Film Is Language

in 22nd Torino Film Festival

by Heike Hurst

All filmmakers know that film is language, that there is a cinematographic language. The work of the filmmaker is thus to create his or her own language; the ideal would be that it be recognizable to all. If the filmmaker is a great auteur, a great artist, the filmmaker will have his or her own style, a kind of brand, that characterizes his or her creation. Criticism has the task of recognizing this potential of creation, of flushing out the originality, the power of authors under all disguises: whether it’s a question of classical narrative cinema, of experimental cinema, or of an unfurling of special effects or simply of a demonstration of martial combat.

To compare the competition of the 22nd Torino Festival to this requirement of an auteur cinema with an affirmed cinematographic language – understood without text and translation, thus universally – is a way to confront current cinematographic production in its diversity. This does not exclude, obviously, the possibility of reflecting on the choice of orientation, the dominant modes of production which reveal a certain uniformization, a cinema consumable by all in “prime time,” without indigestion.

Three films, presented outside of competition, corresponded to the definition given above: Days in the Country (Días de Campo/Journées à la campagne) by Raoul Ruiz, his first film made in Chile after years of exile; Vanitas by Paulo Rocha; and the splendid Mozart, Requiem by Aleksandr Sokurov.

In keeping with the specificity and the commitment of the Torino Festival, the films in competition were often first films. To judge these often fragile first efforts, other parameters intervene. For these first films are often the condensation of memories or of experiences consigned to forgetting, in place of articulated conflicts. When they surge forth, it’s the return of the repressed, the recall of a lived past, not always happy, a kind of condensation of young lives which seem to borrow few things from fiction. Just as with good wines and grands crus , one could give them a certificate of origin, confirm the 100% authenticity of the facts and gestures evoked.

Roland Barthes says in Camera Obscura that his intimate memory was nourished exclusively with distant memories and felt emotions. Rainer Werner Fassbinder evokes the sensations procured for him by the fabrics and the perfume emanating from the dresses of his mother when he had to recreate the atmosphere of the immediate post-war period in The Marriage of Maria Braun .

The films in competition faced all these problems, joys, pleasures, fears, and terrors at the resurgence of the intimate, at the anguish felt in the presence of the force of feelings and the desire to live them, “love, man’s only conversation,” as Abbas Kiarostami says, the insurmountable difficulty of approaching the other, of hiding from him or making him accept this love.

L’esquive by Abdellatif Kechiche and Illumination by Pascale Breton are remarkable films on the theme of how to speak one’s love to the chosen person. Kechiche’s film, moreover, works from the starting point of the alienated, overcodified language of suburban youths, in which the words and thoughts of Marivaux (the author whose work they are playing) already constitutes a provocation in itself, a radical interrogation of their specific speech, at the same time rudimentary and violent.

Pascale Breton creates with Ildutt – a Breton name with mysterious consonances – a character who carries and illuminates his film, a figure of an innocent, a simple person, a sort of brother to Dostoevsky’s Idiot . We follow his quest, from the hard work of fishing on the high seas, to the passage into a sect and his return among the living. An astonishing, surprising film, which travels unmarked roads, which hurls itself and completes itself magnificently, carried by the look of its main actor, the unforgettable Clet Beyer. We tremble for him when we see him trying to overcome his shyness; for will he manage to declare himself and not lose Christina before having approached her? The film works with the grandiose and wild landscapes of Britanny where the abused expression “To us two!” returns us to the defiance of everyone before the beauty of the world. The fundamental demand of each human person, to be recognized and accepted, here takes another dimension, archaic and eternal at the same time: I want to leave my mark, embrace mountains! The film works on the absence of language and acknowledges the lack of appropriate words to express our feelings with clarity; it renders pathetic all attempts to make oneself understood, for there is no rule, no guarantee of what will finally reach the other and make him or her listen to you and hear you. Words alone are not enough to approach the other. Pascale Breton’s film Illumination speaks to us of this in an original manner.

The absence of language and words as an approach between beings is also the main subject of The Beautiful Washing Machine, by the Malaysian James Lee. The men speak only at work and say nothing to each other. The women are mute or else animated by sentiments of vengeance and resentment. Solitude and dehumanization. With humor and much comedy, Lee depicts the aseptic universe of consumption and fast food, orchestrated by stupid television and lying advertisements. Along the way, he also shows how generations react in very different ways to the solicitations of advertising and to the uniformization of products. The wish to live a life in which desire has a place is present in all the characters; the realization of this desire remains the main difficulty. One could express all this by long traveling shots in a supermarket. James Lee succeeds in this.

Henrike Goetz’s Make My Day also speaks of the absence of language and communication in pinpointing the emptiness of the jobless young university graduates who surround a young Korean woman (Kim Young-shin) who is the true center of the film. She tries to live her desires, to not renounce herself. The film spares her neither ruptures nor disillusions. The part of the film that is set in Paris, with a magisterial Lou Castel, reveals the potential of a director who has not dared to let herself go in emotion.

To return to the criteria articulated above, it is also necessary to emphasize that the cinema is also a work that is always still to be recommenced: those who have truly found their style and their brand and who still have something profound to say and who say it well, in short, those who have succeeded in the challenge of communicating with force and without words: those are Gianikian and Ricci – as they are affectionately called – who presented at Torino their trilogy Prisoners of the War (Prigionieri della Guerra, 1995); On the Heights All Is Peace (Su tutte le vette è pace, 1998); and Oh, Man (Oh, Uomo, 2004). Antlike archival work, with a gaze and an ethic of accomplished filmmakers: here is cinema which has a language, forged in a continuous and patient work. Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi are, in themselves, the honor of the profession.

Heike Hurst