Explore by #Experimental
One has not necessarily to refer to authors such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul or to Asian dream cinema in order to stress the importance, in cinema, of rendering tangible ghosts, spirits, and other imaginative presences. And this practice does not only concern cinema; at least since Goethe’s Erlkönig, literature (mainly romantic) has also explored the many aspects of this materialisation of imagination, and has been an important wellspring for cinema. Here, with Niu Xiaoyu’s first feature, we sink into a world – the one of the young Yezi – where characters from the past and other spirits saturate the space of her room, her apartment, the garden she usually goes to. Do these spaces simply become her psychic agora, a sort of theatre of the soul? Through the delicate relationship with her grandmother, who starts suffering from dementia, we even lose reliable references in time. Memories, the past and the present melt together, largely thanks to the “presence” of her grandfather, who recently (?) passed away.
The film insists almost obsessively on putting Yezi’s internal forum forward, a radicalisation that could appear redundant, but which serves a specific dramaturgic role. Yezi confesses that she does not want to leave her childhood and become an adult: this is probably the fundamental key to reading the obsessive materialisation of imagination, not just as a symbolic fantasy but as a form of resistance against the outer world, the world of the adults, a world that goes beyond the comfortable bubble of family.
There is more than this motive of a difficult coming of age in Niu Xiaoyu’s film though, for she is able to create a distance from Yezi’s closed universe. She directly talks, as director, to the grandmother, who appears to be her own grandmother, in the flat that is her own flat. This puzzling gesture reveals the documentary layer of Virgin Blue, that thereby assume the form of auto-fiction, putting Yezi into the role of a fictional alter ego of the filmmaker herself. In this way, we can feel the separation from Yezi, and therefore from her dominating interiority. We are not just in her world, but look at her world – assuming the perspective of the filmmaker. The heterogeneity of formal elements and settings, also including real children choreography and comic drawings (by Niu Xiaoyu herself), reinforces this effect of detachment from Yezi’s exploration of her inner world.
Through this film therefore we both live and observe a universe in which childhood memories and demented perception coalesce. Through this film we experience and observe a kind of imaginative autism, which speaks perfectly for childhood, probably dementia, and certainly the specificity of cinema world – and finally the intriguing continuity between childhood, dementia, and cinema… That is why we could say that Yezi is also the spokeswoman for the interiority of cinematic perception, and Niu Xiaoyu its witness, both involved and distant.
Virgin Blue – Bu yao zai jian a, Yu hua tanga | Film | Niu Xiaoyu | CHN 2021 | 100’ | Locarno Film Festival 2021, Cineasti del presente
Le quattro volte
Online streaming at the Solothurner Filmtage 2021
Il carbone scalda l’uomo, che pascola le capre, che si riparano sotto gli alberi, che fanno il carbone. Il film è del 2010, ma allo stesso tempo è senza tempo, perché ci immerge nel ciclo della vita procurandoci un’esperienza ormai rara, ma pur sempre vera, almeno quanto lo è la nostra carne. Le quattro volte – in cui nascere e morire: umani, animali, vegetali, minerali – è anche uno studio etnografico su di un equilibrio arcano tra uomo e natura, come lo si può ancora (per quanto?) scoprire in un paesino calabrese nel massiccio del Pollino. Ma al tenore chiaramente documentario si sovrappone un discorso tutto cinematografico, che esalta la telecamera, il racconto visivo, fino a farci riscoprire i suoni del paesaggio – con un attento lavoro di sound design. Nella lentezza ipnotica dei cicli naturali pure si sviluppano delle linee drammaturgiche. Per quattro volte, appunto: gli ultimi giorni di un anziano pastore, i primi giorni di un capretto bianco, gli ultimi giorni di un pino maestoso, i primi giorni del carbone appena creato. Quattro storie individuali intervallate da momenti corali, ovvero cerimonie religiose e pagane: il tutto come fosse completamente astratto dai nostri tempi. Per questo si potrebbe criticare il film di ricercare anacronisticamente la poesia di un tempo inesistente. No, ai miei occhi è solo lo sforzo rigoroso di avvicinarsi all’essenza naturale dell’uomo, al tempo della natura stessa. In questo il film di Michelangelo Frammartino è pienamente riuscito: un’esperienza unica che solo il grande schermo può rendere così efficace.
Le quattro volte | Film | Michelangelo Frammartino | IT 2010 | 88’ | Cinémathèque suisse Lausanne, Solothurner Filmtage 2021
Does filming oneself and one’s own partner acting as non-professional actors equal documentary filming? Does exhibiting the process of fiction-making, or the making-of of fiction, equal non-fiction cinema? What if the non-professional acting finally gets an influence of your daily non-acting? Is reality also the result of our exercises in fictionalising reality? If two non-professional actors say that they stop acting when the camera continues to record, did they “really” stop acting? Is any exhibited making-of of a film, even the making-of of the making-of of the film, potentially fictional? Would the fictionality of the making-of be more real than the reality of the fiction which the making-of refers to? What if a dying man or a two year-old child participate in an explicitly staged fiction? Can they be prepared enough, manipulated enough, in order to not bring some non-fictional reality into fiction? If the explicitly staged fiction displays the drama of a non-professional actress being manipulated by the rules of acting, does this mean that the non-professional actress is less manipulated, in reality, because she accepts being manipulated in order to express through her acting how bad it would be to be a manipulated non-professional actress? Does a meta-cinematic reflection rise when we realise that the ethical questions discussed in the drama coincide with the classical ethical questions of documentary filmmaking, like the question of filming and, in a way, seeking for suffering? If the pact between the non-professional actors would be to perform their own real life, would the non-scripted moments of improvisation go beyond the limit of their acting domain and show an effective non-fiction? Which should be the position of the spectator when, the explicit ambiguity between fiction and non-fiction notwithstanding, the highly credible dialogues make us suspend our disbeliefs? Should we resist the suspension of disbelief only because the realistic dialogue of a couple stops at once with the couple revealing their acting? When the non-professional actors, a couple themselves, start then to behave as if in their acting performances, should their previous dialogues be taken as even more credible or even more staged?
All these questions arose in me during the viewing of Xiaozhen Wang’s two-hours long Love Poem. Even if the film is not devoid of genuinely dramatic moments, which we experience when we surrender to the cinematic suspension of disbelief, its main filmic experience coincides with our own intellectual inquiry on fiction and non-fiction. The climax of the interlocking layers of fiction and non-fiction comes in the last scene of the film, where the filmmaker takes the initiative to stop the camera, but this scene will confirm the impossibility of attempting to disentangle fiction and non-fiction. Then music will appear. Yes, Love Poem is mainly intellectual cinema, and I cannot but immediately add: so what? For in speaking of “intellectual cinema”, I already feel the pressure, today, of having to defend its legitimate existence against the anti-intellectualism that seems to loom among film scholars and cinephiles… Cinema has told, tells, and will always tell the story of the reflection on its own dispositive and fundamental issues.
Love Poem | Film | Xiaozhen Wang | CHN-Hong Kong-SAR 2020 | 114’ | Visions du Réel 2020, Burning Lights