Liberté | Albert Serra
[…] What manifests is therefore some kind of dream vision. Figures enter and observe various scenes of fiddling, touching, sucking, whipping, tugging, urinating and bleeding. Human material has been stripped down to its bare essentials.
[…] The paradox of desire is that once it is satisfied it ceases to exist. Without the climax, we are left clueless as to what it precisely is that we are looking for. Dawn breaks, light floods the screen and it is over.
[…] Thankfully Jean-Pierre Léaud was not involved.
Conversation (AUDIO) with Albert Serra at the Geneva International Film Festival 2019 COMING SOON!
At a house party a couple of weeks ago I passed out to Gaspar Noé’s Climax. I was tightly curled up on a beanbag in a cosy attic room kitted out with a projector, a pretty sick sound system and some flickering candles. I, myself, had been dancing the whole night long to “Supernature”, had had a couple glasses of punch and was feeling fine. Truth be told, having rocked out solidly on the dance floor for a number of hours, I didn’t make it much further than the opening sequence (je suis désolé Gaspar). That was enough though to be reminded of my fleeting time upon this earth, to revel in the sweetness of being. I can’t tell you what I dreamt.
However, that’s all in the past now and we need new blu-rays to draw parties to an end. We need mise en scène. We need a very specific post-Renaissance, pre-Revolutionary, baroque era historical context. We need camera work that reminds us of Fragonard, Boucher and various other Rocco-era painters. We need a utopia of sexual liberation, of sexual fraternity. We need Liberté!
Albert Serra’s latest premiered in «Un Certain Regard» where it shook up the relatively tame Cannes Film Festival. Set a few years before the French Revolution somewhere between Potsdam and Berlin, libertines expelled from the Puritan court of Louis XVI sought the support of legendary German seducer and freethinker Duc de Walchen to export libertinage to Germany. The philosophy of enlightenment is based on the rejection of all morality and authority.
Following up La Mort de Louis XIV, a film about the denial of an unthinkable event that, through its tightly-composed atmospherics, conveys the banality of someone perceived as immortal passing into absolute nothingness. In this follow-up Serra has extinguished the Sun King in favour of the night king. Liberté is composed around the logic of the night. Serra shot the film without preparing a storyboard or script. His methodology is to shoot one scene and transform it into other before returning to a previous scene and then jumping ahead. He uses three cameras to see from multiple perspectives across space and time.
What manifests is therefore some kind of dream vision. Figures enter and observe various scenes of fiddling, touching, sucking, whipping, tugging, urinating and bleeding. Human material has been stripped down to its bare essentials in a tableau of erotic exhibitionism. Lips and noses are pressed between butt-cheeks. Crouching women piss over invalid men. A severed limb is tortured. Onlookers rustle in the undergrowth. A long monologue, perhaps the only complete part of the script, offers some explanation at the very beginning. It tells the story of a man who tried to assassinate Louis XV and was slowly dismembered to the pleasure of a crowd of onlookers. The orgy that ensues therefore topples the power dynamic between the aristocrats and their servants. The desire for sex and the desire for death are enfolded into one. For the build-up there is surprisingly little on-screen penetration. The sex seems to drag. It becomes repetitive, appearing more painful than pleasurable and never quite reaching a climax.
At one point a figure peers through a pair of binoculars at the camera. Serra teases the audience: are you satisfied? The paradox of desire is that once it is satisfied it ceases to exist. Without the climax, we are left clueless as to what it precisely is that we are looking for. Dawn breaks, light floods the screen and it is over. At over two hours in its run time, the grande finale is something of a disappointment. Serra provokes our desires, challenging what we want to see and what we don’t. On the whole, Liberté represents a major achievement in experimental cinema. For such a contentious statement to be presented at Cannes where, I imagine, various attendees might retire to their yachts for all sorts of related bacchanalia, it disturbs.
Thankfully Jean-Pierre Léaud was not involved.
Text: Laura Davis
First published: November 10, 2019