Monthly Archives: November 2009

  • Cleo de 5 a 7 Agnes Varda (1962 Fr)

    Cleo de 5 a 7 Agnes Varda (1962 Fr) Corinne Marchand

    Viewed: Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 12 Nov 2009 Ticket: £4.00

    retrocrit: laying the cards on the table

    Cleo de 5 a 7 is a film about a situation, the relationship of woman to herself, and Agnes Varda’s realisation that the mythic as well as the social is a valid response.

    The opening sequence of Cleo de 5 a 7 (C57) is a breathtaking series of shots, all in colour, all from a camera, positioned directly over the action of a Tarot reading. With alacrity and machine precision the reader snaps down the cards on the table in front of Cleo. According to the cards turned over and their relative placement to each other, the monotonal voice mechanistically assigns them significance and meaning. In this sequence, as surely as the cards are signs pointing to Cleo, so Agnes Varda (AV) is using the oracular cards to anticipate key elements and concerns of the film.

    The cards indicate a space between different zones of experience. The cards in themselves are a sort of in-between world, dividing time off into a before and after the moment of oracular signification. The film, also takes place in an in-between time: two hours in a space between life and death, a mythological region like the antechamber to Hades. The cards whilst they have subjective implications, have in themselves no subjectivity, no desires goals or intentions. They are sets of interrelations that have to be read according to rules and demands of individual necessity. C57 chronicles the movement of Cleo as she explores existence according to a new set of conditions. The situation she is in, the fears and doubts that she has lead her into a space outside the subjective personal emotive domain. This space, in the same way as the cards laid out on the table, allows her to experience her life as a totality. For Cleo her two hours are not a descent into subjectivity but into necessity: the condition of seeing her own life and its relations. in and for itself.

    It comes as a shock that when the card sequence ends, AV reverts to a black and white world. A structured discontinuity that AV exploits to throw the viewer off balance, and let us know that now we have begun the descent into a different world. A world in which there is a new situation in which the subject will be experienced in a new and different manner and form.

    C57 has the feel of being modelled on ideas gleaned from stories of the Classical world of ascents out of Hades and its antechambers by a figure such as Persephone. Corinne Marchand, beautifully costumed glides through the movie as a Goddess, a being from the place of the dead visiting the land of the living. In representation AV realises Paris as an in-between world. It is filmed to capture a vision of a city that exists in a gaseous haze between life and death. It is a shimmering realisation of interiors and exteriors characterised by shadows, or their absence, mirrors and faces.

    The sequences in the hat shop and in the bars make use of mirrors so that they become channels recreating these spaces as possessed places with otherworldly qualities. The mirror is a constant motif in C57, shot: to suggest multiply realities, to act as conduits to other dimensions and as crystals to imply a challenge to the continuity and organisation of time.

    AV shoots the streets and parks of Paris as alternating striated plays of light

    and dark where everything tends to be defined in either too much or too little light. Streets and allies as a sprite from the underworld might experience them. And in the streets and bars random faces loom into the camera caught in the web of the dream. The manner in which these images caught by the camera press into consciousness suggests not so much faces rather souls: trapped souls. In C57 there are no extras only presences. Every presence glimpsed by Cleo by the camera, whether in street or in bar, is captured like one of the souls in Hades with their stories and sins stamped on their features.

    The camera work is endemic to the C57’s mythic form. AV structures the camera work into the film as a specific force in play (as in Well’s Kane). The dominant shots are slow tracks or pans: some from an exterior film-telling angle: some from the internal point of view of Cleo. There is I think a difference between the two angles and how they contribute to the film. The speed and movement of both types of camera movement are similar, what is distinctive is our reading. In general the camera glides through the film as movement in a dream. The camera work simulates in pace and intentionality a gaze from another dimension: a looking that sees everything as novel and different; a looking that is impersonal and without fear.

    However when the camera takes on the point of view of Cleo something else happens. The pace is similar but the expressive feel of the movement is quite different. In particular the pan in her apartment over and around the piano; and the track, from Cleo’s point of view, into the sculpture studio both have the quality of a caress, a yearning to reach out mediated by the simultaneous understanding of the impossibility of touching. The pan or track as a caress is expressive impossibility at the core of the film. The caress as a gesture the dead make towards the living, the sick towards the whole, a caress that has no envy but is rather contains a lament and a wonder for and of the other.

    In C57 AV undertakes a mythic recasting of the role of the feminine. It is an indication of her sensibility to the psychosocial issues in the content of her film that the scenario easily survives the passage of time, the 45 years since it was written. None of Varda’s concerns have dated. We still debate and engage in dialogue in respect of the relations between the sexes and a key area of that debate often neglected is the need to define ourselves not just socially but mythically.

    adrin neatrour

  • Katalin Varga Peter Strickland (2009 Rom)

    Katalin Varga Peter Strickland (2009 Rom) Hilda Peter; Tibor Palffy

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema: 22 Oct 09 Ticket Price: £7-00

    The Nature of Revenge

    There is a shot in the middle of Katalina Varga that commands attention. Filmed from behind we see the forms of Katalina and her son Urban in the box seat of their cart. They are completely still. In the traces in front of them their horse moves its head in impatient agitation. Before the cart a long straight road leads through the corn across the flatness of a plain. Peter Strickland gives this shot unhurried full temporal weight to allow us to read it, to absorb it. A shot to absorb: presaging a movement towards immobility in space and time and the movement of immobility itself, for immobility does move. Unsurprisingly the shot is reprised as the final shot of the movie over which the end credits roll.

    Katalin Varga (KV) is a film about retribution grounded in people, culture, landscape, time and state of mind. Peter Strickland (PS) as writer director has made a film in which these elements cohere in an odyssey that left me with questions and insights about the nature of revenge: its necessity its logic its stillness. It has the quality not so much of a story as a working out of fate.

    Traudi Junge Hitler’s secretary tells how on 1st of September 1939, after dinner, a small group gathered with Hitler on the balcony of the Berchtesgarten and watched the sun set in a blood red slomo explosion of colour. All present she recalls felt it an augury of what was to come.

    KV is structured as an intercutting of the human and natural: an interplay of call and response between the social and nature. KV is built on necessity both in its script and in its filmic quality and PS has the singular understanding that necessity engenders its own inexorable logic. It is a logic built on state of mind rather than action. In that the acts of revenge are engendered by specific states of mind, the land and skyscapes of Romania are filmed not as encompassers of action but rather as projections and reflections of the state of mind of the eponymous KV. And the viewer is absorbed by and becomes complicit in the unfolding of fate as nature is cast both as a mirror to and co conspirator of KV in her quest for revenge on the men who raped her. In the final act of the film, as on the eve of war at Berchtesgarten, the sky turns oracle projecting into consciousness the event that is to come.

    Filmed on S16 film stock, the landscape shots have an intricate indistinct numinous quality that draws in the eye as it is enchanted by the oscillation and vibrancy of light. The filming renders land and sky as soft impressions which blur and merge detail. The way film is used by PS is in itself a force in the film, as is the controlled performance of Hilda Peter. Both determine how we are able to understand the elements in play: the social and the natural. Shot on 35mm or on HD the mountains mists and clouds would have looked more like external elements of the film characterised by intricate detail and boundary lines. Shot on 16mm and transferred to digital format they have a shimmering interiority that deflects the light inwards into the structure of the film rather than outwards as a framing device for location. Although we are in Romania, the force of the filming renders the film’s setting as universal.

    The sound concept that interlinks and offsets the visual track is an integral part of KV’s movement of ideas and associations. Sound is distilled from three different sources: the film’s electronic score, human sourced sounds: voices, bells of livestock, churches; and natural sounds: soughing. animal noises. The sounds are all subtly graded and interpenetrate and extricate themselves to create a world of association and resonance that both relate to the visuals and at the same time have independent life. The effect of the sound track is to reinforce the sense that we are experiencing a set of stimuli that are assimilations of mind; yet a dynamic sound cut, with or without picture, pitches us back into the world of the social, and its immanent human associations.

    The proposition that KV develops is that the woman who is destroyed socially, sets out to revenge herself and destroy those who have destroyed her. A key element in Greek tragedy is that those who wreak revenge on others for the wrong done unto them, inevitably unleash the furies who pursue their own crazed daemonic careers. Some ten years after being brutally raped KV spurned by her village sets out with her young son, also rejected, to find the perpetrators. Events run out of control and she finds the death that perhaps she had been seeking. Nevertheless in its bleak outcome I think the film points to redemption and hope. In that the film defines KV by her immobility rather than her action, there is understanding and meaning underlying the events that unfold. KV is not defined in her actions; rather in her state of mind. At the point of her pain she is locked into the past. She cannot move and neither can she understand that time has moved and left her behind. The violence is not something that is indulged as spectacle; it issues simply from a frozen situation that has no escape; its necessity arises out of the nobility of despair. Her reactions are moral rather than amoral. Her moment of supreme command as she confronts the rapist in the boat on the river is quickly understood by her as a terrible delusion for which she must accept responsibility. Redemption lies in that she realises this and accepts without compromise, her ultimate fate.

    adrin neatrour