Mixing Images: A Controversy And A Bit Of A Conservative Point Of View

in 33rd International Film Festival Rotterdam

by Ikbal Zalila

My purpose in this article is to point out a tendency that emerged quite clearly in three movies of the Tiger competition at the Rotterdam film festival. Peep ‘TV’ Show by Yutaka Tsuchiya, Young Gods from Finnish filmmaker J.-P. Siili and Ntshaveni Walurulli’s The Wooden Camera (South Africa) have in common the tendency in mixing images of different textures that leads to a kind of formalist hybridation.

The Wooden Camera is about the lives of two children, Madiba and Sipho. They change the day that pick up an attached case of a man who’s fallen from the train dead. From the attached Madiba gets a camera, Sipho a gun. Madiba hides the camera inside a wooden box and starts to film his township, his drunken father and the city. Sipho becomes a gang leader and progressively their ways begin to part.

Young Gods portrays a group of friends in nowadays Finland. They are cocky and spoilt, poised between adolescence and manhood. In this group we have Tony, a rich voyeur kid who is sticked to his camera through which he sees the world. By using his camera the group of friends decide to challenge each other in filming their own sexual conquests.

Peep ‘TV’ Show is a DV feature from Japan. Yuthaka Tsuchiya’s camera captures two months of the strangely dislocated lives of young Japanese teenagers living isolated in small apartments, obsessed by the Internet, surveillance cameras and porn in the net. They are always dealing with sex but, at the same time, strangely sexless.

Although very different in their content and their aesthetical parti-pris, those three movies share a similar concern on the teenagers approach to reality. The three main characters don’t see the world, so they can not deal with reality. They capture life through their camera’s eyes. And the camera, which acts as a subject, plays different roles in those three movies, but its existence in the plot leads to a formal convergence between the three films.

Let’s point out the differences before dealing with formalist issues. By putting the world into his camera’s frame Madiba, the hero in The Wooden Camera, builds up a world on which he exerts a kind of domination. The camera plays the role of a shelter for this boy living the poor and violent world of the township. In Young Gods the main character’s camera is a path to truth: shooting is a kind of initiation for Tony, the condition for him to accept progressively the truth about the circumstances of his parents’ death. Then Peep ‘TV’ Show, a cold (freezing) movie about young people’s loneliness in Tokyo that pictures a community of internet hackers, led by an androgyne young one. The world we see is one made of computer screens, surveillance cameras and spy cameras, a world of simulation and virtual images.

The three plots, apart from its differences, have in common the same way of depicting the world through their main character’s eye. And since this eye is one of a camera, these three features are formally based in the subjective point of view, as an aesthetical clue to get into the character’s world. All this would not be that much original since the subjective point of view is almost consubstantial to the birth of a kind of cinema considered as an art in questioning the visual treatment of the subjective point of view. In these three movies, since the main characters see the reality through their camera’s eyes, The Wooden Camera, Young Gods and Peep ‘TV’ Show alternate film images with video images, and video images as well as surveillance camera images: that is, images of different textures.

Someone would say this choice is obvious, as the result of the director’s device in being different from his character’s. Switching from a certain kind of images to some others might be a likely way to suggest a temporary ‘first person’ use of camera. But building a whole movie on a systematic alternation of shots of different textures, well-framed and well-lighted images with low-graded raw images, seems to me symptomatic of a certain lack of creativity to express in visual terms different layers of reality. Film history has shown us several inventive and creative ways from which film directors explored to make the viewers experience a character’s point of view while remaining within the borders of the cinematographic language.

These three movies show something different. Let’s hope it is just a coincidence: the presence of the camera as the main character’s eye leads to a sort of ‘mise en abyme’ of the director’s point of view, but not in the reflexive way the cinema talks about itself. The director’s eye and the cold eye of the surveillance camera are worth the same. The outcome is a hybrid flaw of images that becomes a formalist magma where everything is worth everything. Peep ‘TV’ Show is the most radical and the most emblematic of the three features in systematically implementing this receipt.

Instead of questioning reality, the director’s eye remains stuck on it, fascinated and entangled in a world he can no longer decipher. Too easy!!

I consider that cinema has still the power to transcend reality.