Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review - Méditerranée (1963)

A landmark of experimental filmmaking, Jean-Daniel Pollet's intoxicating masterwork is an attempt at a cinema without narrative, genre or other such conventions, a purely visual and aural experience. It's a dreamlike journey, a travelogue with no apparent itinerary that spans Greece, Italy, Spain and Egypt, with only the haziest distinction between authentic footage and staged scenes. Dramatic ruins, rustic landscapes, strikingly posed statuary and the bloody climax of a bullfight are included in the parade of evocative, seemingly unrelated imagery. Pollet, a New-Wave outlier previously noted for his exuberant depictions of dancers in full swing, adopts the slow-tracking camera movement of his contemporary Alain Resnais, gliding through each vista with a ghostly deliberation. Like the meditative works of Resnais, Pollet's film explores the interstices - between documentary and mythology, unyielding history and ever-shifting memory, the concreteness of an image and the ambivalence of its symbolic content. It baffles and entrances, and in a scant forty-three minutes, suggests an entire world of visual poetry yet unseen. Antoine Duhamel (who would go on to compose the jarring music for Godard's 'Weekend') provides the ancient-sounding score, and Nouveau Roman writer Philippe Sollers pens and recites the cryptic narration.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Review - Les Rendez-vous d'Anna (1978)

A stoical sister-film to Peter Handke's 'The Left Handed Woman' (another nuanced study of a female adrift released the same year), this mesmeric drama from Chantal Akerman filters an intensely personal subject through a distinct structural lens. Anna (Aurore Clément, presumably standing in for Akerman) is a Belgian filmmaker on a seemingly endless promotional trip across a colorless, homogenized Western Europe. She travels via train through Cologne, Brussels and Paris (all virtually indistinguishable from one another), and has a series of brief, telling encounters with figures - from her past, as well as strangers - with whom she struggles to express herself, or develop any sort of meaningful connection. Rendered in perfectly symmetrical compositions and long, static takes, the working life of the réalisatrice becomes a dull, mechanical march, a solitary endeavor not unlike the stultifying housework undertaken by the heroine of Akerman's 'Jeanne Dielman...' This, however, is a far less grim portrait, substituting the oppressiveness and allegorical heft of the earlier feature for an introspective melancholy that feels much closer to the heart of the director, and is not without an aesthetic appeal. For all their rigor, the slow, hypnotic shots possess a wistful beauty, particularly those of passing landscapes from train windows and darkened cities seen from taxi cabs. The subdued, observational style simultaneously recalls Jackie Raynal's radical feminist film 'Deux fois,' and anticipates the meandering procedurals of Jim Jarmusch.