Online Selection
Sabzian Selects: Week 2
Mon 27 Apr 2020, 0:00 to Sun 3 May 2020, 23:45

Now that we have to maintain physical distance, our experience of cinema has become a solitary delight. But in this time of confinement, we can find our cinephile community in the non-endemic space of the online environment. In the next weeks, Sabzian will select three films a week, available on online platforms. You can find more information about our online selection here.

In this second week, the first film we have selected is La flor (2018) by Mariano Llinás. The International Film Festival Rotterdam offers you the rare opportunity to watch the triptych here for free. 

The second film is Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995) by the Quay brothers, a feature based on the novel Jakob von Gunten by the Swiss author Robert Walser. You can rent the film on the website of the British Film Institute

During lockdown, the French Cinémathèque offers a new film every evening on their new platform Henri (named after Henri Langlois, co-founder of the Cinémathèque). The programme is compiled with films the Cinémathèque has restored over the last twenty years. For our third film of the week, we have chosen the restoration of La chute de la maison Usher (1928) by Jean Epstein which you can watch here for free, with French intertitles. 

La flor (Mariano Llinás, 2018) | Watch here
Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (Stephen and Timothy Quay, 1995) |Watch here
La chute de la maison Usher (Jean Epstein, 1928) | Watch here


La flor

Shot over ten years and in almost as many countries, La Flor pays tribute to the history of cinema via six episodes bound together by the performances of the same four actresses. The first four parts of the film – represented by the petals of the flower that the director draws in the introduction (see below) – have beginnings but no endings; the fifth episode (the semi-circle, the core of the flower’s structure) tells a complete story; while the sixth and final part of the film lacks a proper beginning but does have an ending. Each of the six episodes of La Flor takes off from a genre. The first episode could be regarded as a B movie, the kind that Americans used to shoot with their eyes closed and now just can’t make anymore. The second episode is a sort of musical with a touch of mystery. The third episode is a spy movie. The fourth episode is difficult to describe. The fifth one is inspired by an old French film. The last one is about some captive women in the 19th century who return from the desert, from the Indians, after many years. And then there are 40 minutes of credits.


La Flor’s arrival will require another rethinking of exhibition. La Flor challenges how festivals and exhibitors work and questions their influence in contemporary cinema. First, through the obvious: its running time. The film is hard to fit into schedules. It is intended to be screened in parts: generally in three, but it has also been shown in five and eight. This requires taking time slots from other selections, messing up the most basic festival economy of how much a ticket costs per movie. Secondly, there is no Vimeo link. For its consideration, a screening has to be organized. The film’s power comes from the experience it proposes. Its nature cannot be separated out. La Flor requires the immersion enabled by the ritual of theatrical screening. This sort of commitment is not part of the festival industry’s logic of consumption. At least once and for 14 hours, La Flor disrupts the exhibition system; La Flor only exists if it can be screened.”

Matías Piñeiro1


“Closer in spirit are the films of Jacques Rivette, where the narrative games on screen function as a spell cast on characters and viewers alike. Indeed Rivette’s description of the role of fiction in his own magnum opus, Out 1 (1971) – as a force that ‘swallows everything up’ – applies here. (...) [Llinás] has described La Flor as a fictional adaptation of Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma and the impulse is comparably encyclopedic, the tone similarly elegiac and defiant. (...) Romantic to the core, La Flor is a declaration of faith in the medium, a showcase of its infinite flexibility. One of Bresson’s most piercing statements from late in his life comes to mind: ‘The cinema is immense. We haven’t done a thing.’”

Dennis Lim2


La Flor admits the real as raw material, and is all the more moving because of it. The film vibrates with a life force that feeds off the urgency to create. It’s not so much a documentary of its own making, as Rivette famously said about all films, but an ode to the world in which it was created, and those who propelled it into being.”

Andréa Picard3


“If the history of film were based, like ancient mythology, on legends and fables, then no one could disregard the end of Stromboli, terra di Dio, the film that Rossellini premiered at Cannes in 1950. (...) At the end, the woman decides to flee and, in a quasi-mystical act, ascends the erupting volcano. The final image is of the woman, almost now a saint, looking out on this boundless and terrible panorama. So why do we think this ending is essential? Well, because that woman, facing death, dazzled by the spine-chilling beauty of that devastated land, is Ingrid Bergman, the most important actress in the world, the same who years earlier had stunned Hitchcock and Bogart, and had swanned like a queen through the palaces of the world. The same woman who, just months before becoming that anonymous peasant, had been Joan of Arc. (...) The filming of Stromboli was the first time that the earlier career of an actor turned a fictional scene into something else.

The aim of the project titled La Flor is similar to that of Stromboli, but with an added ingredient. The film does not set out to use an actress’s prior work to bring a particular emotion to a series of images. Instead, La Flor aspires to construct, to constitute this experience. The experience is the very film itself. Viewers see various actresses’ careers unfolding before their eyes, as part of the same film. The idea is that one film should be a series of films, an era in the life of four people, and that cinema should be able to show this passing of time, this learning, this process. That from the different inventions and fantasies that the avatars of the project gradually contribute, one can see eventually the true face of the four women, shining brightly through the fog of fiction.”

Mariano Llinás4


Jordan Cronk: Take us back ten years. You finish Historias extraordinarias (2008)– what’s next in your mind? I can’t imagine it’s a 14-hour film.

Mariano Llinás: This was still the beginning of the new century, and fiction was in trouble – it was endangered. During that time everyone was talking about the boundaries between documentary and fiction, and people still are. But nobody was thinking about or finding the pleasure in fiction, nor in the real. Everyone would say, ‘I’m not interested in telling regular or traditional stories,’ which is an idea I believe in, because I do think storytelling is plagued. But the cure for storytelling wasn’t the one that people were trying, which was a… I don’t want to say slow, but a dispassionate form of cinema lacking in intensity. I was thinking that, if used correctly, nothing can be as emotional as fiction. (...) [I] thought that leaving fiction out of the cinema was not the right way to go against the obligations of storytelling. I was thinking that maybe fiction and storytelling are not the same things, and you can make strong, rich, extreme fantasies without falling into cheap storytelling, or toward moralizing or wherever storytelling often takes us.

Mariano Llinás in conversation with Jordan Cronk5


« Cette saturation extrême d'histoires, et d'histoires à l'intérieur des histoires, est donc bien plus que le portrait de quatre femmes. C'est surtout le récit d'un duel (qui est aussi une relation d'amour) entre une troupe théâtrale et un cinéaste, dont le résultat est l'une des propositions de fiction les plus radicales de l'histoire du cinéma. (...) À revenir, en quelque sorte, aux frères Lumière. Ce qui imprègne La Flor d'un sentiment de film total, qui se questionne en permanence, dans son rapport à la fiction. (...) Ce qui reste à la fin de La Flor ce sont des questions essentielles que plus grand monde ne se pose (même plus Godard, ou bien il le fait autrement). (...) Voilà ce qui émerge surtout du film, comme de tous ceux d'El Pampero, avec une force renouvelée : le réel, la terre, le politique. »

Fernando Ganzo6


Structure La flor

  • 1. Matías Piñeiro, “Four Takes on La Flor: House Rules,” Film Comment, January-February (2019), 33.
  • 2. Andréa Picard, “Four Takes on La Flor: The Long View,” Film Comment, January-February (2019), 30-31.
  • 3. Andréa Picard, “Four Takes on La Flor: Flowers and Trees,” Film Comment, January-February (2019), 33.
  • 4. Mariano Llinás, “Director's Statement,” Press Kit, 2019. [French version] You can find a collection of French articles on the film, including the text and interview in Cahiers du cinéma, here.
  • 5. Jordan Cronk, “Teller of Tales: Mariano Llinás on La Flor,” Cinema Scope, 76 (2019).
  • 6. Fernando Ganzo, “El Pampero à l'heure de La Flor,” Trafic, 109 (2019).
Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life

Jakob enrols into the Benjamenta Institute, a dilapidated boarding school for the training of servants. He then tries to unravel the hidden mysteries of the school, his fellow pupils, and Frau and Herr Benjamenta, the siblings who run it.


“One will learn very little here… none of us will amount to much.”

Jakob von Gunten


“‘Ik zal braaf zijn, ik beloof het u. Ik zal al uw bevelen gewillig opvolgen. U zult zich nooit, nooit over mijn gedrag te beklagen hebben.’ - Juffrouw Benjamenta vroeg: ‘Is dat zeker? Zal ik me nooit te beklagen hebben?’ - ‘Neen, zeker niet, juffrouw,’ antwoordde ik. Ze wisselde een veelzeggende blik met haar broer, meneer de directeur, en zei tegen mij: ‘Sta vóór alles eerst van de grond op. Foei. Wat een gevlei en gefleem. En kom dan mee. Wat mij betreft kan je ook ergens anders slapen.’ Ze bracht me naar de kamer, die ik nu bewoon, liet hem me zien en vroeg: ‘Bevalt deze kamer je?’ - Ik was zo brutaal om te zeggen: ‘Hij is eng. Thuis waren er gordijnen voor de ramen. En de zon scheen daar in de vertrekken. Hier is alleen een smal ledikant en een wasstel. Thuis waren er volledig gemeubileerde kamers. Maar wordt u niet boos, juffrouw Benjamenta. Het bevalt me, en ik dank u.”

Robert Walser1


“Perhaps less fearful than Kafka, but nonetheless sharing characteristics with his cosmogony, Robert Walser (1878-1956) was a Swiss writer who wrote prolifically for newspapers and journals and whose novels and short stories inspired a number of the Quays’ films (The comb [From the Museums of Sleep] and Institute Benjamenta). Fragments and themes from Walser’s writings are strewn throughout their opus. It is invaluable to consider unique aspects of Walser’s writing style as the second author in Quay triumvirate of Kafka, Walser and Schulz, and to see how these three authors’ writings speak to each other. In an afterword to Institute Benjamenta, the English translation of Walser’s Jakob von Gunten (1909) and the textual inspiration for the Quays’ Institute Benjamenta, Christopher Middleton (whose writing on Walser was an entry point for the Quays) comments, “In reality, the book is more like a capriccio for a harp, flute, trombone and drums.” The musicality of Walser’s writing has been repeatedly emphasized, and it is full of musical comparisons and metaphors. Peter Hamm provides some of the most fitting descriptions: “The stars and the sun sing, a room possesses a precious tone, a girl’s gentleness is like a stream of notes. He compared nights to black sounds, someone enjoys his slowness like a melody or a city affects him like a symphony. In his essays, novels and microgrammes, the compositions and dialogues are reminiscent of musical inspirations, a quality that Walser himself often mentioned.”

Suzanne Buchan2


Thyrza Nichols Goodeve: “A beautiful quotation opens Institute Benjamenta: 
Who dares it – has no courage
To whom it is missing – feels well
Who owns it – is bitterly poor
Who is successful – is damaged
Who gives it – is as hard as stone
Who loves it – stays alone

What is “it”?

The Brothers Quay: “It” is the riddle, the enigma. The quote isn’t from Robert Walser’s novella but from an anonymous folktale, a conundrum, that Carl Orff set to music and that we’ve had a cassette of for 19 years. Our initial ravishment was the music; we’d never had the text translated. Yet it utterly intrigued us and so we began corresponding with the Orff foundation to trace the text’s origin – which of course remains unsolved.”

Thyrza Nichols Goodeve in conversation with Stephen and Timothy Quay3


“In the film’s opening close-up shot we see the first pair joined together: two forks point upward, holding a fine circle-shaped wire. (...)
The answer to the riddle is “nothing,” which is not spoken, but announced visually as the animated forks withdraw, leaving a glimmering zero. With this zero and its numerous iterations the Quays make concrete and visible Jakob’s metaphor for self-reduction and subservience. “In later life I shall be a charming, utterly spherical zero”, he writes near the end of his first diary entry. (...)

To this end Jakob claims to have become “a mystery” to himself. The German here is “Rätsel” or riddle. If Jakob’s path to becoming a zero involves self-reduction, making oneself small and insignificant, then this same attempted self-erasure has a mystical flipside. As I have written elsewhere, the “mystery” or “riddle” of the book (which is echoed by the Quays in Carl Orff’s riddle) suggests that nothing/zero represents a state of transcendence as well as “a loophole” that allows Jakob to attain that state. For if “attain[ing] a kind of godlike immediacy of knowledge… only coincides with the absence of knowing altogether”, then the zero appropriately stands for both absence and abundance. Jakob’s formulation “kugelrunde Null” (in Middleton’s translation, “perfectly spherical zero”) expresses this paradox with an oxymoronic metaphor that borrows the adjective that is used in German to describe a stuffed belly (kugelrund) to emphasize that this zero represents not emptiness, but fullness.”

Samuel Frederick4

  • 1. Robert Walser, Jakob von Gunten, een dagboek, (Amsterdam: Arbeiderspers, 1981), 13.
  • 2. Suzanne Buchan, The Quay Brothers, Into a metaphysical Playroom, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 58.
  • 3. Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, “Dream Team: The Brothers Quay”, Spike Magazine, September 2011.
  • 4. Samuel Frederick, “An Antlered Adaptation: Stag Iconography and Animal-Human Hybridity in the Quay Brothers’ Institute Benjamenta”, Academia, 7.
La chute de la maison Usher

Roderick Usher summons his friend to his crumbling old mansion in the remote countryside. Usher has been obsessed with painting a portrait of his dying wife Madeline. When she passes away, Usher has her buried in the family crypt, but the audience soon discovers that Madeline wasn't really dead, that she was buried alive in the tomb. Madeline revives from her catalepsy, exits her coffin and returns to her shocked husband.


« La maison Usher est un manoir déjà deux ou trois fois séculaire, qui a dû être une résidence coquette, sinon somptueuse. Mais cette demeure souffre maintenant d'une décrépitude qui est l'effet bien plus d'un accord avec la désolation du parc et du paysage, que d'une pauvreté impécunieuse. Cette ruine est déjà un mystère... une maladie des choses et du domaine... A l'intérieur, l'ameublement est - ou fut - d'un luxe étrange, presque excessif, mais désuet, dépareillé, décrépi lui aussi, rongé de décomposition. L'action se passe quelque part dans la campagne anglaise, assez loin de toute ville, au début du 19e siècle. »

Jean Epstein, extrait des notes préparatoires


« Tout concourt dans ce chef-d'œuvre à son unité. La maîtrise absolue du montage, du rythme où le ralenti, les surimpressions, les travellings, la caméra mobile jouent leur rôle et jamais gratuitement : il n'y a pas une image, un procédé technique qui ne soient là pour embellir le film ; ils sont là pour nous impressionner dans le sens le plus noble comme les images et la cadence d'un vers. La qualité de la photographie, digne des plus grands chefs-d'œuvres du film allemand où grâce à l'orthochromatique les gris sont gris, les blancs sont blancs et les noirs d'un velouté unique... »

Henri Langlois1


« Généralement, le cinéma rend mal l’anecdote. Et ‘action dramatique’ y est erreur. Le drame qui agit est déjà à moitié résolu et roule sur la pente curative de la crise. La véritable tragédie est en suspens. Elle menace tous les visages. Elle est dans le rideau de la fenêtre et le loquet de la porte. Chaque goutte d’encre peut la faire fleurir au bout du stylographe. Elle se dissout dans le verre d’eau. Toute la chambre se sature de drame à tous les stades. Le cigare fume comme une menace sur la gorge du cendrier. Poussière de trahison. Le tapis étale des arabesques vénéneuses et les bras du fauteuil tremblent. Maintenant la souffrance est en surfusion. Attente. On ne voit encore rien, mais le cristal tragique qui va créer le bloc du drame est tombé quelque part. Son onde avance. Cercles concentriques. Elle roule de relais en relais. Secondes.
Le téléphone sonne. Tout est perdu. »

Jean Epstein2


“Film leent zich niet echt voor het weergeven van anekdotes. En de “dramatische handeling” in de film is een misvatting. Het drama dat zich voltrekt is altijd al voor de helft opgelost en verloopt van crisis naar heilzame afloop. De werkelijke tragedie is opgeschort. Ze is op elk gezicht te lezen. Ze houdt zich op in het gordijn en in de deurklink. Elke druppel inkt kan haar uit de punt van de pen laten opwellen. Ze lost op in het glas water. De hele kamer is verzadigd met iedere vorm van drama. De sigaar smeult dreigend op de rand van de asbak. Verraderlijk stof. Giftige arabesken kronkelen over het tapijt en de stoelleuningen trillen. De spanning is nu om te snijden. Wachten. We zien nog steeds niets, maar ergens is het tragische kristalwerk gevallen dat de kern van het drama zal vormen. De geluidsgolf breidt zich uit. Concentrische cirkels. Ze verspreidt zich in fasen. Seconden.
De telefoon rinkelt. Alles is verloren.”

Jean Epstein3


  • 1. Henri Langlois, Cahiers du Cinéma, juin 1953.
  • 2. Jean Epstein, “Bonjour Cinéma,” in Cinéma (Paris: Éditions de la Sirène, 1921), publié sur Sabzian le 6 juillet 2015.
  • 3. Jean Epstein, “Bonjour Cinéma,” in Cinéma (Paris: Éditions de la Sirène, 1921). [Vertaald door Nina De Vroome en Walter van der Star, gepubliceerd op Sabzian, 29 mei 2015.]