I was at Odd Obssession a few years back, and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky told me he had a film he wanted me to see. It was Le monde vivant. I went home and watched it straight away. It’s an utter masterpiece.
Le monde vivant is a minimalist medieval fantasy, replete with ogres and knights, but also Lacanian witches. Its writer and director, Eugène Green, shot it in the French countryside using, for the most part, everyday dress and objects—an inverted response to Jean-Luc Godard’s science-fiction film Alphaville, which used sections of Paris in which the future had already arrived. Le monde vivant continuously illustrates William Faulkner’s famous quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
The film is also about language, and the power of our declarations to reconfigure the world. Two kids are playing, and one of them tells the other, “I am a giant.” And so he is, within that game. (He claims that it’s natural that he should be the giant, since he is bigger.) Then the kids are kidnapped by an ogre, who is an ogre within the larger game of the film. Another example, from a later scene: the ogre’s wife tells the heroic Lion Knight, “We are alone.” “It is strange that we can be alone,” he counters, “even though we are two.” She replies, “Grammar makes it so.”
I could go on about this movie all day, noting how Green conflates contemporary slang with more formal speech, or mention his deep debt to Robert Bresson—but you should just watch the thing. It’s only 70 minutes long, and consistently witty and charming, and easily one of the best films of the past ten years.
Bresson's final film (1983) plays at the Film Forum from Jan. 17th-19th. It was based on Tolstoy's story "The Forged Coupon." One of the greatest works of art of the 20th Century, it contains all of Michael Haneke and Lars Von Trier in it's 90-minute running time.
Still from L'Argent
The Robert Bresson Retrospective is at the Film Forum right now. But it is going to other venues in the US and Canada as well: The Bresson retrospective opens this week at Film Forum in New York; Jan. 19 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Calif.; Jan. 20 at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, Mass.; Jan. 21 at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago; Jan. 31 at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Feb. 9 at the TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto; March 1 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; March 3 at the Cleveland Cinematheque and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; March 6 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.; March 9 at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville; April 4 at the Pacific Cinémathèque in Vancouver, Canada; April 13 at BAM in Brooklyn, N.Y.; May 1 at Northwest Film Forum in Seattle; and May 10 at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. (Further venues and dates may follow.)
Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir gives a wonderful take on Bresson and at IndieWire, two illustrious critics, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Kent Jones, talk about Bresson and Godard. Rosenbaum’s great essay on Bresson: “The Last Filmmaker”
I first encountered Yuriy Tarnawsky‘s writing in 1998, when I stumbled across a copy of Three Blondes and Death (FC2, 1993) in a Philadelphia bookstore. (A college professor, having noticed my interest in less-than-realist fiction, encouraged me to be on the lookout for any books published by FC2 or Dalkey Archive Press.)
Three Blondes was unlike any other book I’d ever seen: it consisted of hundreds of short chapters, each one a solid block of prose, describing in meticulous detail the simultaneously outlandish and banal lives of the protagonist, Hwbrgdtse, and three blonde women—Alphabette, Bethlehem, and Chemnitz—that he grows, in turn, infatuated with. The chapters are not always presented in chronological order, and more than half of them relate the characters’ dreams. It very quickly became one of my favorite contemporary novels. (When I moved to Thailand in 2003, it was one of the few books that I brought with me.)
Later, in the summer of 2004, I met Yuriy in New York, at Ron Sukenick’s memorial service; we began talking, and soon became friends. I’m pleased now to be able to post here, in multiple parts, a lengthy interview I’ve conducted with him. I’ll also be posting and linking to excerpts from Yuriy’s writing; my hope is that this will encourage more people to seek out his unique and deliriously fascinating work. Continue reading
One of the keys to this book and Bresson himself is the fifth aphorism: “Metteur-en-scène, director. The point is not to direct someone, but direct oneself.” It’s a tart recrimination, less Zen-like than many that follow, but it’s pointedness portrays cinema’s great hermit. First the French term, coined by André Bazin, literally means, “scene-setter,” or “placer of the scene.” But it also connotes that the director’s unique aesthetic style is visible in her scenes.
The 130 pages of aphorisms and thoughts can be polished off in an hour or savored over time–a few a day (my preference) like many a devotional or spiritual text. Inside Bresson famously refers to his actors as “models” – actors trained by him to express as little as possible. But are they? Aren’t they closer to reality than most ‘acting?’ He says, “The things one can express with the hand, with the head, with the shoulders!…How many useless and encumbering words then disappear! What economy!”
NOTE: This was written in the infancy of my knowledge about cinema. Surely, eight is not enough. John Ford, Carl Dreyer, Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Eric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard are names that must be there as well.
I love film.
I want to pay tribute to eight film directors who have changed the way I see life.
Robert Altman 1925-2006
After college, a friend and I went on a tear, spending our weekends watching everything we could find by Godard, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, others. My friend’s father, a former cinephile who’d seen many of these movies during their initial US releases, occasionally poked his head into the living room, watching a few minutes here and there with us. Then he’d smile and leave, always quietly pronouncing, “It’s good, but it’s no Two-Lane Blacktop.”