Sunday, March 13, 2011
d(r)ive into the water
I've just left Walter Reade at Lincoln Center, and for the time i was there, a pin perfect sound system exploded the room with an incessant yet backgrounded guttural throb. I felt the seats vibrate the entire 86 minutes of the film, much like the surge of energy that coincides with the ignition of a motor at the start of a road trip. I've come from a screening of Ange Leccia's Nuit Bleue, billed as a view from the current avant garde French Cinema, in a special experimental section (curated by the unparalleled Nicole Brenez) of Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual "Rendez Vous with French Cinema" series.
The film opens with a shot framed just above a small island off Corsica. It looks like a giant green hill stuck smack dab into an endless blue sea. An almost eerily organic image, except the island has one major road going straight down the middle, another one off to the right-hand side. A car drives down the road in the center, and then there is a major explosion.
Cut to Paris, France. We follow a beautiful female tour guide in the Louvre. The onscreen action intimates she's received upsetting news of a loved one, and then she is off to this island, one we seem to encounter from her travels and her perspective, but this is actually untrue. We experience the filmmaker's closely controlled idea of her perspective, an exteriorized view of emotional impressions and visions, and this is the duality that is the greatest sense the film has left me with. (For better and for worse.) It seems that this protagonist of ours is not just journeying, but also returning, as we later see her reunited with island people who know her. I came across a clear sense of both being foreign and familiar, and the uncanniness of this position.
There is a major aural component to Nuit Bleue, a film which illustrates romance, mourning, familial identity and nationalist politics by way of clear yet elusive visuals and a restless, complicated soundtrack. The film is both agricultural and post industrial, like "the plant of a factory" it is supported by metal; an industrialized score completes the core structure and sonic layering; in explosive moments actual songs come out of its pipe-- their range covers the following: ethnic dirges, an erotic video set to a sexy dancey pop song and the retro romance of Serge Gainsbourg (a la his Anna Karina duet- Ne Dis Rien, "Don't Say a Word"...)
This experience of SENSE, a major part of what it is to sit and watch and hear Nuit Bleue, is unique in its distraction as both the strength and weakness of Leccia's film. It can account for the most singularly experienced moments; political or cereberally aesthetic in idea, yet physically emotional in their reception. There is a sequence in the film, almost romantic in its visual economy and silent poetry, where our female protagonist is traveling, on a ship, out to the island. The sequence is made up of carefully framed shots of the sea and its waves, a painstaking color palette that showcases every type of blue in the water and any bit of orange and yellow in the woman's hair as it's lit by the sun off the sea. Shortly after these scenes, another wordless sequence follows her as she explores onland, slow and ethereal, her progress is suddenly impeded by a bomb exploding. The force of it's fire suddenly thrusting her down off a hill, returning closer to the water. This is the film at its best.
At its worst, a single frame or a single sequence goes for the overlay of images or ideas with the painstakingly planned approach of Late Career Godard, but without the rich well of cinema history that Godard is able to draw from.
There are moments of intense material beauty; stemming from elegantly controlled images and a soundscape to accompany it. Our gaze is most often focused on images of faces, the sea and the natural terrain of the Island. There is little to no dialogue spoken by or between the characters. There are moments that allude to a direct history between these characters, but they are bookended by moments of these characters observing or being caught off guard by (a la the handful of missile/bombed explosions we witness) other narratives-- those of soccer games watched on old computers, classical Italian b+ w romantic films on the t.v., and by footage of the silhouette of a sexy female, in what is likely online porn. These disruptions of plot are stories that split off before they follow any straight line, broken branches that will never continue to grow, yet still hanging on the tree. The way they zigzag through the film is not unlike the way the cliffs and shrubs create the uneven terrain of the island, nor unlike the undulations in the sea that surrounds it. Tensions abound and this is the physical, emotional and wordless story of this island, one held in awkward limbo between pre modern tradition and contemporary revolt. The charged nature of the songs complement our sense of the film much like how all of the missiles drive our view, and the characters, off of the land and into the water.
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