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Agnès Varda’s Cannes Winner – “Visages Villages”

Saturday, May 27th, 2017


Agnès Varda’s documentary Visages Villages Has Won The Golden Eye Prize at Cannes. 

As Rhonda Richford writes in The Hollywood Reporter, “Agnès Varda and JR’s documentary film Faces Places (Visages Villages) has taken the Golden Eye prize, which recognizes a documentary from across all sidebars.The film screened out of competition in the official selection.

The prize was awarded by a jury of French actress Sandrine Bonnaire, Oscar-nominated The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom director Lucy Walker, Oscar-nominated The Gatekeepers director Dror Moreh, Toronto Film Festival programmer Thom Powers and film critic Lorenzo Codelli.

“Our jury has been deeply moved by Agnès and JR’s decision to meet local people, aimed by this movie-tale about consideration for Human throughout Art. This combined perspectives, are delicate and generous,” the jury said. The documentary follows the two directors as they travel through rural France in a van photographing and interviewing rural and working-class people. JR is best known as a graffiti artist and street photographer.

The Golden Eye, or L’Oeil d’Or, is awarded to the best documentary across all official selections with the French Writers Society. It was initiated in 2015 with the support of the festival and awards the winning director €5000 prize.”

In his review of the film for Variety, critic Owen Gleiberman was ecstatic and unstinting in his praise: “she’s 88, and makes films like she’s 28. Her movies are [. . .] a tonic — just watching them makes you feel younger. Her new one, Visages Villages (which does indeed take place in villages, though the idiomatic translation is Faces Places), is another roving personalized documentary made in the cinematic thrift-shop spirit of The Gleaners and I (2000) and The Beaches of Agnès (2008).

Both those films were enchanting, and this one is too, though here Varda raises the bar on what she’s doing, because her premise is so slender that she appears, at times, to be conjuring the film out of thin air. Agnès Varda, in the glory of her golden years, has become a humanist magician.

In Visages Villages she teams up with the renegade French graffiti-artist-turned-outsize-street-photographer known as JR, who could be characterized as a rough Gallic equivalent to Banksy. He and Varda met in 2015 and quickly recognized each other as kindred spirits, despite their rather dramatic differences: He’s a prankish and supremely laid-back 33-year-old millennial hipster who never takes off his pork-pie hat and sunglasses, and she’s a venerable New Wave legend whose face still expresses the beautiful gravity that always defined her. Yet both are outsider artists, committed to visualizing life by making up their own rules. ‘Chance has always been my best assistant,’ says Varda, and she’s not kidding. In this movie, she leaves nearly everything to chance.

Varda and JR, who share directing credit, begin to travel around, with a single liberating agenda: In each place they visit, they’ll meet the people there, and JR will produce his epic-size black-and-white portraits of them, which they will then plaster on houses, barns, storefronts: any available surface. In doing so, they will render the people large. Larger than life? No. As large as life.

Varda, who tends to blurt out whatever’s on her mind, says that JR’s refusal to remove his sunglasses reminds her of Godard in the ’60s, who also kept his gaze hidden. She flashes clips from her five-minute 1961 burlesque short Les Fiancés du pont Mac Donald ou (Méfiez-vous des lunettes noires), which starred Godard and Anna Karina, and in that movie Godard looked almost innocent, but by the end of Visages Villages he will come back to haunt her [ . . .]

There is no mention of politics, yet Visages Villages may be the most profound political movie to play at Cannes this year. Its ‘message’ is simplicity itself: Everyone is who they are. Yet in capturing anonymous workers as images of transcendent individuality, Visages Villages makes a powerful statement about the kind of society we’re becoming, in which the one percent don’t just own too much of everything; they get all the attention too. Our addiction to wealth and celebrity has begun to suck the air out of the appreciation for ordinary life, and this film offers a sublime rebuke to that.

Varda and JR are bumptious companions who tease each other into confessions and flights of fancy. Varda won’t stop bugging JR about his sunglasses, to the point that they become an active annoyance for her. She also uses shots she took decades ago to meditate on her friendship with the late fashion photographer Guy Bordin, and she muses upon her own death, summing up her feelings about it with the perfect cosmic retort: ‘I’m looking forward to it. Because that’ll be that.’

And then there’s Godard. He’s an old friend of Varda’s, a long-time comrade of her and her late husband, the director Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), and near the end of the movie she and JR take a train to visit him. When Godard fails to show up at a café at the appointed time, they wind up in front of his house, where he has scrawled a cryptic message in magic marker that leaves Varda in tears.

She’s wounded, and calls him a ‘dirty rat.’ Yet if Godard, in this movie, represents the weight of the past, Varda’s communion with JR suggests the promise of the future, never more so than when he proves his friendship by giving her what feels, for a moment, like the ultimate gift. He takes off his sunglasses.”

Can’t wait to see this; I wonder what kind of distribution it will get? Only at Cannes!

New Book: Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s Disruptive Feminisms

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s newest book has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s new book, Disruptive Feminisms: Raced, Gendered, and Classed Bodies in Film, published in January 2016 from Palgrave Macmillan, is a really groundbreaking book in every respect. As the publisher’s comments on the book note, “Amy Schumer and Betty White use subversive feminist wit to expose sexism and ageism in film and TV. This is but one example of ‘disruptive feminism’ discussed in this groundbreaking book. Disruptive Feminisms: Raced, Gendered, and Classed Bodies offers a revolutionary approach to feminism as a disruptive force.

By examining texts that do not necessarily announce themselves as ‘feminist,’ or ‘Marxist,’ Foster brings a unique critical perspective to a wide variety of films, from the classical Hollywood films of Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino, to the subversive global films of Carlos Reygadas, Claire Denis, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Paul Thomas Anderson, and many others. In highlighting these filmmaker’s abilities to openly challenge everything from class privilege and colonial racism, to sexism, ageism, homophobia and the pathologies of white privilege, Disruptive Feminisms fills a fresh and much-needed critical perspective, that which Foster dubs disruptive feminism’.”

As Foster herself writes of the book, “In my research, I’ve found that ‘disruptive feminism’ often lurks in unlikely and unexpected places – from the dry feminist humor of Amy Schumer, Betty White, Dorothy Arzner, Ida Lupino, and Luis Buñuel, to the more serious and contemplative postcolonial films of Carlos Reygadas and Claire Denis. Filmmakers who are not so obviously read as ‘feminist’ or ‘marxist’ seem to find their way onto my radar. My scope is wide; I include work from classical Hollywood, early television, and global filmmakers. I  highlight the ways that film and media can disrupt, challenge, and potentially overturn ‘norms’ of race, gender, age, sexuality, and class. Indeed, I hope this book disrupts feminism itself, because it can always use some shaking up.”

Here are some recent reviews:

“I think the book is superior in many ways, just simply a jewel. Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s peculiar and enchanting magic is to blend keen socio-critical attention with an unyielding poetic sensitivity to the world of hints, provocations, resonances, and allusions. Through the films examined here, and through Foster’s eyes, gender, class, and race fly beyond rhetoric and come alive.” – Murray Pomerance, Ryerson University, author of The Eyes Have It: Cinema and The Reality Effect

“This book passionately advocates a cinema that challenges injustice and oppression across the globe by disrupting ‘normative values’ and ‘received notions’ of race and class as well as gender. Not least of the book’s strengths is its illumination of culturally and aesthetically diverse works ranging from Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux (2012) and Claire Denis’ No Fear, No Die (1990) to Betty White’s television programs of the 1950s.” – Ira Jaffe, Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico and author of Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action.

“Written with a strong sense of personality, and even stronger and laudable political commitments, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s Disruptive Feminisms extends her ongoing endeavor to provide meaningful critiques of film and film culture.  This thoughtful book demonstrates how a number of films, from around the world and from different genres, disrupt the status quo through a feminist and postcolonial analysis.” – Daniel Herbert, author of Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store

“An excellent volume – Foster establishes at the outset that she writes as a global cultural feminist. By shrewdly focusing on specific films (and TV shows and star personas) that ‘disrupt, challenge, and overturn the norms of race, gender, age, sexuality, and class,’ this volume provides a much-needed alternative to the approaches that dominate the field today, although Foster uses those methodologies judiciously in her treatment of cinema as a political art form. Clear, well written, and without jargon, Disruptive Feminisms could easily be a valuable textbook, not just a volume for film scholars. Brava!” – Frank P. Tomasulo, Visiting Professor of Film Studies, Pace University.

Check it out by clicking here, or on the image above.

Jean Isidore Isou

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

There are many radical theorists within the cinematic firmament, but Jean Isidore-Isou (born Ioan-Isidor Goldstein) is in a class by himself. Isou’s film Traité de Bave et d’Èternité (Venom and Eternity) (1951) is truly a one of a kind project, which Isou created out of stock footage, numerous views of Isou himself walking throughout Paris looking like a disconsolate rebel, advertisements for his various book and pamphlets, and a soundtrack that resolutely has absolutely nothing to do with the film’s images — the creation of what Isou calls in the film “le cinéma discrépant” — the separation of visuals from the soundtrack.

Much of the film takes the form of a supposed lecture that Isou interrupts with his theories, much to the derision of the rest of the audience, but we only hear this on the soundtrack; the images are a separate track altogether. Isou also raises the very interesting, and very real question of “what constitutes beauty” — why we deem some images “beautiful” and some not.

As he shouts on the film’s soundtrack: “I believe firstly that the cinema is too rich. It is obese. It has reached its limits, its maximum. With the first movement of widening which it will outline, the cinema will burst! Under the blow of a congestion, this greased pig will tear into a thousand pieces. I announce the destruction of the cinema, the first apocalyptic sign of disjunction, of rupture, of this corpulent and bloated organization which calls itself film.”

Towards the middle of the film, Isou ceases lecturing the viewer, and instead presents examples of the kinds of images he would like to use in film, such as scratched and bleached stock footage of upside-down dump trucks, along with a soundtrack of Lettrist poetry, which is composed for the pleasure of sheer sound alone. Indeed, Isou was the founder of the Lettrist school of poetry, whose later adherents included François Dufrène and Guy Debord, though they soon split off to form their own groups.

“I want to make a film that hurts your eyes” Isou rants on the soundtrack at one point, but it really doesn’t do that at all; what is does accomplish is waking one from the reverie of scripted narrative, from preconceived notions of pictorial composition, and from the chains of synchronous imagery, in a film that is both audacious and impossible to repeat.

When Isou screened the film at the 1951 Cannes film festival, a riot broke out, and Jean Cocteau, who appears briefly in the film and who supported Isou’s work as that of a genuine original, was asked to defend the work. He refused to take to the stage, but later commented in an article that “someday Isou’s work may be the fashion,” and saw to it that the film was awarded a special prize.

Once seen, never forgotten, Isou’s film is a call for a complete revolution in the cinema, and although he goes over the top — to put it mildly — he raises some very real and interesting questions.

You can see a clip from the film here.

or

You can view/download the entire film here.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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