Belgian Cinema series at the Walter Reade

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Pascal A, Nov 9, 2002.

  1. Pascal A

    Pascal A Second Unit

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    Here are my abbreviated journal notes for the Belgian Cinema series at the Walter Reade (Film Society of Lincoln Center) so far. Both Thierry Knauff and Dominque Standaert were on hand to discuss their films. The dialogue with Knauff was especially helpful; his films are notoriously demanding, but quite poetic and sensual. It was quite illuminating.
    Incidentally, here is the full program: Transcendent Realism: New and Old Cinema from Belgium
    Gbanga-Tita (1994) - Defined by Thierry Knauff as a purely cinematic "moment of grace" (during his introduction of the films), Gbanga-Tita was initially shot as footage for his ethnographic film on the Baka pygmy of the Equatorial forest in South-East Cameroon, Baka. The film consists of a single unbroken close-up shot of Lengé, a tribal Ancient and taleteller, as he engages the young people of the village in a solemn chant that recalls the tragic fate of ancient children whose lives were lost to the river in pursuit of a mythical calabash called Gbanga-Tita. At the age of 43, Lengé is the eldest member of the tribe, and the last taleteller among the indigenous people of the region. The film is a poignant glimpse of sacred tradition, ethnic legacy, and cultural extinction.
    Anton Webern (1991) - Anton Webern is a poetic and allusive biography of the early 20th century Austrian polyphonic composer Anton Webern. Entirely devoid of narrative dialogue, Webern's life is representationally articulated through expressive, isolated shots of Webern's hands. A challenging, but instinctively cohesive film on creativity, artistic passion, and the tragic consequence of turbulent history.
    Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices (2000) - Thierry Knauff's unique and evocative filmic language of poetic imagery and sensorial polyphony is further developed in the sublime, dense, and haunting hybrid documentary composition, Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices. An early image of a combat boot footprint and subsequent image of painted hands against the walls of an African mudhut symbolize Knauff's theme of the destruction of natural order caused by the imprint of human intervention. By presenting a series of serene and indelible international images of everyday life against harrowing and deeply disturbing testimonies by multicultural female voices describing acts of inhumanity, atrocities, and terrorism, Knauff achieves a sense of visual texture and instinctual cadence that reflects on the dichotomous coexistence of beauty and savagery in contemporary civilization.
    Klinkaart (1956) - Paul Meyer's short film, Klinkaart, depicts a young woman indoctrination into the sad reality of the tedium and drudgery of her unrewarding, monotonous vocation, and the unwelcome harassment and abusive behavior of other workers. The film evokes the spare and austere cinema of Robert Bresson, particularly Mouchette and Au Hasard Balthazar, in Meyer's parallel imagery of humanity and animal exploitation, from the distinctive footsteps of wooden clogs striking a brick paved road that is reflected in the clacking of horseshoes, to the crosscutting sequence of the young woman exhaustedly toiling in the sun with the horse pulling the clay cart.
    From the Branches Drops the Withered Blossom (1960) – The title of Paul Meyer's compassionate, sincere, and deeply personal feature film on immigrant labor, cultural assimilation, and exile a line is from a poem by Salvatore Quasimodo pondering the inevitability of change. Initially commissioned by the Ministry of Education to promote the integration of immigrant children into the Borinage school system, the film evolved into a cultural portrait of the increasingly desperate plight of the immigrant population, as the area's primary commerce - the mining industry - fell to economic hardship, mass layoffs, and plant closures, and rendered the lives of these children more uncertain and hopeless. The film is highly reminiscent of Italian neorealism in its depiction of the working class.
    Hop (2002) - The divisive issues of immigration and social integration are also in Dominique Standaert's visually resplendent, whimsical, and affectionate film, Hop. as Justin (Keita Kalumba), a young immigrant from Burundi, hatches a plan to reunite with his deported father (Ansou Diedhiou), enlisting the aid of a crotchety, but goodhearted former radical named Frans (Jan Decleir) and his devoted housekeeper, Gerda (Antje De Boeck). Although the film strains credibility in a few places, Hop is an admirable and technically adept effort for Standaert, whose genuine compassionate for the plight of his characters and gentle humor pervade the film's well-intentioned soul.
     
  2. Pascal A

    Pascal A Second Unit

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    Not that anyone seems to care, but here are two additional documentaries from the series, Thierry Michel's Iran Veiled Appearances and Chantal Akerman's From the Other Side.
    Iran Veiled Appearances (2002). Composed of a series of diverse, and often contradictory images of mundane rituals of everyday life juxtaposed against historical footage of protest and revolution in Iran, Thierry Michel's Iran Veiled Appearances is a compelling and insightful documentary on life in modern-day Iran 23 years after the Islamic Revolution. The film opens to the disturbing image of a funeral ceremony for poet, writer, and free expression activist, Mohammad Mokhtari, who is subsequently revealed to have been the latest in an ever-growing series of mysterious disappearances and deaths of prominent and outspoken intellectuals, presumably assassinated by the Islamic militia. Michel presents two images of Iran: the first, traditionalist and passionately commited to the ideas of martyrdom for the Revolution and allegiance to their religious Guides (often espoused by the older generation); the second, increasingly modern, free thinking, and ambivalent over the direction of the country's future. By illustrating the generational and ideological division inherent in the theocracratic society of contemporary Iran, Iran Veiled Appearances becomes an understatedly powerful document of a country at the cusp of profound change.
    From the Other Side (2002) - Chantal Akerman's From the Other Side is a visually rigorous, uncompromising, and quietly affecting examination of the problem of illegal immigration. A young man stranded in a Mexican border town recounts the tragic story of his older brother who crossed with a group into the U.S., and perished in the harsh and disorienting desert. Faced with a stringent border policy that reinforces patrol of the traditionally urban, highly populated crossing areas of San Antonio and San Diego, desperate undocumented aliens have been undertaking increasingly dangerous - and often fatal - attempts to cross through rural, largely uninhabited areas through inhospitable deserts in search of economic opportunity. Although the first half of the film is encumbered with overly repetitive, extended sequences of the ubiquitous, formidable border, the latter part of the film, punctuated by a deeply moving expression of gratitude to the film crew by a group of destitute, stranded immigrants hoping to send word of their plight to their families after being abandoned by their paid smugglers, illustrates Akerman's profound affection and concern for these marginalized, and often dehumanized, people.
     
  3. Evan Case

    Evan Case Screenwriter

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    Thanks for taking the time to post this Pascal.
    Unfortunately, my knowledge of Belgian cinema (as well as the artists you mention) is very limited, so I can't add much of anything to the thread.
    Off-topic (nation-wise anyway, if not "obscurity"-wise), there's going to be a Central Asian film series at the local art museum, with films from Kazakhstan and Tadjikistan. As they're free to Pitt students, I'll be catching what I can. Perhaps you have some knowledge about the films they're showing:
    The Killer (Dareshan Omirbaev, 1998)
    The Road (Dareshan Omirbaev, 2001)
    The Fall of Otrar (Ardak Amirkulov, 1991)
    Kosh Ba Kosh (Bakhtier Khudoinazarov, 1993)
    Evan
     
  4. DonaldB

    DonaldB Supporting Actor

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    I care, damn it! I care that I don't have the opportunity to see these in a theater and am hoping that they find their way to DVD soon, because they all sound fascinating. Thanks for the reports. [​IMG]
     
  5. Pascal A

    Pascal A Second Unit

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    Thanks, everyone, for your words of encouragement. I was really impressed by the way that Belgian filmmakers seem to be elevating the documentary format into something akin to visual poetry. It was just a little disappointing to want to share an experience that you feel passionately about and be met with silence. Oh well, hopefully these films will get better distribution (none of them seemed to carry an identifiable US distributor leader [​IMG]). Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices especially, had some very relevant testimonies on a modern day mail bomber in Austria (unabomber styled) and a sniper killing innocent people in Eastern Europe (Poland?) that really bring home the universality of acts of human cruelty.
    Evan, I've only seen Omirbaev's The Killer, and it seemed fairly derivative of Aleksei Balabanov's Brother, down to the poker-faced, Le Samourai-type killer. I guess it's a reflection of the times. The Fall of Otrar sounds especially intriguing - a cross between Sergei Paradjanov and Sergio Leone? Wow!
     
  6. Werner_R

    Werner_R Stunt Coordinator

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  7. Pascal A

    Pascal A Second Unit

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    Thanks for the tip on Daens. It sounds as though it's in a similar socio-realist vein as Paul Meyer and more recently, the Dardenne brothers. That does seem to be a common topic in contemporary Belgian cinema, doesn't it? [​IMG]
     

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