Monthly Archives: March 2023

  • Pacifiction                               Albert Serra

    Pacifiction                               Albert Serra (Fr; int co-prod; 2022) Benoit Magimel

    viewed: Howard Gilman Cinema, Lincoln Centre NYC 15 March 2022; ticket $18

    living with menace

    ‘Pacifiction’ (French title: Tourment sur les Iles) – was co-produced written directed and co- edited by Albert Serra who also chose the film’s location and its title(s). Using a system of shooting that often involved three camera set ups, the shot footage gave scope for a high degree of control over the the final cut and the film was given its particular form in the edit suite. ‘Pacifiction’ is Serra’s movie. The obvious question to pose is: the ‘why’ question. Why did Serra make the film;  what does he want to say?

    In ‘Pacifiction’ Serra is asking us to see something in the material he is showing us. Serra casts us the audience very much as spectators, privileged spectators, presented with events in a strange but familiar land. In this place we are shown that some things are hidden; so that the film is in some respects a process of revelation, a revealing of what was ‘hidden’ (but is known to be hidden) so that it gradually assumes a particular and undeniable sort of form. In this respect Serra’s film has some affinities with Haneka’s ‘Hidden’.

    In ‘Pacifiction’ as perhaps in our own lives, we are the privileged observers of a slow inexorable process that begins with tendentious suggestive indications of a world that has gone amiss but which then proceeds by degrees to develop into overwhelming but subjective conviction of immanent disaster.

    ‘Pacifiction’ pivots about its central character De Roller, High Commissioner for a French Overseas Pacific Island Territory. A place that Occidentals, like us, once construed as ‘Paradise’.   De Roller as the central attraction is rather like the Ring Master in a circus. All eyes and attention focus on De Roller as they might on the Ring Master of a circus (though without the whip). De Roller is in complete control of the proceedings in ‘Circus Pacifiction’ manipulating with authority disdain elegance and charm the disparate acts that make up the production: the casino performers, the local businessmen, the local opposing politicos, the ex-pat community, his own staff and any individuals that arouse his interest or suspicion. Unlike the Ring Master he doesn’t wear red waistcoat tails and black leather boots. But he is equally distinguished in his own neo-colonial uniform of an immaculately laundered but slightly crumpled white linen suit.

    Unlike the Ring Master who is always a distant figure, Sarra brings De Roller up close to us. As the film develops we are not just spectators to his performance as High Commissioner, in all its effortless arrogant masterful execution, but have some muted access to the back channels of power that direct him and his public response in relation to the approaching singular event of a nuclear bomb test apparently planned to take place in the vicinity. But De Roller is power and is possessed by all the cognitive accoutrements and adjusted thinking that are the hallmarks of power. I remember McNamara once arguing that a thermo-nuclear war was ‘survivable’   and thus could be moved from the category of an unthinkable event to an event that could be thought through. McNamara was demonstrating the neutralising assuagement of effects that justify mass murder, an utterance of power common to all mass murderers, a specious real politique of justificatory logic. And De Roller exposes himself as one touched by the virus of power.  In one monologue he approves the mass extermination of native peoples because it enabled the advance of civilisation; likewise he justifies nuclear weapons and the consequences of their use, by the fact that they would give the civilised people the understanding of how to survive them.

    De Roller is the personification of ‘power’. ‘Power’ that places itself over the interests of all humanity, is inured to criticism and confident in its entitlement to survive all threats to its existence, both physical and social.

    ‘Pacifiction’ charts a slow inexorable movement towards a disturbing nuclear event. Man made climate change is a slow inexorable movement towards climate disaster.

    My feeling is that Sarra has made ‘Pacifiction’ as an analogous parable to the mounting crisis of man made global warning and consequent climate change. Like climate change the revealing of the proposed new nuclear testing is a gradual process. Both the nuclear testing and climate change, only slowly become clear; but they are never allowed to become undeniably clear by power which obfuscates and prevaricates and ultimately justifies what is doing in the name of its own power, which no one has the organisation to oppose. Only when it is too late will the catastrophic effects make themselves felt by the victims. By which time the perpetrators will have vanished and/or re-invented themselves in another form.

    De Roller might well argue Global Warning is a positive process for Power. It will get rid of a lot of unnecessary people and allow ‘civilisation’ to flourish under new conditions perhaps on a new planet. Interesting to note that threat in ‘Pacifiction’ is represented by the submarine. The submarine of course functions as a metaphore or the unseen menace that threaten us, threats that are always under the surface. And another thought: the French Pacific Island Territories are amongst those islands most threatened by rising sea levels, and it is perhaps a reflection of Sarra’s black humour, that the French will get away from the scene of their crime using a vehicle that is impervious to increasing water levels that will erase many of these islands from the maps of the world.

    adrin neatrour




  • Creature       Avis Kapadia

    Creature       Avis Kapadia – based on the dance production by Akram Kahn (UK, 2022) Jeffrey Cirio; Erina Takahashi

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 26 Feb 2023; ticket £10.25

    timely thoughts

    After seeing Avis Kapadia’s ‘Creature’ the question that came to mind is what value there is in transposing dance form from stage to film, from live enactment to representative image? Whether dance with its stylisation of performance translates into filmic two dimensional representation. On the evidence of ‘Creature’ my feeling is that the returns from such filmic exercises accrue more to the prestige of the producers than to the satisfaction of the the audience. And without more thought than Avis Kapadia is able to give the project, ‘Creature’ does not work as film.

    An audience can obviously enjoy this spectacle of dance on film but it delivers not only something less than the experience of live performance, but it is a quite other experience.

    In some critical respects dance as part of its inherent nature resists transfer from floor to screen.

    There is one obvious consideration: the pure physicality of dancing. A physicality that transfers itself with electric immediacy in shared space with the audience. Both performers and audience are in the same place, the latter immanently present to movement and adjustment of muscular co-ordination of the dancers: the audience are not just viewers but witnesses.

    But besides this consideration of audience presence there are problems implicit in the the film form itself that inhibit the representation of dance on film. There are issues with the very basic language of film: the editing – the montage – the manner in which psychically they function utilising different dimensional combinations. Film occupying height width time; dance using height width depth.

    Film, even in 3D, works by exploiting the dimension of time; dance works by exploiting the dimension of space.

    In a film drama when the editor or director decide to make a cut in the action, for instance from a wide shot of two people talking to a close up of one of them, in order to capture the ‘reaction’, it is ‘time’ that is being controlled not space. Whenever there is a cut in the action it is a cut in time. And time is also being controlled in the decisions relating to the cut: when to cut, how long to hold the second shot, when to cut away again.   These are temporal decisions that dictate the pacing and weight of the clip. It’s all about time. This can be seen most obviously in many contemporary films where some sequences are built up of very short durational shots, designed to accelerate the subjective experience of time. But even in classically cut films it is the actual change of shots, the weight given them by duration, that render meaning and are a function of time.


    Dance takes place not as a function of time but in and through the existence of space. The dance venue is a shared bounded space, defined by both physical boundaries and lighting. Dance takes place in a three dimensional physical world. Space is occupied not time. Dancers exploit space for its three dimensional potential. They invest space with content and meaning, in making use of a traditional number of actions and positions there is an element in dance that is timeless. As pure body dancers expand compress extend define themselves as beings subject to the laws of gravity but yearning to defy it.

    The problem with the way Kapadia has directed ‘Creature’ is that he has worked multiple cuts into the action, trying to manipulate a locational expressive form so that it coheres with his decision to impose on it time based montage. Each time Kapadia imposes his temporal decision to cut into the movement of ‘Creature’ he destroys the spacial imperative of the dance causing it to lose its claim on authenticity which is based on the primacy of space.

    Dance is mainly organised about archetypes, characters who display certain types of universally recognised attributes. The young woman, the orphan, dives, the old man, the prisoner: all of these ‘types’ can be developed along multiple lines of possibilities in three dimensional movement which can be choreographed through multiple planes, using an infinite number of dance developed variations of the walk the run the fall the lift the skip the stretch etc organised so as to produce by exploiting the possibilities of the body in space: expression.  Dance cuts through space, compresses space within and between bodies, makes lines in space. In the dance the performer is nearly always mute. It is the body in space that communicates and this of course includes the head as part of the body. In dance the face as part of the head, is a mask. Unlike spoken drama where the face is usually the focus of expression, the face in dance normally has little discrete value. The reason for this is that if dance gives faciality value, if it emphasises face, it simultaneously devalues the line of the dance, the commitment of the whole body to express itself in space. The face cannot exist in ‘space’. The mask completes the body in space, the face with its whole expressive capacity, destroys the dance. And yet Kapadia again and again in ‘Creature’ negates the integrity of the dance by persistent use of facial montage.

    Kapadia’s ‘Creature’ does not work as a transition of dance to screen. He has not put the requisite conceptual work into realising the transposition of one form to another. For some ‘Creature’ may work as a documented spectacle, but for the most part it looks like a typical stranded blue chip ‘arts’ project.

    adrin neatrour