The Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, now looking forward to its 15th edition in 2015, is among the baby-boom events launched at the beginning of this century with the ambition to approach media in a multidisciplinary manner. Under the disguise of a genre feast set in pastoral Swiss landscape that features a master class with George R.R. Martin, a tribute to Kevin Smith, or a game jam, lies clear curatorial vision with political implications. James Berclaz-Lewis lifts up the screen.
World sport events are the best occasion to visit a museum, or an exhibition, or an exhibition that is meant to model a museum. At least this is what Yoana Pavlova did when she stepped into Henri Langlois’ imaginarium at the French Cinémathèque, dedicated the the founder of that very institution and a notorious cinephile each of us reiterates, intentionally or not. Is cinephilia good for the health, though?
When I arrive at 51 rue de Bercy, I stop for a moment and look at the building – bittersweet memories from my first summer in Paris burst into my head. Back at the time, the French Cinémathèque was definitely a place for reverence, to such a degree that I could not comprehend as to how come it hosts late-night screenings of straight-to-video American action films from the 1980s and the 1990s together with everything else. To me that was a sign of over-satisfaction, abundance to the extent of ennui. Three years later I feel like I have it all figured out, and Henri Langlois seems to be an important part of my theory, so let’s step in together into Frank Gehry-designed edifice.
Coincidentally, it turns out that my visit at Le Musée imaginaire d’Henri Langlois is guided by the show’s curator, Dominique Païni, who was director for the French Cinémathèque from 1991 to 2000 and head of the cultural development at the Center Georges Pompidou from 2000 to 2006. I am more or less familiar with his style and conceptions, partially thanks to his participation in Patrick Sandrin’s Open Class in Sofia, in 2008. My presentiment does not fail me, and I find myself amid a labyrinth of relics – associated with, acquired by, or dedicated to Saint Henri Langlois. The arrangement is narratively neat and predictable, it is a path the curator wants to you walk, so your faith in His holiness becomes steady. It is not just an imaginary museum – it is worship of the worship (and the Oscar is just at the end, right before you bump into the merchandize shop).
Dominique Païni’s presence helps me #1 to take out my phone and take these terrible photos for you, even if this was officially not permitted and #2 to realize that Henri Langlois and his cinephilia did harm to cinema after all, in a way many do not want to admit today. When our guide underlines in the beginning that among the childhood inspirations of the future archivist was an exposition of cinema costumes, it is easy to understand why Henri Langlois acted his whole life like a fetishist instead of a scientist. This was justified by the material form of the film and the turbulent times, you would say, yet I believe there was more. When the Cinémathèque was founded in 1936, it regarded cinema from the perspective of 19th-century France, with a sense of artistic and geopolitical superiority, so no wonder its “discoveries” were proclaimed immediately for marvelous and monumental, hence the “cult following”, as we would call it now.
Nowadays Henri Langlois would have checked daily Fuck Yeah Directors on Tumblr, and his avatar pic would have been Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Jeanne d’Arc, forever crying in an animated gif, of course. Eight decades ago, however, under the pretext of cinephilia, he constructed a physical and mythical pantheon, where cinema was transformed into dead matter and its auteurs – into sacred cows. His obsession with the artifacts of this art made him scarify its spirit to a point that one of the most thrilling and vibrant works of cinema are considered too grand in order to be interpreted afresh, our generations are obliged to admire them the same way their “saviors” did. The real danger comes when, for example, professionals at my age and with my qualification from the US are familiar with only two Russian directors, Eisenstein and Tarkovsky, and do not feel the urge to know anyone else, because these two were among the chosen ones, the rest is noise. Besides, I keep wondering – if Jean Vigo (with all my respect and love for him) was just a regular guy who bought a camera and shot these stunning films without any special background or contacts, how many others like him were there, and why were they condemned to obscurity?
Nevertheless, as incredible it might sound, I assume that the actual victim of Henri Langlois’ selectivity and subjectivity was the French cinema itself. Never mind the Nouvelle Vague, they did well, because they had a lot to say. Furthermore, many of the now-cult directors started as film critics, with the nerve for reflection and rhetoric. Still, if you survey the remains of French cinema at the present, you will spot a bunch of agreeable young people, chained to an enormous beautiful corpse. It must be really hard to be forever doomed to such an epic legacy and its references, to live up to the expectations imposed. While directors like Wes Anderson or Tsai Ming-liang can stop by this memorial and snap a piece of French cinema as a ready-made object, what aspiring French directors can do is deconstruct and deconstruct to a point of nervous breakdown, just compare Jean-Pierre Léaud then and Vincent Macaigne now.
So, are the American straight-to-video films an exception or a sign of democratization? I would say they are vestals allowed to the temple feast solely after midnight. Et oui, j’accuse!
With the summer season come our beloved film festivals, the ones that combine cinema and holiday mood. The untiring Michael Pattison is already an expert in writing travel notes, covering his cinewalks all over the world, so we are excited to share his latest adventure at Kino Otok – Izola Cinema Festival, featuring churches, sunsets, his own pics + some football of course – kick on!
You may have probably heard that there is something about football going on in Brazil. FIFA World Cups are perfectly structured festivals, just like a football game could be regarded as film – one hour and a half (usually), suspense (or not), lesson learned plus mass emotional involvement. Still, if you are one of those people who would compare watching soccer to experiencing Romanian cinema, we have got you covered – Yoana Pavlova analyzes Corneliu Porumboiu’s THE SECOND GAME / AL DOILEA JOC (2014), recent winner at the Romanian Days section of Transilvania IFF and a must-see for football fans.
After gathering this modest but graceful online exhibition during the latest edition of Cannes Film Festival, it is time to look back at the films and the themes that stayed with us throughout the post-craze phase. Alexandra Zawia contemplates the sentiment behind some of the most hyped titles as well as initiates a compelling link between Winston Churchill and Marcello Mastroianni. Aha, now you are curious…