Jean Painlevé & Ben Rivers
Monokino in KAAP
Fri 18 Jan 2019, 20:00
Vrijstaat O., Ostend
L’hippocampe, ou ‘cheval marin’

“You alone stand as a competitor to Our Lady of Lourdes, as far as miracles are concerned...”

Sergei Eisenstein1


“Mystery and miracle of secret waters, the seahorse gives its vertical gait, unique among ocean vertebrates, a lofty and rigid sadness, masking the strange suppleness with which, head suspended in the air as though freed of gravity, it winds its way through the algae. A surprising fact: giving birth is the male’s act. In the course of multiple and graceful embraces, the female places about two hundred eggs in a pouch beneath the male’s stomach, which he fertilizes. This pouch is not only protective, the constriction of its blood vessels contributes to the embryos’ nutrition. The male undergoes a real and apparently extremely painful delivery five weeks after the wedding. Everything about this animal, a victim of contradictory forces, suggests that it has disguised itself to escape, and in warding off the fiercest fates, it carries away the most diverse and unexpected possibilities. To those who struggle ardently to improve their everyday luck, to those who wish for a companion who would forgo the usual selfishness in order to share their pains as well as their joys, this symbol of tenacity joins the most virile effort with the most maternal care.”

Jean Painlevé2


“The job has its joys for those who love the sea. (For those, that is, who love the sea to the exclusion of all else.) Wading around in water up to your ankles or navel, day and night, in all kinds of weather, even when there is no hope of finding anything; investigating everything whether it be algae or an octopus; being hypnotized by a sinister pond where everything seems to be watching you even when nothing lives there. This is the ecstasy of an addict, the ecstasy of a hunting dog bounding across a field, crisscrossing it with euphoric expectation, even though each hidden crevice it stumbles over reveals, at most, a rotten potato.”

Jean Painlevé3


“The plasmodium of the Myxomycetes is so sweet;

The eyeless Prorhynchus has the dull color of the born-blind, and its proboscis stuffed with zoochlorellae solicits the oxygen of the Frontoniella antypyretica;

He carries his pharynx in a rosette, a locomotive requirement, horned, stupid, and not at all calcareous.

But Dendrocoelum lacteum and Planaria torva, gonocephalous and olive-greenish, sharpen the pleasure of the hoops;

The little turbellarian knows the embrace of their mouth;

Good for Chironomus plumosus to outline their intestinal arborizations in red lace;

What spherical astonishment: he flees and ruptures the phlegmy threads reserved for the Bythotrephes longimanus, that sacred little crustacean with close-cropped hair;

He would rather be born through parthenogenesis than touch these threads of the ovoviviparous Mesostoma;

He has no choice; soft, elastic, and full of mucus, with neither truncature nor duplicature, he projects himself like Mercator on Nephelis octoculata whose eight eyes are not sufficient to express the fact that she has spent all summer laying eggs;

The laborers produce little bundles;

A Rotifera dries up in a corner;

As it can be sensed that the sexes are separated, the Prorhynchus sucking stops;

Stephanoceros eichorni is better;

What difference does a double on a belvedere make. Stop.

The turbellarians have seized it, penetrate by breaking and entering, pierce and suck;

A horrible cry echoes and joins the lapping of luminous interferences;

The cercaria of distome emerge from their stagnal hymens, cast a glance, and terror encysts them.

The rolling in an S, a bit of zinc the temporarily gelatinous sophistry pffft! Filched.

The spermatogenesis only takes place in the male, says this old marc valve.

Oh, there now!”

Jean Painlevé4

  • 1. Sergei Eisenstein in a letter to Jean Painlevé, as mentioned in Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall and Birgitte Berg, Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé, translated by Jeanine Herman (San Francisco: Brico Press, 2000), 5.
  • 2. Jean Painlevé, “The seahorse,” in Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall and Birgitte Berg, Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé, translated by Jeanine Herman (San Francisco: Brico Press, 2000), 13.
  • 3. Jean Painlevé, “Les Pieds dans l'eau,” originally published in Voilà, 4 May 1935.
  • 4. Jean Painlevé, “Drame néo-zoologique,” originally published in Surrealisme, n°1, October 1924.
Les amours de la pieuvre

“1. You will not make documentaries if you do not feel the subject.”

Jean Painlevé1


“With the completion of Sea Urchins, Painlevé embarked on a period of intense production, making such films for popular audiences as Sea Ballerinas, Shrimp Stories, and the eerily beautiful Love Life of the Octopus. When asked how he achieved the chilling effect of the narrator’s voice in The Love Life of the Octopus, Painlevé explained: ‘He was an old man who, out of vanity, refused to wear glasses. He was therefore obliged to stick his face right up against the script, close to the microphone, where one could hear his emphysema.’”

Brigitte Berg2


“Before tearing the quivering flesh of an octopus into shreds, we should not forget the extraordinary creature which it represents, a creature which, even although zoological classification has put it next to the oysters, is nonetheless the only animal in the world to possess an eye similar to that of mammals, indeed of humans. It is not just the eye’s colour changes revealing intimate feelings in pulses of light – maybe blue for fear, red for anger, black for envy; it is the eyelids which give it such a sensitive and varied look, compared, for example, with the stupid expression of a fish, due to the fixedness of its eyes, a permanently horror-stricken expression if the eyes are round, permanently fierce if they are elongated.

The octopus has not yet had its day as a pet. However, it can show gratitude and it can recognize you: if you put a rotten egg in its aquarium, it will throw it right back in your face … And as for its fierce tentacles, once they have been beaten and skinned, what a delicious substitute for coquille saint-jacques or even lobster.”

Jean Painlevé3

  • 1. Jean Painlevé, “The Ten Commandments,” in Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall and Birgitte Berg, Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé, translated by Jeanine Herman (San Francisco: Brico Press, 2000), 159.
  • 2. Brigitte Berg in Andy Masaki Bellows, Marina McDougall and Birgitte Berg, Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé, translated by Jeanine Herman (San Francisco: Brico Press, 2000), 41.
  • 3. Jean Painlevé, “Au fond de la mer, un oeil humain regarde…” originally published in Messidor, 18 March 1938.
Origin of the Species

“It began with a friend telling me about a man who had spent 20 years reading On The Origin Of Species by Darwin, which turned out to be a slight exaggeration. In reality S. is a very intelligent man who just happens to have left school at 16 and then found out about things by himself, based on a sense of wonder he felt about the world. I wanted to see what could be found in his small patch of isolated land, and how that connected with his understanding of the world.”

Ben Rivers1