Thursday, September 16, 2004

Toronto Film Festival--"L'Intrus"

And now I arrive with some trepidation at the most vivid, confident, musical, beautiful and baffling of the films I've seen at this festival--Claire Denis' L'Intrus ("The Intruder"), which has violently confounded and divided movie-lovers here.

When all is said and done, there is a line carved in stone between the world of narrative cinema (that which tells "stories", however sketchy, and nods at some sort of dramatic closure, however open or provisional) and the world of avant-garde (or so-called "poetic" or "experimental" or "non-narrative") cinema.

Of course, there are scores of films that contain avant-garde elements in them (like the gorgeous kaleidoscopic transitions that PT Anderson used in Punch-Drunk Love) just as there are plenty of avant-garde films that use narrative (like the psychodramas of Maya Deren).

But ultimately, I would argue, we impose upon a narrative film an obligation to somehow honor its story enough to give it some sense of a dramatic arc, some kind of resolution, some hint of motivation.

But is it really fair to place this burden upon narrative films given that we would likely not bring the same pre-conceptions to an avant-garde film, and that we would almost certainly give the avant-garde film a lot more leeway (it is an "experimental" movie, after all!)?

L'Intrus is narrative in that it contains characters and some semblance of a story, however foggy. It is avant-garde in every other way.

Claire Denis is a filmmaker who has an eye for the rich physical geography of people (their physical characteristics, the way they move, or sit still, or the way they do the minutest, most ordinary things) and of places, both interiors and exteriors. I also believe that she cuts with a fluency and surprise unequalled in movies today.

Thus, in L'Intrus, the narrative recedes in importance, a merely loose framework on which to lay the hypnotic, tactile flow of what is really a savage, tender film-poem.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Toronto Film Festival--"The Holy Girl"

Lucretia Martel is one of the key figures of the recent Argentine New Wave. She's young, and has made just two feature films, but she has a completely new and original storytelling vision.

In The Holy Girl, a schoolgirl undergoes an orthodox Catholic education, lives in a hotel run by her mother and experiences the tumult of adolescence. The story is simple and familiar enough, but it is the manner in which Martel tells the story that is remarkable.

She provides no convenient backstory for the characters, and charges the narrative with pyschological ambiguity. Further, she shoots relentlessly in close-up. It seems to me that what Martel is trying to do is create a kind of palpable cinema--all the physical contents of the frame (faces, skin, hair, clothes, furniture, the steel-blue swimming pool) become larger-than-life, resonant. The sound design is surgically precise--and enhances this resonance.

Recognizing that we have too long relied on words to tell stories in cinema (a visual medium, let's not forget!), Martel works instead through the silent voice of the physical, palpable world that we live in, see and touch every day. When you can capture this sensual world in strong, indelible images, you can make them speak a language no less eloquent than words.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Toronto Film Festival--Avant-Garde Films

Three interesting avant-garde films I saw tonight:

It's Not My Memory Of It--Three Recollected Documents, by two media artists, Julia Meltzer and David Thorne, who call themselves "The Speculative Archive". The film is about the process of historical documentation undertaken by organizations like the CIA which deal in "the management of secrets". We think of historical and public records as embodying some form of "truth", but this movie tries to establish the utter naivete of that notion.

Anaconda Targets is a chilling tape of a US bombing engagement in Afghanistan, with an audio track of army personnel locating moving targets on the ground and blowing them away with smart bombs, videogame style. The tape was secretly made by a pilot and smuggled into the hands of San Francisco filmmaker Dominic Angerame. Not something you'll be seeing on your television set anytime real soon.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a "diary-film" by avant-garde legend Jonas Mekas, which documents his neighborhood and its people over the years, starting in 1950. There's no grand dramatic narrative here, only the fleeting poetry of ordinary people caught in little everyday moments. And yet it counts for more than all the computer-generated apocalypses on a thousand multiplex screens.

Saturday, September 04, 2004


I've been compulsively drawing guitars all week.

Friday, September 03, 2004


It's my birthday.
And the day of birth of this weblog.

"Lumiere" means "light" in French.
And really, what are movies but compositions in light?
So, it's a fabulously fitting coincidence that the birth of the movies occurred, in 1895, at the hands of Pierre and Auguste Lumiere.