, however, looked just a bit closer (and maybe more broad-mindedly), what was advanced by this year’s festival was the crème de la crème of Catalan cinema (Pere Portabella, José Luis Guerin, Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza), the overwhelming sophistication in Chinese hybrid documentary filmmaking (Lü Yue, Jia Zhang-ke, Du Haibin), the fine distinctions within Russian contemporary political statements (Aleksey Balabanov, Nikita Mikhalkov, Aleksandr Mindadze), a creative newcomer couple from Mexico (Laura Amelia Guzmán & Israel Cárdenas), central marginal figures in German cinema (Hartmut Bitomsky, Alexander Kluge, Andreas Kleinert), two radicals in political narration (the Filipino Lav Diaz and the Italian Giulio Questi), two fixed stars of independent cinema (the Japanese Aoyama Shinji and the Italian Tonino De Bernardi), two agent provocateurs against rotten-to-the-core corrupt systems (Vincenzo Marra about Italy, Youssef Chahine about Egypt), two old pervert Frenchmen you can count on (Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol), one old pervert Brazilian you can also count on (Júlio Bressane), another old – 99! – and slightly differently pervert Portuguese you’d better not count on (Manoel de Oliveira), the master of the Korean pansori-genre (Im Kwon Taek), two-as-one master(s) of Hong Kong-genre-film (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai), a meta-master of autobiographical comedy (Kitano Takeshi), the emancipation of an actor (Lee Kang-sheng) and the glorious, genre-gambling topping of this year’s big Spaghetti-western-retrospective (Miike Takashi).

Altogether Venice ’07 featured an utmost breadth in genre and style. This also holds true for the many but clearly structured side-programs: Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman, 2007’s two big losses of world cinema, were remembered in honour; two special Golden Lions were given to Tim Burton (“Career Achievement Award 2007”) and Bernardo Bertolucci, recipient of the 75th Anniversary Golden Lion. However, thanks to the visionary approach in programming, not the big name Bertolucci, but Alexander Kluge, German filmmaker, writer, producer, teacher and TV-revolutionary, who also turned 75 that year, was granted a personal retrospective, a special one indeed, an “interlude” within the festival, reflecting the very nature not only of his own working method but also of the profound logic of festival programming as such (and the mostra in particular). In an act of meta-editing-as-curating Kluge (nomen est omen – “klug” means “wise, clever” in German) – the “Lichtenberg of digital cinema” (Müller) – put together five extensive programs, consisting of extracts from 40 years of his film oeuvre (program 1: My Century, My Beast!) and some elaborate confrontation-montages of cinema with other forms of art (which he has been developing during his many years working in German television). Das Phänomen der Oper (The Opera Phenomenon), a commentary on the Gesamtkunstwerk-nature of both, opera and film, as well as a cinematic web of numerous Verdi-fragments, displaying the very essence of this traditional art genre: “They constitute A Single Great Score which has faithfully accompanied the errors and achievements of bourgeois society for 400 years,” writes Kluge in his catalogue essay. Kluge’s TV-cinema-d’auteur is full of wit and philosophy, of drive and poetry. But, more than that, every sequence bears the abysmal depth of his political criticism – anti-bourgeois etudes and anti-imperialist pinprick-punches from someone whose probably-greatest film title defines this strategy: In Gefahr und größter Not bringt der Mittelweg den Tod (In Danger and Deep Distress, the Middle Way Spells Certain Death, 1974).

The Kluge special was therefore not a vermicular appendix of the “main” program, but a smart meta-comment on the art of curating and the possibilities in defining innovative film policy. As if elaborated intentionally for Venice, the determined renouncement of the certain death spelling middle way became the secret motto of the festival. One other level of evidence for the importance of this motto was the big retrospective dedicated to Italian Western of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Not only is this genre generally known for the rather rigorous rejection of middle-way-solutions by its heroes, the very decision to reveal it as “secret history of Italian Cinema” is yet another demonstration of the decisive turn towards a subtle, broad and open-minded interpretation of film history. It was, by the way, marvellous to see the film community shrink down to a great fistful of hard-boiled colt-freaks who – after a day starting at 8.30am with the first screening, that is to say, after having seen at least half a dozen of films – attended the phenomenal midnight double feature of Giorgio Ferroni’s Un dollaro bucato (1965) and Lucio Fulci’s I quattro dell’Apocalisse (1975), which, needless to say, this is Italy after all, was accompanied by very talkative experts and therefore went on until about 4.30am next morning. But no night session would prevent superstar Giuliano Gemma, alias Montgomery Wood, who in Ferroni’s post-civil war ambushes (but doesn’t kill) his brother out of a kind of commissioned oedipal blindness, from walking around the Lido, looking splendid and tanned, as if no horse had ever kicked him in his bottom. Besides terrific looks and an un-beatable (and bearable) coolness in appearance, the Spaghetti-genre is full of fantastic aliases, the meticulous decryption of which was the least contribution the retrospective made to the history of film. The revision of a hidden film canon, inspired profoundly by Quentin Tarantino, highlighted the big names like Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Sollima or Carlo Lizzani (Un fiume di dollari, 1966) as well as widely forgotten directors like Duccio Tessari or Cesare Canevari.

Apart from Quentin Tarantino’s real and (hilarious!) screen appearance (in Miike Takashi’s phantasmagorical – and unfortunately highly underestimated – genre “parody” Sukiyaki Western Django), one other director of the “western all’italiana” program conquered a “main” section, the giornate degli autori: Giulio Questi. His 21-minute video-d’auteur Visitors gives you the creeps (bad creeps indeed, but very apparently necessary in terms of political education on the one hand and trauma therapy on the other). Sixty years have passed since the end of WW II, and yet the ghosts of the Italian civil war fought between '43 and '45 keep coming back. In fact, they cannot die (or be taken away by space ship fleet admiral Crosius), until there are still people around who remember them. The uninvited visitors – dead souls of black fascists killed by Questi, the red partisan – literally rise from the book he is reading in his flat (the flat being the entire setting of this alternative and quite surreal historical re-enactment doc-fiction-essay, all parts of which are performed by the master himself). Questi’s single handed digital video keeps up the insanity and fierceness of his personal (and Italian national) experience in the Resistance struggle, which in 1967 he dealt with within the genre frames of the Italian western in his film Se sei vivo spara. In Visitors he adds several layers of explicit theories about the brutal fighting, maintaining a great deal and sense of revolutionary anarchism (so uncommon in contemporary essay-cinema).

Taking this short (and only seemingly “minor”) chef-d’oeuvre as a starting point for tracking down the central approaches of the innovative films presented in Venice, a number of threads can be traced. To name but three, let’s start with a certain craziness, the libertinage of the thinking human mind, or rather, the vigour of the surreal-in-the-pervert, which Júlio Bressane as such, and especially his superbly nutty masterpiece Cleópatra, stands for (the film is an orgiastic, lyrical and mad reverie culturelle, to use Bressane’s own definition, an essay in staging the power of myths and sexual pleasure). The spirit of freedom and experimentiation transgresses the screen and literally ropes you in. Apart from the dirty old man Bressane, it is, of course, Eric Rohmer’s Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon (The Romance of Astrée and Celadon), invaded by a bevy of nymphs, which needs to be mentioned here, and, in order to conclude this subsection of libertinage, Claude Chabrol’s La Fille coupée en deux (The Girl Cut in Two) with its very French style of subordination displayed here by Ludivine Sagnier, who in one scene crawls on the floor, vested but in a fabulous peacock tail lingerie.

The second feature that could be retrieved from Questi’s Visitors is the radical approach in political narration of history. As a complementary film within this second subdivision – and especially in length the perfect match – there seems to be only one volunteer: Lav Diaz’s new magnum opum Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos), five-hundred-and-forty minutes of duration and endurance, cinematographic revelation, and the creation of pondering images on the edge of documentary and fiction. Uncompromising as usual, but maybe more explicit than in his recent film Heremias (2006), the Filipino independent-maitre intermingles at least three stories into one massive stream of dealing with the national and historical traumata: the consistent (hi)story of Philippine governmental repression (including fierce working prohibition and even torture), the actual event of the typhoon Reming (Durian) striking the Philippines in November 2006, killing hundreds of people and burying villages; and the story of the “artist as a no longer young man”, the great Filipino poet Benjamin Agusan to be precise, who – after seven years of living and leaving (in) Russia – seems to suffer even more from his unhasty, intense return to his native country. It proves Diaz’s quality as seismograph of the developments in his country, that right in the middle of shooting a different film, he took the terrible typhoon as an initial point for Death in the Land of Encantos, seeing in it a metaphor for the ruined state the Philippines are in. The most impressive moments – if one can call two and half hours of running time still a moment, well, in Diaz’s temporal setting one can, I guess – are the moments one realises the significance of each and every seemingly empty action (somebody wandering through a devastated landscape, touching plants, or just sitting around on the veranda of his little shack), of all the fragmentary conversations, that can be picked up throughout the film. What takes place here is the gentle, slow formation of a new form of “history of mentalities”, the detour to (Eastern) Europe and back to Asia being its link to global history. The post-colonial fight for liberation continues, it is now fought with a video camera. Independence starts here, on the marginal conjunctions of a film set in the tropics, and ends on the screen of a Venice festival theatre. It is just another sign of the global shifts and changes taking place, that Europe finally realises how much it means for the widely ignored political and aesthetical movements in South East Asia. To make a long story short: the timeless screening of Death in the Land of Encantos on the last day in Venice was the coronation of a strong week of cinematography, showing more than any other film, that the state of the political and the state of the human soul are inseparably linked together.

Turning to the third thread laid out by Questi and retrieved in the Venice program, Lav Diaz’s contemplative attitude in retelling a hidden political agenda (Aroya’s fierce fight against leftists) works as a fine counterpart for the core of Europe’s political problem child number one: Russia. Of a number of more or less harmless to useless films produced over the last year (talking about the general decay of genre cinema, Russia is probably its last palladium, unfortunately not in the best sense of the word/idea…), the mostra chose to show highly political issues in three of them. The least-noticed one, Aleksandr Mindadze’s Otryy (Soar), actually comes closest to the previously-mentioned linkage of politics and soul in a new cinema of mentalities. This Eastern European version of a Lynch-like Inland Empire treats an individual trauma (the post-catastrophic moment of absolute freedom of action and thought, the “soaring” of a man after a plane crash) as politicised matter, touching upon all symptoms of the catastrophic nature of Russia’s governmental collapse, and reflecting the national trauma as such, the dramatic and traumatic condition of a country, where only chaos seems to be steadily and intentionally organised. (1) The opposite in style and tone is delivered by the big boss of Russia’s film union, Nikita Mikhalkov, who in addition to thinking aloud (and continuously) about a presidential candidacy or the reconstruction of Moscow’s cine-theatrical structure (which looks more like an act of destruction, in fact), has managed to bring together a fine ensemble of great actors, in order to do a remake of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957) à la post-sovietique. The acting of his team is so perfect that the film was commonly regarded as the winner of the Golden Lion ’07, which in the end held only partly true, since Mikhalkov was given a special lion for his career – like Jean Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet last year (what an act of total injustice and fatal neutralisation as they really produced films way off mainstream, daring, stubborn, fierce, agonistic, and completely beyond the personal need of compliments). But not only the prize but already the naïve exaltation about Mikhalkov’s 12 obscures the fact that Saint Nikita, as we should finally call him, distributes a very dubious, if not dangerous political message: at the very end of the story, after having sat there for hours without interfering, recording (with slightly suppressed contempt) the other jury members’ statements or commenting on them with the nods of an apparently wise old man, this last angry man declares the end of democracy and the end of political systems as such, offering – in fluent Chechen, but who would actually be surprised about that – sanctuary and political asylum to the innocent accused young boy. The perfect asylum for the victim, however, on the other side equals the return of the sovereign, a strong wise leading figure, with a sympathy for orthodox religion, whose only remaining gesture of power is an act of grace. No wonder, Lav Diaz’s poet needed to escape this kind of refuge… The third film from Russia was the only really strong one, a chef-d’oeuvre in many concerns: Gruz 200 (Cargo 200) directed by the enfant terrible of the lost empire’s mainstream cinema, Aleksey Balabanov. The very fact that he produces mainstream work turns his political statements into highly provocative messages. Gruz 200 is a wild and harsh comment on the last years of the Soviet Union, set in an average industrial town (Leninsk) in late 1984, creating a very focused picture of moral decay, social erosion and political corruption. Around the story of an officer, raping an innocent girl and setting her up for her future husband (whose dead body, for this purpose, is delivered in a coffin from the Afghanistan war – the “cargo 200” referred to in the film’s title, and put next to her, into the bed, where she has just been raped again by an ex-inmate), Balabanov juggles genres with pleasure and skill (and nearly as perfect as Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai in their fantastic – yet underestimated – Shentan (Mad Detective), referring not only, but with enthusiasm, to George Romero, underlining his great impact on Russian subculture and its psycho-political struggle with authorities.

Speaking of political provocations, two other films need to be highlighted: Vincenzo Marra’s L’ora di punta and Youssef Chahine’s and Khaled Youssef’s Heya fawda (Chaos). The grandpa of Egyptian cinema, Chahine, like Balabanov, tells a straight story of a sinuous evil police officer, whose dreams of omnipotence, choleric fits and acts of repression find an end in the basement cell of his office, where he has arranged a fine cell for torture experiments on political opponents (or just average citizens, who happen to be protesting against the nation-wide system of corruption and bribery). Whereas in Chaos one scene hastily follows the next, rendering a colourful, pathetic atmosphere of social blackouts – Yasser Abdel Rahman’s music is terrific! – Vincenzo Marra, on the other hand, interweaves his extremely bad picture of today’s bad, bad Italy (an answer, of course, to the Italian wash-out numero uno of last year, Nanni Moretti’s Il caimano) with the dramatic and super-realistic psycho-social downfall of a young tax officer, who pushes his luck just a bit too far. Mafia attitudes have penetrated every sector of administration and business, above all the building industry. And the surface of appearances is kept clean and fresh, as clean and fresh and handsome as an average Italian neo-bourgeois can be. This struggle, the one about maintaining his good looks, Marra’s hero never loses, but – as offspring of poorer roots – he is doomed to lose the bigger fight concerning his career, his fate and his soul. For the mainly Italian audience, it must have pained them to see their own lovely private lives vanish in Marra’s dramatic (and only seemingly psychologically-motivated) mirror of a rotten society. Both films, Chaos and L’ora di punta, were crudely ignored and quite disrespectfully laughed at by the majority of the audience – at least at the press screening of the latter they booed out their guts – casting a rather damning light on the credibility of this very audience (since nobody, of course, would ever dare to cry out in pain and disgust during Mikhalkov’s annunciation of his holiness).

Split attitudes towards films with clear cut messages and decisive stylistic arrangements could also be sensed in the case of Cristovão Colombo – O Enigma (Christopher Columbus – The Enigma), Manoel de Oliveira’s trip retracing Columbus’ steps through Portugal and its once global empire, being, in fact, a veritably enigmatic doc-fictitious something with a quite proto-nationalist fixation. Obviously, the emphasised intermingling of genres, especially of fiction and documentary, finally seems to be established, taking into account, as described in length, Giulio Questi and Lav Diaz, but also looking at two favourites in competition, Brian de Palma’s Redacted – quite a few lost brains thought that his embedded-soldier-videos was direct footage (real stuff!) from Iraq – and Abdellatif Kechiche’s La Graine et le mulet, an apathetic yet human story of a day in the life of a shipyard worker, whose attempt to escape his immigrant misery and set up a fish restaurant is depicted within his natural habitat in Sète, South-West France. Another great feature about tormented souls, suffering from (but at the same time feeding on) the social conditions they live in, was the young couple’s Laura Amelia Guzmán’s & Israel Cárdenas’ Cochochi, a realistic, sensitive account of the life of two kids, indigenous brothers in northwest Mexico. After being sent off to deliver some medicine, their journey extends not only to the borders of the nature and geography surrounding them, but also the inner boundaries of character and the human nature. One can hardly forget even their slightest gestures, the way they hop on trucks, in order to travel huge distances, or the way they look at a horse (passion!), which they were supposed to look after, but seem to have lost out of sight.

Besides the documentary quality in fiction, there is a strong trend in documentaries to open up the genre. Widely “accepted as uncommon”, these films may still be identified as documentaries. Here, Venice ’07 displayed an absolutely vast spectre of innovative approaches, representing for me at the same time absolute highlights of the festival. Staub (Dust) – Hartmut Bitomsky’s latest monumental essay on the minimal particles constituting and destroying the essence of life – deliberately frames his exploration into a house-wife’s vacuum cleaned apartment, a woman’s artsy dust-collection, and deep into the tubes and tunnels of scientists’ realms (particle accelerators and such) – with a reference to John Ford’s Wagon Master (1950) and Victor Sjöström’s The Wind (1928) in the beginning and at the end of the movie.

But Staub is, of course, a hardcore intellectual investigation into one of man’s weirdest Sisyphus fights, an ironic hymn about cleanliness- or fluff-fetishists, an expansion of scientific and phenomenological knowledge, the avoidance of “the human factor” (so widely common in the average contemporary documentary) for the benefit of “the material factor”, and therefore rather the stabilisation of objective methods than an expansion of conventional genre boarders.

Concerning the transgression of modes – documentary and fiction, this is – the most exciting attempts nowadays definitely come from China. At the mostra, the most evident trace of this trend was Lü Yue’s breathtaking Xiaoshuo (The Obscure), a two-fold account of a (documentary) meeting of twelve members of China’s Writers’ Associations and the (fictitious) rendezvous of the young woman, responsible for the organisation of the workshop, and a young man. What is absolutely stunning about this film is the high skill with which these seemingly separated stories are brought together. With only a few cuts throughout the film, Lü Yue hardly interferes into the action, and yet produces a clear structure, giving the protagonists plenty of time to speak. And they have a fair bit to talk about, especially the members of the association. In 84 minutes we probably learn more about Chinese society and culture (philosophy and poetry in particular), than we’d learn during a five-year western study programme. There is a whole lot of emancipation in the speeches of Fang Fang, a glorious craziness in those of Mian Mian, and an eternal wisdom about tradition and modernity in those of Ah Cheng.

The second demonstration of the art of new documentary came from last year’s Golden Lion-winner, Jia Zhang-ke (who had already back then proved this skill with his semi-documentary Dong about the painter Liu Xiaodong). His magnificent Wuyong (Useless) features the highest form of combining sensitivity and research, exploring the meaning and working of textures not only on a material level – it is a portrait of clothing, of people who make them and people who wear them – but also on a syntactical, structural one, since it interweaves different types of life stories and regions, representing the multitude of Chinese culture. On the one hand there is the famous “anti-fashion” designer Ma Ke whose exhibitions and shows are celebrated in the great capitals of haute-couture like Paris, on the other there are the quite different economic conditions of a small tailor’s shop in the mining area of Fanyang and the sewing machine factories in Canton. In addition to the most beautiful press-kit ever (sic!), Useless delights by a rhythm unique in the realm of documentary – even if Du Haibin’s San / Umbrella is also a highly complex and spirited document of Chinese rural society as well as a meditation about modernisation (also in the sector of textile production), Jia Zhang-ke remains special.

Jia’s contemplative feeling of time and montage might be juxtaposed by a number of more or less narrative feature films only: Im Kwon Taek’s super-classical Chun-nyun-hack (Beyond the Years), a tragic and lifelong love story about adoptive siblings (singer and drummer) and at the same time a survey of Korean 20th century history; Sad Vacation, Aoyama Shinji’s outstanding cool and yet honest prime example of slow realism; Bangbang wo aishen (Help Me Eros) by Lee Kang Sheng, Tsai Ming-liang’s eternal muse, a pretty wacky sexual fantasy, consisting of idiosyncratic fetishes (like a fat woman sharing her bath tub with an eel) and surreal photography mainly (like several patterns of fashion brands projected on artistically interleaved copulating bodies); Tonino De Bernardi’s wonderful Médée Miracle, starring Isabelle Huppert as Medea alias Irène, a woman full of love, hate and despair, calm in her abysmal affection, lascivious in her longing voice, balancing along the fine line between destruction and devotion; and last, but not least, José Luis Guerin’s En la ciudad de Sylvia (In the City of Sylvia), the atmospherically dense but blissfully light metaphysical search for life, love and beauty, de-transcended, so to speak, onto the pages of a sketch-book, where a young man drafts the gestures of people and the signatures of the Manet type of city he strolls through (see also Dan Sallitt’s report on Toronto ’07, “The Responsibilities of Power”).

This determined yet open for whatever-might-come seismograph of emotions is proof of an enormously mature (but never saturated) mark, of pure perfection, and of a deliberate choice in forming the eccentric towards reality (and not the other way round). It looks as if Cataluña were the current cradle of decisiveness in style and exceptionality in topics. Together with Guerin, Catalan cinema’s grand old man, Pere Portabella, whose Die Stille vor Bach (The Silence before Bach) brought forth a fantastically minimal art film poster and a maximum of lucidity, established this kind of a leading role at the Venice film festival. This proto-European film tells the story of the life of Johann Sebastian Bach, re-enacted by people whose lives and jobs are driven by the master’s legacy – the organist and composer Christian Brembeck plays Bach, whereas others, like Leipzig’s Thomaskantor, a tourist guide, or a book seller play themselves. The result is a high-risk-taking experiment in intentional anachronism (the present in the past, not the past in the present), rendering yet an all the more precise and thoroughly researched picture of the grandness of Bach’s oeuvre and the impact it has today. There are three scenes in Die Stille vor Bach, as mighty and majestic, like no other image developed during some enormous days in Venice: the opening sequence, in which an automatic pianola moves through the white vaults of a huge room (an architectonic kind of resonating cavity), playing some of the Goldberg Variations; the performance of a group of pianists in a gigantic piano store; and another young musicians’ group tour through the underground, where they pervade the interior of the metro-wagon with a sound created by at least two dozen cellos. Salvation is near in moments like these.

Senses of Cinema, issue no. 46, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

XVII. Diaz, l’œil du cyclone

par Olivier Séguret

Pas facile de faire un choix parmi les multiples programmations qui forment l’éventail riche et moiré du Festival du réel  : Americana, Prisons, Tourisme, etc. Il n’empêche  : attirer l’attention sur le cinéaste philippin Lav Diaz relève du devoir critique incontournable. Présenté dans la section En Asie du Sud-Est, où il côtoie notamment le bizarroïde et fiévreux Raya Martin, son compatriote, Diaz est un documentariste d’une cinquantaine d’années, que la planète cinéphile a récemment découvert au gré de quelques festivals (Venise, Rotterdam…) où il a produit un même effet de souffle.

Le souffle est d’ailleurs la caractéristique première de son travail  : il ne faut pas en manquer pour affronter, comme il le fait, le réel dans sa profondeur et dans sa durée, sur des longueurs à faire déguerpir les lâches. Son dernier grand œuvre, Evolution of a Filipino family, s’étendait sur douze chapitres et six cent quarante-cinq minutes  ; son dernier ouvrage, Death in the Land of Encantos, s’embrasse en dix épisodes qui totalisent neuf heures de film.

L’argument de Death in the Land of Encantos est le retour du poète philippin Benjamin Agusan sur les lieux de son enfance, région depuis longtemps très défavorisée de l’Archipel et sur laquelle s’est de surcroît abattu le ravageur typhon Reming. Agusan multiplie les rencontres avec de vieilles relations ou de parfaits inconnus, dont il recueille les confessions parfois endeuillées, parfois amères, parfois explosives d’humour et de vitalité. La dérive de ce guide particulier dans les décombres boueux d’une post-Apocalypse dont rôde encore partout la menace sombre, alterne avec des entretiens menés par le cinéaste auprès des rescapés. Souvent, un étrange décalage se produit entre, d’une part, l’image, son décor et son contexte, qui enregistrent déréliction et indigence, et, d’autre part, les dialogues, très souvent relevés, qui brassent amour, philosophie et politique. L’effet est typique de ceux produits par le cinéma de Diaz, qui prend à revers nos réflexes les plus bêtement conditionnés. Les pépites brillent dans la boue, comme les conversations de putains et d’ouvriers tutoient infiniment les étoiles.

Formellement, le monde restitué par Lav Diaz rappelle souvent celui photographié par Sebastião Salgado. La nature, tristement belle, terriblement inquiétante, a ici quelque chose d’argileux, humide et organique. L’humanité qui s’y déplace est saisie dans les décors qu’elle dévaste et qui continuent pourtant de la dépasser. Le titre, que l’on peut approximativement traduire par « la Mort au pays enchanté » (ou « en ce jardin », pour citer Buñuel) exprime parfaitement cette ambivalence, relativement fréquente dans le cinéma d’Asie, dont on retrouve aussi un certain tempo, cette pulsation languide qui donne leur rythme cardiaque exemplaire aux films d’un Tsai Ming-liang ou d’un Apitchatpong Weerasethakul.

Au terme de cette ivresse contemplative dont Diaz offre une tournée générale, c’est une phrase de Balzac qui nous est revenue à la mémoire  : « Le type noble ne s’y trouve plus que dans le peuple, comme, après l’incendie des villes, les médailles se cachent sous les cendres. » Après le passage des cyclones, c’est pareil.

Liberation Mars 2008 Paris

XVI. La beauté sauvera le monde

Evolution of a Filipino Family/Death in the Land of Encantos

par Nicolas Giuliani

Le festival du réel consacre pour sa 30ème édition un hommage aux documentaristes les plus importants d’Asie du Sud Est. Parmi-eux, l’immense Lav Diaz, cinéaste fleuve, inconnu du public et dont les films sont diffusés pour la première fois en France samedi 15 et dimanche 16 mars au MK2 Beaubourg. Un événement cinéphilique majeur.

La terre s’est ouverte sous nos pieds. Le paysage s’est déchiré de l’intérieur – un cyclone est passé, le monde a tremblé dans cette fureur. La mer a avancé dans les terres, des villages ont été arrachés, retournés, vomis dans des champs de pierres et de cadavres. Le monde des hommes a cessé de tourner, frappé au corps de son souvenir. Des hommes hagards, le visage retourné, sortent de terre, descendent des arbres. Ils reviennent d’un coin du monde qui les a protégés – une cachette, un abri, un trou. Ce sont des survivants. Ce sont peut-être des fantômes, le grand drap du cinéma est tombé.

Ça commence comme un balbutiement, après le drame, dans un paysage apocalyptique. Lentement, les hommes reprennent la tâche, et dans l’air recommencent le geste. La parole remonte jusqu’à nous. Lav Diaz est là. Il enregistre, il filme ces visages, ces hommes qui se tiennent debout et racontent. Il faut réparer, avancer, compter les morts, faire d’un paysage ce que l’on fait d’un visage familier soudainement secoué par une émotion inconnue : le comparer avec le précédent, étudier sa disparition, ce qui le renouvelle – le dépaysager. On retrouve sa maison encastrée dans celle du voisin. Chacun a ses confessions. « Ma mère est partie. Où sont mes enfants ? Mon pauvre père. » Une blessure profonde tient le monde au ventre, une béance – quelque chose est passé dans le réel, un gouffre s’est ouvert dans la matière, sous nos pieds de spectateurs.

Mais un homme pleure. C’est Benjamin Agusan, un poète philippin revenu de la Russie d’où il réside. Il est tombé à genoux, il empoigne de la terre. Et comme si un mouvement plus sourd provenant de sa volonté était aussi à l’œuvre, il s’arrête. Tout semble brusquement plus vide dans ce plan qui résonne. La tristesse est immense. Lav Diaz a invité la fiction dans le réel. Et alors qu’on tremblait en se demandant que faire de cette beauté, de cette souffrance, Benjamin Agusan arrive à point et prend en charge notre regard à la dérive. L’appréhension du réel se fera par détournement, par le biais de la fiction. Mais cette postulation romanesque, c’est aussi une offrande érigée en principe cinématographique : le documentariste a besoin de la fiction comme d’une nécessité afin de saisir la complexité du réel, sa fuite en avant, son bruit mat et sourd, sa profonde finitude, et digérer ainsi, modestement et avec sincérité, la fracture qui se trouve entre le monde et nous, entre le réel et sa possible représentation. Il y a une angoisse de la représentation, une peur profonde de la forme qu’empruntera le réel pour se mouvoir en elle – comment dire la mort, la blessure, la mutilation ? Sans doute le documentaire, plus qu’aucune autre expression artistique, se trouve-t-il à la frontière du visible et de l’indicible. On montre le réel, on le révèle, ou on le cache. On le soulève, on le déracine, on le surprend. De fait, il est aujourd’hui entendu que Lav Diaz est comme tous les grands cinéastes un documentariste, c’est-à-dire un filmeur qui élargit les possibilités d’expression du réel par le biais de la fiction.

Benjamin Agusan pleure, il est le visage délaissé de ce paysage de la désolation. A cet instant il est le caractère de la compassion, et à cet égard le double du spectateur : il nous relaie mais nous renvoie aussi une autre image. Nous voilà calés sur le point de vue cinématographique de Lav Diaz : le plus souvent la focalisation est externe et l’observation de la situation prime sur son explication. La place du spectateur est immense, et sa tâche doit être à la hauteur des espérances qui sont fixées en nous : il faudra suivre le parcours de Benjamin, affronter le deuil, la perte, l’errance, chanceler sous le poids du souvenir et de la nostalgie, rêver d’amour, se heurter à la mort et à la haine du pays natal. Le cinéma de Lav Diaz procède par recouvrement et fixe son interrogation dans la question la plus belle et la plus tragique de notre existence : celle de la disparition. Etre au réel ou être au monde, c’est toujours faire l’expérience de son inachèvement – un cinéma du réel nous fait constater cette fracture, ce manque, cette absence. Cette dimension du recouvrement s’inscrit dans le fer de la poétique de Lav Diaz, car c’est un cinéma de la quête qui nous demande à la fois de nous retourner et de nous avancer ; un cinéma de la lutte qui nous confronte à la terreur du réel, et au souvenir prochain de la pourriture qui nous guette – la mort est là, nous demeurons en elle dans l’attente irrésolue de notre disparition. L’homme chez Lav Diaz est soumis à une tension de l’existence qui le déchire et le révolte. Il est hanté, dans sa farouche volonté de vivre, par l’ombre du destin. L’apparition au monde se heurte à son tragique effritement : c’est cette collision entre les deux pôles de l’existence qui fournit au matériau dramatique de Lav Diaz, son carburant et son feu.

Dans Death in the land of encantos (2007), c’était le parcours de Benjamin qui incarnait cette quête. On le suivait, on prenait ses pas, on s’ajustait à son mouvement. On le voyait dans un contexte. On avançait dans cette grande fresque lyrique, travaillée par le temps et ponctuée par les ellipses. On nous donnait progressivement quelques indices qui comblaient les lacunes et éclairaient les gestes des personnages à la lumière d’un passé de l’ombre. On bâtissait des ponts entre les personnages, entre les lieux et les actions : tout devenait limpide malgré la virtuosité de la forme faite d’échos, de renvois, de visions, de retours. Les lignes temporelles s’enchevêtraient. Le passé revenait – la mère folle, la sœur tant aimée, des histoires de famille, le corps d’une femme nue et endormie, sublimé par des mots chuchotés. Le présent nous confondait en de longs plans séquences. Le film interrogeait notre avenir et notre Histoire ajustée dans un regard. Mais le recouvrement qui était à l’œuvre chez Benjamin, ce grand retour sur soi auquel on assistait comme à une lutte secrète, perdue d’avance, était métaphorisé par la catastrophe naturelle. De même que le passé de Benjamin était enseveli sous les décombres du temps, la terre natale aussi, après la catastrophe, avait perdu la face. Dans les deux cas, il faut creuser pour retrouver ce qui a été perdu, ce qui a disparu, ce qui est enfoncé. Car ce qui a bougé dans une terre peut aussi bouger dans un homme : l’analogie de la perte traverse les deux corps. Un grand souffle est passé. La matière du monde s’infuse dans la personne de Benjamin. Les palmiers, longs et aigus, tailladant le Ciel, la mouvance gracieuse de leurs feuilles dans le vent. La pluie qui ne cesse pas, la moiteur qui remonte et les ruisseaux gonflés. Tout se tait, tout parle. Le bruissement du monde raconte notre mélancolie. Dans la fiction, le réel est partout – séquences de reportage et scènes romanesques s’entrecroisent, s’interrogent mutuellement, se répondent, se creusent en de longs tunnels dans les flancs du volcan, dans les vers du poète.

Le même principe de recouvrement est à l’œuvre dans Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004). Un enfant, Raynaldo, est retrouvé dans les rues basses de Manille. Il est adopté par une mère folle, douce et aimante, une femme qui flotte plus qu’elle ne marche, une présence évanescente qui a tendu l’oreille au monde et aux coquillages de la mer. Mais elle éveille la brutalité des hommes. Raynaldo reste seul. Il grandit. La vie le trimballe, le secoue. Il connaîtra plusieurs foyers : celui d’une grand-mère patriarcale et de ses trois petites-filles ; celui des hommes, de Fernando et de ses fils. Le principe de recouvrement dans ce film consiste à déplier ces seize années d’existence tressées dans l’évidence du réel, pendant et après la dictature de Marcos. La fiction documente, elle propose un point de vue sur l’Histoire à partir d’événements intimes et familiaux. Elle se hausse à la particularité de notre œil. Car l’Histoire est saisie dans les êtres, sous notre front, prise dans sa dimension individuelle – son traitement est incarné, physique, jamais abstrait. L’Histoire habite le monde et Lav Diaz soumet ce réel à des variations poétiques qui déteignent dans les existences. Pas une des vies qui est en jeu dans les films de Lav Diaz, n’est pas soumise aux puissances de l’Histoire. Les images d’archives et les entretiens nombreux qui scandent l’évolution dramatique sont comme autant de pauses chantées par des chœurs. Ce matériau documentaire ancre l’Histoire dans une temporalité donnée. Il donne des repères au spectateur, fixe le réel, le jalonne, et par ce biais, pénètre la fiction et la recharge. Car Lav Diaz orchestre un ingénieux va-et-vient entre les événements politiques réels et leurs répercussions dans le récit : Kadyo, l’oncle de Raynaldo, face au chef des guérilleros locaux : « Marcos est au pouvoir depuis 24 ans » ; Kadyo dans une cachette, écoutant l’interview du cinéaste Lino Brocka sur les relations entre le cinéma philippin et le régime de Marcos ; Kadyo assistant à la manifestation d’un mouvement politique de gauche. Mais dans le cours du film, la circulation du fait politique se transmet aussi par l’agencement de ses formes diverses. L’association entre les archives et la fiction ouvre une brèche dans le récit. Le montage les conjugue et les sépare, les combine et les disjoint. Les éléments sont liés les uns aux autres dans l’évidence de la fiction, mais s’interrogent aussi mutuellement et fracturent le réel. Cette intelligence du montage est un chef d’œuvre d’organisation du discours politique, car il ouvre les points de vues. Lav Diaz n’impose pas une vision qui aplanirait le réel dans une dimension unilatérale, mais rend plutôt compte des contradictions dialectiques inhérentes à la réalité. Chez lui, le politique est poétique, complexe, diffus. Il a pénétré les mailles du réel et c’est au spectateur d’investir son champ de résonances.

Il faut écouter ce souffle épique qui ne tarit pas, ces grandes vagues lyriques incrustées dans la surface du plan – faites de noirs et de gris, d’écumes, de silences que charge l’existence des hommes et qui se dilatent dans le quotidien romanesque des personnages. Il faut faire corps avec ces films, il faut se cogner aux flancs fumants de ces monstres – ces films sont des bêtes rugissantes, le mufle chaud, rutilant. Il faut les frapper, les enfourcher, les prendre contre soi, saignantes, pleines de rages, de fureurs, de lances brisées dans le garrot. Il y a un fantastique du réel, ou du moins une mystique, une force qui le tient et le retourne en des visions surnaturelles. C’est dans ce dépassement de la réalité, que Lav Diaz confère au réel des visions déchirées qui le transmuent en une réalité plus profonde, car plus intime, inscrite dans la trajectoire d’une quête sensible pour la vérité. Ce cinéma éveille des vieux fantômes, il les invite à sa table, sur le drap blanc parfaitement repassé de nos songes. Il faut écouter ce bruissement mystérieux qui nous égare, et par lequel pourtant, on nous offre de nous ressaisir et de réévaluer l’intensité de notre rapport au monde.

Les grands cinéastes développent une mythologie de la croyance à l’égard du spectateur. Ils ont confiance en nos intuitions, en nos désirs. Et c’est ainsi, par la grâce d’un regard soutenu, que l’on s’approprie ces grands films fleuves, sans forçage et dans la limpidité de leur fait. Mais assez de mots. Ce sont des films qui nous attendent, il faut les habiter. 11 Mars 2008 Paris