“Ria Pacquée is a keen observer of public life. In As Long as I See Birds Flying I Know I Am Alive she collects recordings made in Paris, Kathmandu, Athens, Istanbul, Bruges, New York, Varanasi and Antwerp. By juxtaposing images of the sacred with those of a very wordly nature she undercuts the anthropological, scientific potential of her material – a disorienting strategy often used by Pacquée. Two recurring elements, clouds of drifting smoke and prowling birds, evoke a dreamlike and looming atmosphere which makes even the most common gesture appear like being part of an age-old ritual.”
“Anthropology has been a hotbed of arguments about essentializing difference, about controlling the Other, so isn’t it dangerous to start making the codes of that discipline one’s own? Let’s move to fig. 3, Le songe de Poliphile [The Strife of Love in a Dream] (2011) [...]. Shot in France and India, the film braids vivid imagery of pilgrimages and ritual theatre with comic books, statues and pharmaceutical laboratories synthesizing anti-anxiety drugs. A work about fear, including Henrot’s own anxieties about visiting India, its soundtrack marries serpentine drones to thunderous kettledrums, evoking atmospheres of dread and climaxing in hedonistic abandon. Throughout, the snake is used as a metaphor to symbolize both fear and healing. We see snakes crawling across rocks, snakes represented in classical sculpture, snakes wriggling through hands, snakes sliding through Tintin books and Fritz Lang’s Indian Tomb (1959).
Opening with psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar’s line that ‘India is the unconsciousness of the West’, Le songe de Poliphile at first seems to herald a troubling Orientalism both old and new, as ‘spiritual’ India is juxtaposed with scenes of technological, business-minded India. (The country is one of the major suppliers of psychopharmaceuticals to the West.) In some respects, the film skirts a lyrical universalism that privileges generalized similarities over the specific historical, economic or cultural conditions under which a group of people are acting. Henrot produces an entrancing parade of images, ‘assembled in a network of meanings, somewhat based on the principles in Mnemosyne [1924–29] by Aby Warburg, by merging them into an atlas of images of different cultural and worldly references, all according to the principle of elective affinities’. Magnetic as the imagery is, the experience of watching Le songe de Poliphile is a dangerous seduction. The audience is never allowed to know what kind of rituals we’re looking at, what pharmaceutical drugs are being made or where the snippets of found source material come from. Only Henrot knows its inner workings. Le songe de Poliphile is about privileged knowledge. It moves and feints as if it were documentary, but it conceals risky subjectivity.”
“Accumulation, and showing ‘many things’ allows me to show how things were secretly existing in degrees, and not in essence. Our language and our concepts are based on difference and opposition and I think that the language of a film should work in a different mode, based on similarities. I wanted my film to progress not didactically but like a flux – there are too many images, too many ideas. I’m hoping the viewer just lets go, and doesn't try to read the image like a text. That’s why I liked the reference of Polyphile (in French the title of the film is Le songe de Poliphile). Poliphile can be understood as ‘friend of many things’ (from Greek Polloi ‘many’ and Philos ‘friend’).”
“I have been classed as a director of short work. When I watch films by Bruce Baillie, Peter Hutton, or Agnès Varda, though, I never think that they made short films as the form is generally understood. A Hutton film’s value cannot be measured in minutes, just as the quality of Juan Rulfo and Robert Walser’s texts cannot be measured by page count. My friends from L’Abominable and other independent labs do not measure time like those involved in marketing do. The result is that each work’s length is determined by the time that each filmmaker needs and has the conditions to pay for.”
“Les deux films en diptyque, La bouche et Cilaos, du cinéaste colombien Camilo Restrepo, viennent en deux contes hypnotiques ouvrir la séance et couronner ce royaume des morts. Dans l’un, un homme apprend la mort abrupte de sa fille, battue par son mari. Dans l’autre, c’est une fille qui part à la recherche de son père qu’elle n’a jamais connu. L’occulte poésie de Restrepo, qu’elle soit portée par la chanteuse réunionnaise Christine Salem et le chant traditionnel maloya (dans Cilaos), ou par le percussionniste guinéen Mohamed Bangoura (avec La bouche), porte en elle autant de liturgies pour les vivants qui quêtent la vengeance ou l’apaisement, que pour les morts qui vivent encore. Les percussions s’accélèrent, les tambours font vibrer les cercueils.
Les images de Camilo Restrepo, d’une audace plus expérimentale (il tourne, développe et monte ses films au laboratoire cinématographique partagé « l’Abominable » à La Courneuve) se meuvent comme des photographies dont la couche sensible se craquellerait pour laisser sortir ses sujets. Les corps face caméra restent souvent quasi-statiques ou exercent de brefs rituels (marteler la table des mains, scander, courroucer, chanter, briser une assiette avec les pieds). Ils sont caressés par les phares de voiture, les oscillations de lumière. « Pour enfin trouver une amoureuse, je suis descendu chez les morts. » L’envoûtement réduit la frontière ténue entre l’horizon et le ciel qui nous tombe dessus.”
“La bouche, set in Guinea, is the mirror film to Cilaos. The roles change: the strong becomes weak, who abandons is abandoned. I was not looking for its story, which came from the mouth of my neighbor Ella Bangoura. He beseeched me to film a tribute to the tragedy of his sister, a process that pointed me in a direction inversely reflective of Cilaos, as if the first film’s fiction had been rapidly caught up in the second’s reality.
If there is something concrete in both of these films, it is language: Creole in Cilaos, Suso in La Bouche. Music and tongue correspond to local color, and through speech and song, the films invoke the inherently oral nature of myth. Diable Rouge and the other musicians in La Bouche and Cilaos bring to life the dramas of their pain, and all the energy contained, accumulated, and eventually released in the films come from them.”