Bruxelles-transit (Samy Szlingerbaum, 1980)
For the seventh Seuls film night, Sabzian will show Bruxelles-transit (1980), the only full-length film by the Belgian screenwriter, actor and filmmaker Samy Szlingerbaum (1950-1986). The film tells the story of his parents’ arrival in Belgium in 1947. They were Polish Jews who had spent ten days travelling across Europe by train. Samy was born two years later. The film, spoken in Yiddish, is his mother’s story of their journey and narrates the attempts of the family to build a home, the struggle to find illicit work and their efforts to integrate into the country of their exile, without papers or any knowledge of the language. Szlingerbaum began his career as a filmmaker by co-directing the 1973 film Le 15/8 with Chantal Akerman. He shot two short films of his own, followed by Bruxelles-transit. The film will be made available for free on 3 December on Avila. The film will be introduced by Lennart Soberon of KASKCinema and Nina de Vroome of Sabzian. You will be able to watch Bruxelles-transit for free via a link and a code that will be shared on the evening. The film will remain available to rent on Avila afterwards. You can find more information on the event page.
Vremena goda [The Seasons of the Year] (Artavazd Peleshian, 1975)
The Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein actualized the idea that a shot colliding with another shot through montage gives birth to a thought. Elaborating on this dialectical practice, the Armenian Artavazd Peleshian developed a particular understanding of the editing process of a “montage junction”. For him, the editing is not about joining shots, but to disjoin them in what he calls “montage-at-a-distance”: “When joining two key shots which carry an important semantic charge – we shall henceforth call them bearing shots – I strive not to bring them closer, not to make them collide, but to create a distance between them.” The Seasons of the Year is a symphonic evocation of the life of Armenian farmers, in which the movement of bodies and shots meet in a choreography of forceful ardour. VRT NU is offering this film for free.
The Brilliant Biograph: Earliest Moving Images of Europe (1897 – 1902) (Various filmmakers) (2020)
The Brilliant Biograph: Earliest Moving Images of Europe (1897-1902) is a marvellous compilation of recordings from the collection of the Mutoscope and Biograph Company, one of the first film companies. These films are all photographed with the unique large-format 68mm Mutograph camera, which provided extraordinarily high-resolution images. These one-minute time capsules from 120 years ago still convey some of the richest and sharpest images that film can achieve. These images from the early period of cinema evoke also the first films by the Lumière brothers: quotidian scenes, little “documentaries”, almost designed as scientific observations. These first films from around the turn of the century were all received with astonishment and surprise. About a 125 years ago, the first film screening in the world took place in Lyon. It was an exceptional event that made a strong impression on the organizer Mr. Clément Maurice: “My most typical memory is the face of the passer-by stopping in front of the entrance, wondering what Cinématographe Lumière could mean. Those who decided to enter came out a little bewildered; one could soon see them coming back, bringing with them all the people of acquaintance they had met on the boulevard. In the afternoon, the public formed a queue that often extended as far as the rue Caumartin.” Read the text ‘The First Screenings’ by Georges-Michel Coissac here on Sabzian. The Dutch Eye Filmmuseum offers 52 minutes of the very first moving images, filmed around the world by the Mutoscope and Biograph Company. You can see these unique images of everyday life in Europe in the 1900s for free.
Brussels Transit is Samy Szlingerbaum’s only full-length film. It tells the story of his parents’ arrival in Belgium in 1947. They were Polish Jews who had spent ten days travelling across Europe by train. Samy was born two years later. The film, spoken in Yiddish, is his mother’s story of their journey and narrates the attempts of the family to build a home, the struggle to find illicit work and their efforts to integrate into the country of their exile, without papers or any knowledge of the language.
“Samy Szlingerbaum – who died in 1986 at the age of 36 – was an autodidact in matters of film. He cooked in sleeping trains, worked in a cinema ticket office; he spent four years in Israel and one in New York, where he took a course in photography. He collaborates with Chantal Akerman, shoots two shorts of his own (including Second-Hand in 1975, the description of an appartment discovered by a young couple), then his only full-length film, in Yiddish, Brussels-transit. It tells the story of his parents’ arrival in Belgium in 1947, Polish Jews who had spent ten days travelling across Europe by train. Samy was born two years later. The film is his mother’s story of their journey to Belgium, their attempts to build a home, the struggle to find illegal work and their efforts to integrate into the country of their exile, without papers or any knowledge of the language. This is the threnody of rootlessness and marginality, set in the neighbourhood of the Brussels Midi Station. ‘their area, their burrow, their kingdom – today I still have the impression that they are camping there’ (S. Szlingerbaum).
The 80 minutes of the film avidly probe this past of his mother’s memories via the voice-over, songs, whispered confidences and a handful of fictional scenes also in Yiddish, ‘a language which is dying out as its last speakers are lost in the city,’ in the words of the director. Anonymous images of trains, stations and streets – long, incantatory static shots – and long, Akerman-like tracking shots lift the everyday from the realm of the banal and transcend the minuteness of the budget with a visual sensibility close to Vigo.”
“Loosely based on his parents’ own experiences, Szlingerbaum set his film in a time of displacement after World War II but did not shoot it as a period piece. A rare specimen of Yiddish cinema, it traces the dislocation and relocation of a young East European Jewish family. In content and in its measured, unsentimental, recitative style, it resembles some of Akerman’s work, both her ‘Brussels’ films and her various explorations of exodus and transience in the context of Jewish diasporic identity, such as the fictionalized Histoires d’Amérique(1989), the documentary D’Est (1993) and News from Home ;(1976), in which random images of New York accompany the voice of Akerman’s mother recounting family news from Brussels to her expatriate daughter. Szlingerbaum had earlier been an assistant to Akerman (who was executive producer of Brussels Transit) and to Boris Lehman (who plays the father here), with whom he forms a trio of filmmakers deeply concerned by their Jewish identity and memories of their Brussels upbringing.
We do not see any stage of the family’s journey to Belgium, we only hear about it in the voice-over narration by Szlingerbaum’s mother. This narration in unscripted Yiddish is the core of the film’s emotional and historical resonance, and the visual images exist in counterpoint to it. (...) By displaying a preference for long takes, frontal shots and sound-image disjunctions, Szlingerbaum further distances the film from conventional fictional forms. Reflecting the idiosyncrasies of the narration, some images match it, others do not. These images have a meditative quality, depicting specific incidents but also dwelling on the monotony of daily routine. For instance, as the mother recalls the journey from Poland to Belgium, the director slowly intercuts shots of the three refugees arriving at the Gare du Midi in Brussels with obliquely related shots of passing trains, the station, and its immediate surroundings.
Szlingerbaum’s gentle, cadenced montage of the station interior and of trains at night has a hypnotic, oneiric quality often found in the canvases of fellow Belgian artists Paul Delvaux and René Magritte (and of de Chirico, too). Like these painters, Szlingerbaum defamiliarizes the station and its surrounding area in order to reinvest them with the emotional value of a dreamscape, a locus of enigmatic hopes and fears, of strange journeys, long waitings, and brief encounters in silent, empty, timeless space.
Though these sites are recognizable to those familiar with them, Szlingerbaum carefully ignores any identifying signs, futher allowing him to abstract his geographical context. By shooting entirely on location in Brussels, using simple dress and plain interior decor and employing no archival footage, Szlingerbaum frees his film from any tendency to represent a historical spectacle. He concentrates instead on giving expression to subjective memories of a period’s impact upon a close-knit group of individuals – and, by implication, upon all families, Jewish or otherwise, fleeing from the devastations of war. The film becomes a loose dramatic reconstruction of events recounted by the mother and interpreted visually by her son. However, this double play of memory is not personally synchronous, since the boy we see arriving in Brussels in 1947 is Szlingerbaum’s brother, the filmmakers having been born two years later. The continuity of Szlingerbaum’s own living memory is thus limited to a period after the events shown in the first part of the film.”
In his video essay Revisiting Bruxelles-Transit: Moving through spaces of resonance (2017), Jasper Stratil contrasts personal footage of the Bruxelles-Midi station with Szlingerbaum’s footage. And, interspersed with these are clips from various films: including Europa 51 and Germania anno zero, The Third Man, L’Eclisse, Riffifi, Nuit et Brouillard and Toute une nuit.
- 1. René Michelems, “Bruxelles-transit,” In Marianne Thys (ed.), Belgian Cinema/Le Cinéma Belge/De Belgische Film (Gent: Ludion, 1999): 645.
- 2. Philip Mosley, “Reaction and Revival 1975 –,” Split Screen: Belgian Cinema and Cultural Identity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001): 185. And Philip Mosley, “Anxiety, Memory, and Place in Belgian Cinema,” In Janelle Blankenship and Tobias Nagl (eds.), European Visions: Small Cinemas in Transition (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2015): 120-122.
A film about Armenia’s shepherds. A measured glance at the contradictory yet also harmonious relation between man and nature, scored to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
“How to speak of his films? Of the image, pulsating like the oscillations of an electrocardiogram? And of the sound, true echo of space? How can one forget the beginning of The Seasons? Armenian shepherds and their animals caught in a torrent where they may be drowning, head over heels? Peasants fleeing before unleashed haystacks or hurtling down slopes, here of snow, there of rock? This brief intertitle fallen from the sky: “This is the land”. But it is a land with no North, filmed, perhaps, from the viewpoint of a meteorite which doesn’t know where it falls.”
Jean-Luc Godard: Being something of a pessimist, I see the end of things before their beginning. For me, cinema is the last manifestation of art, which is a Western idea. Great painting has vanished, great novels have vanished. Cinema was, if you like, a language before Babel, which everyone understood without needing to learn it. Mozart played to princes, the peasants weren't listening, whereas Chaplin played for everybody. The film-makers went in search of the foundations of what is unique about film, and this kind of search is, yet again, something very occidental. It is montage. They talked about it a great deal, especially during times of change. In the twentieth century the biggest change of all was the transformation of the Russian Empire into the USSR; logically, it was the Russians who made the greatest progress in that search, simply because with the revolution society was itself making a montage of before and after.
Artavazd Peleshian: Film relies on three factors: space, time and real movement. These three elements exist in nature, but among the arts it is only cinema that rediscovers them. Thanks to them it is possible to find the secret movement of matter. I am convinced that film is able to speak the languages of philosophy, science and art, all at the same time. Perhaps this is the unity that the ancient world was seeking.2
“A birth without a bearer: imagine a monster that devours the person from whom he came. Or perhaps a process in which some die while ignoring the fact that they are giving birth, while others, while being born, ignore the fact that they kill.
I am not sure if these are the right terms that capture the essence of this method or theory but, for now, it seems to me the most accurate definition.”
- 1. Serge Daney, « À la recherche d’Arthur Pelechian, » Libération, August 11, 1983. [Translation by Daniel Fairfax and Laurent Kretzschmar, 2012.]
- 2. Jean-Michel Frodon, « Un langage d'avant Babel : conversation entre Artavazd Pelechian et Jean-Luc Godard, » Le Monde, édition du 2 avril 1992. [Translation via Kino Slang.]
- 3. Artavazd Peleshian, “Montage-at-a-Distance, or: A Theory of Distance,” Moe Kino, Erevan: Sovetakan Grogh, 1988. As published in LOLA, December 2015.
The Mutoscope and Biograph Collection is the oldest film collection held at Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. It includes over 200 films, most of which made in Europe between 1897 and 1902. This constitutes the largest existing collection of Mutoscope and Biograph films surviving in the world. These films are all photographed with the unique large-format 68mm Mutograph camera, which provided extraordinarily high-resolution images. These one-minute time capsules from 120 years ago still convey some of the richest and sharpest images that film can achieve.
Watch it here.
The Mutoscope and Biograph Collection also has a playlist on Youtube.
“Herman Casler (1867-1939) was the co-founder with Elias Koopman, Harry Marvin and W. K. L. Dickson, of the KMCD group, which eventually became the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. Following an initial suggestion from Dickson, Casler developed the Mutoscope - a viewing device which used radially-mounted photographs flicked over in rapid sequence to give an illusion of movement. This instrument which was ready by the autumn of 1894, was originally intended to be a competitor to the Edison Kinetoscope. Casler next worked on the development of a camera, the Mutagraph, to provide subjects for it, and by June 1895 a prototype had been successfully tested with film. In the meantime, it had become clear that it was projected film rather than the Kinetoscope that offered the most potential for a long term business; and Casler therefore designed the Biograph projector. Electrically driven, and using wide-gauge sprocketless film, it was intended, like the camera, to be as different as possible from anything that had been patented by Edison. Dickson’s knowledge of the development work done at West Orange makes it very likely that he was involved with Casler, at least at the design stage, but officially it was Casler who was announced as the inventor in both patent specifications and theatre announcements. The high quality mechanical work done by both Casler and Marvin laid the foundation for the later success of the Biograph group. Both camera and projector produced outstandingly good results, competitors it faced. It was by using Casler's patents as security for loans that the group was able to raise the considerable amount of catpital required to begin international expansion during the 1890s.”
Richard Brown & Stephen Herbert1
- 1. Richard Brown & Stephen Herbert, “Herman Casler,” in: Stephen Herbert & Luke McKernan (Eds.), Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema (London: BFI, 1996).