Online Selection
Sabzian Selects: Week 4
Mon 11 May 2020, 0:00 to Sun 17 May 2020, 23:45
PART OF

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.

Firstly, we would like to draw your attention to Avila, a brand-new Belgian online video platform. Avila makes films available online through video on demand and offers both contemporary and classic documentary and fiction films. The platform kicks off with a selection of Belgian work, including films by Samy Szlingerbaum, Jan Vromman, Chantal Akerman, the Dardenne brothers, Claudio Pazienza, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, among others, as well as the work of upcoming filmmakers. Sabzian selected Le chantier des gosses (1970) by Jean Harlez. Set in the 1950s, the film follows the community of children who resist the arrival of building contractors on their territory in the Marolles, a popular neighbourhood in Brussels. Watch the film here.

Last year, the new film by Pedro Costa, Vitalina Varela (2019), was awarded with the Golden Leopard with the following words by the president of the jury of Film Festival Locarno: “This prize isn’t enough, though we give it unanimously, as we were all stunned, overwhelmed, by this film, a major film in the history of cinema from here on out.” Now, Film at Lincoln Center has made the film available for those situated in the USA or Canada.

For our third film, we have chosen Old Joy (2006), a precious film by Kelly Reichardt. “I was approaching it the whole time as a western. Instead of guys proving their toughness, it's a battle of openness. I kept calling it a New Age western.” The two friends are accompanied by Lucy, the same dog that featured in Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy (2008). Stoffel Debuysere, one of the programmers of the Courtisane festival, wrote a Prisma about Wendy and Lucy, that you can read here. On the Criterion Channel, available in the USA and Canada, you can watch Old Joy and additionally several interviews with among others the actors and the director. You can find Old Joy also online for free.

 

Le chantier des gosses (Jean Harlez, 1970) | Watch here
Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019) | Watch here
Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2016) | Watch here 

FILM
Le chantier des gosses
,
,
76’

The narrow streets of the Marolles are full with kids. Their paradise is a wasteland. One day, the wasteland is barricaded, disembowelling by machines, while the surrounding houses are pulled down. The amazement of the kids soon turns into revolt: they choose a leader, manufacture catapults with the shoulder straps of their parents and decide to start a war to the entrepreneurs and architects... Le chantier des gosses takes us on a journey into their little world. The kids (the youngest is 2 years and a half, the oldest 14) are the main actors, playing their role with a lot of spontaneity and a great deal of improvisation.

 

“In 1957 kopt Paul Davay in het magazine Beaux Arts: ‘le premier film néoréaliste belge’. Na het zien van een onafgewerkte versie anticipeert hij in het artikel op ‘le premier [long métrage] de conception néo-réaliste que l’on ait réalisé en Belgique’. [...] De journalist drukte zijn hoop uit dat een Brusselse zaal de film snel een kans zou geven. Niet dus. Na een vertoning op tv het jaar nadien stopte het verhaal.

Of zo zag het er toch naar uit. Tot een medewerker van [Cinema] Nova per toeval Jean Harlez ontmoette en de bal opnieuw aan het rollen ging. Het mag symbolisch heten dat deze ontmoeting plaatsvond op de begrafenis van Paul Meyer (1920–2007), de maker van hét Belgische neorealistische meesterwerk, Déjà s’envole la Fleur Maigre (1960). Harlez was bevriend met Meyer, ‘aussi un mec de gauche’. Vijf jaar na Le Chantier had Meyer Déja s’envole la Fleur Maigre gemaakt. [...]

Wat de films van Harlez en Meyer delen, is de focus op de kinderen binnen die leefwereld. Zij vormen ook de gemene deler van de drie films die Harlez naar eigen zeggen het meest hebben gemarkeerd: de neorealistische klassieker Ladri di biciclette (de Sica, 1948), maar evenzeer de docufictie van de Amerikaanse Robert Flaherty, vooral dan Louisiana Story uit hetzelfde jaar. Dé bom, echter, die Harlez oorspronkelijk bouleverseerde, was Jean Vigo’s anti-autoritaire internaatfilm Zéro de Conduite (1933). De dominantie van kinderen in het neorealisme, en – daarmee verbonden – de groei en vorming vanuit de oorlogscontext, zijn twee punten waar vaak aan voorbij wordt gegaan.

Ook in Le Chantier des Gosses duikt het spook van de Tweede Wereldoorlog op. Wanneer één van de jongens thuis de radio aanknipt, draagt een soldaat voor zijn demobilisatie een plaatje op aan zijn kameraden in de kazerne. Een vader in de film blijft ook steeds dezelfde histoires de guerre herhalen, wat zijn zoon inspireert tot de militaire training en de tactiek van hun eigen oorlog tegen de projectontwikkelaars. Ook fysiek herinnerde het terrain vague aan de oorlog: het was namelijk een wonde in de wijk, geslagen door een V1-bom die op 8 november 1944 (na de Bevrijding) het justitiepaleis als doel had. De inslag deed de gewelven van Theater Toone instorten. De volkse poppentheaterdynastie Toone is precies zo oud als België zelf en komt voort uit de traditie van satirische marionnettenspelen tegen de machthebbers. Harlez maakt van deze ground zero opnieuw het schalkse toneel van de strijd tegen de projectontwikkelaars die de touwtjes stevig in handen hebben.

Le Chantier des Gosses opent met aftastende overzichtsbeelden van de voor- naar de achterzijde van het justitiepaleis, toen nog niet de eeuwige werf van de laatste dertig jaar. Aan de balustrade met een vista op de Marollenwijk stappen al snel een jongen en meisje het beeldkader binnen en maken er een semi–subjectief gezichtspunt van. De toeschouwer kijkt vanaf nu mee met de kinderen. De kijker kaapt zo door hun ogen hetzelfde panoramische point of view dat de toeristen voor Expo ’58 daar een paar jaar later op dezelfde plek zouden innemen. Wat tegelijk een verzet inhoudt tegen het geometrische en rationele vizier van de landmeters, of de onderwijzer die hen in het klaslokaal volumes leert berekenen. De straat, echter, wordt de natuurlijke leerschool. Onder de uittorende justitiemastodont ervaren zij zelf een injustice en nemen ze het recht in eigen handen. Het is vanachter dezelfde balustrade, vanop dezelfde machtspositie, dat de jongens urineren op twee agenten beneden en als Quick en Flupkes de gezagsdragers treiteren.”

Ruben Demasure1

 

“Een echte lucht om lampions op te steken en zottigheid te doen. Ze kwamen aan het Poelaertplein, vanwaar ze de lage stad zagen flikkeren en dampen. Ze voelden in het voorbijgaan, nevens en over hen, de ontzaglijke massa van het Gerechtshof opsomberen. Ze bleven een tijdje voor de ijzeren leuning staan, vanwaar zij een breed uitzicht hadden over de mooiste helft van Brussel. Brussel lag in een blauwig gesmoor, dat in paarse en oranje lichtvlagen opwalmde en, niet hoog boven het duister getas van daken, uitstierf in de groen-blauwe helderheid van de wintermaan. Geen wolk was aan de hemel. De maan hing in een diep-kleurige koepel vlak over het rokende verfleven der stad. Op de hoogste dakvensters kwam ze glinsterruiten... 't was een toets, een lichtelijk gefleer, een stilte van licht op die vonkelende stadsademing; maar 't verschroeide in het algemeen vuurgeblaas en 't verging in de golvende branding. – Daar moeten we nu in, droomde Ernest, ge krijgt er een kriezeling van... men zou zeggen een mensenoven, en, luister, men hoort door mekaar de doffe harten beuken... – Al die harten zien beuken in ons aanschijn... fluisterde Rupert; komaan kerel, we storten ons in de wellust van deze hel!”

Herman Teirlinck2 

  • 1. Ruben Demasure,“Eerste Belgische neorealistische film herontdekt” (rekto:verso, 2014).
  • 2. Herman Teirlinck, Het ivoren aapje (Querido, 1989) (eerste uitgave: 1909).
FILM
Vitalina Varela
,
,
124’

Vitalina Varela, 55-year-old, Cape Verdean, arrives in Lisbon three days after her husband’s funeral. She's been waiting for her plane ticket for more than 25 years.

 

“We remember Vitalina Varela’s first, striking appearance in the hospital, in Cavalo dinheiro (Best Director, Locarno 2014), a true Purgatory where Ventura exorcized the demons of his past, heroic and trembling. She already told the unhappy ending of her love story with Joaquim Brito, the decades she spent in Cape Verde waiting for his return or the invitation to join him in Lisbon, followed by the bitter disappointment of arriving there three days after his death. We remember the documents, the letters, the death certificates she chanted about, tears appearing only when she read her own birth certificate. However, Pedro Costa’s new film tells this story, with a reversed casting – Ventura is now the pastor of an almost entirely abandoned chapel, where Vitalina demands a new mass, and they both whisper an unfixable loss, whether it’s love or faith; from these tears, perhaps, it can proceed.

A new film therefore, where Vitalina mourns the man she’s still only discovering – the miserable lodging with a collapsing roof, the pictures of his female conquests, the visits of all the companions he preferred over her – so that she may, in turn, be reminded and then forget: “There is nothing left of the love, that clarity”. It is a new film, and undoubtedly one of his most beautiful, simplest and darkest, where Pedro Costa crosses another line with the sumptuousness of shading, the hieratic postures, the irradiating anger of tragic chanting and the stunning beauty of insert shots.”

Antoine Thirion1

 

“This prize isn't enough, though we give it unanimously, as we were all stunned, overwhelmed, by this film, a major film in the history of cinema from here on out. Something incredible happened at this festival: to have seen and rewarded a film that will enter the heritage of world cinema.”

Catherine Breillat, president of the Jury at Locarno, on honouring Vitalina Varela with the Pardo d’oro

 

Mauro Donzelli: Why are you interested in this community of normal people? Usually cinema tends to consider only extraordinary figures.

Pedro Costa: It’s a relationship that has been going on for more than 25 years. I made a film in Cape Verde, a normal 35mm big production. When I came back from Cape Verde to Lisbon, I brought letters and presents to their families, that were immigrants in the city. That’s how I first knew about the neighborhood. Those letters were the metaphor for what I had to do: stay with them, walk around, and perhaps discover new stories and actors, or maybe a new way, more gently, of doing films, a little bit more amateurish. It was ’97 and since then I have never left. It seems to me that those letters, that I never read, are the origins of a lot of stories unknown to me, but I saw the faces of the people that read those letters, becoming happy or sad. This film is a new letter to this community and to ourselves.

How did it change your way of filming this community, knowing it better year after year? Maybe you feel more responsability?

I don’t know if responsability is the right word, because when you do a film what you should care about is just the film. First you should prepare a lot, knowing where to put the camera, microphones or the light, then, if you work with people, you have to make them truthful, or sometimes larger then life. The most important thing is never diminish them, because that is the danger. I made a number of films. I take a lot of time and attention. There are no secrets between us.

Mauro Donzelli in conversation with Pedro Costa2

 

“Those familiar with Horse Money will undoubtably remember an astounding monologue in that film by a striking African woman who recounts how she traveled for the first time ever to Lisbon from her home in Cape Verde to attend the funeral of her husband, who had emigrated there years before and never sent for her. After an arduous journey of much suffering, she arrived too late; the body had already been buried. Costa’s new film brings this woman boldly forward to re-tell and re-live this horrendous limbo of arriving in a foreign land to join a man, her love, and finding only an absence, a void, the gloom of the slums, and the unkindness of strangers. This profoundly, empathetically suffocating new film, Vitalina Varela, is boldly named after its protagonist—the last so-named was the filmmaker’s landmark documentary, In Vanda’s Room (2000), which saw Costa radically transform his productions into more intimate and respectful endeavors that use collaboration between actors and director and an ethic of daily group labor to produce films that hauntingly transform the real lives and stories of Cape Verde immigrants living in Lisbon’s slums into a monumental, otherworldly cinema of ghosts, dreams, fear, pain, and longing.”

Daniel Kasman3

 

“The debt of Costa to Jacques Tourneur — the director responsible for such modestly budgeted 1940s classics as Out of the Past, The Leopard Man, Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, and 1957's Curse of the Demon — has long been acknowledged and widely discussed. Here, Simoes (who has collaborated with Costa since Colossal Youth) follows in the magnificent tradition of Tourneur's unsung DPs such as Nick Musuraca, Robert de Grasse and J Roy Hunt; he works with minimal means to deliver a master class in his craft, one that's guaranteed to repay multiple viewings.

Indeed, Simoes' achievement here is arguably worthy of comparison with all-time greats such as John Alton and Gabriel Figueroa. He seems incapable of creating an ordinary or forgettable image as he manipulates shadows, walls, doorways and faces, his dazzling flair with depth-of-field yielding near-3D effects at times.”

Neil Young4

 

FILM
Old Joy
,
,
76’

Two old friends, Mark and Kurt, embark on a weekend trip to connect, and they can’t. They miss the opportunity to express what they might want to express to each other. They can’t articulate what they want to say. – Kelly Reichardt

  

“I was approaching it the whole time as a western. Instead of guys proving their toughness, it's a battle of openness. I kept calling it a New Age western.”

Kelly Reichardt1

 

Old Joy combines the myth of the West with the sadness and uncertainty of post-9/11, talk-radio-infused America. The film was shot on DOP Pete Sillen's Aaton A-Minima Super 16mm camera, which has a half-size magazine limited to five-minute takes and is small enough to fit in a backpack and travel into the forest with a tiny crew of six.”

Julian Antos2

 

“I did want to set the exact period of time when George Bush was reelected, not just a loss, but another old joy: both elections were stolen, the loss of democracy. (...) ‘Old joy’ can stand for everything. The death of liberalism in America. Who could have guessed that the Christian Right would win the day? My first political memory is being pulled out of a pool at a friend’s house to watch Nixon resign, so it’s not like I grew up in the years of some American Dream or something. But at least living through Watergate, there was the idea that the wrong get punished and somehow things work back around. Not to paint this rosy picture, but I honestly couldn’t imagine that in my lifetime the Christian Right would gain so much hold over the entire world, and that things would escalate so quickly. (...) I think people my age have the feeling now that any kind of idealism, that any kind of justice would prevail, has been shot to hell. That’s the old joy of it. These guys not being able to be effectual – Mark is probably a guy who grew up with the idea of world peace, but at the end of the day he can’t even really forgive Kurt for whatever it is that he holds against him, or open himself up to a close friend. Old Joy has a feeling of my generation at a total loss.”

Kelly Reichardt3

 

“I love the road-movie genre and, specifically, Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter (1974) and Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). Both in terms of the way Hellman shot these films and in regard to the sound design. I was also watching a lot of Satyajit Ray’s films and the ways he deals with nature. Same with Renoir and the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It’s hard to say what has influenced me at this point since I’m in my forties. Last year in New York we had a full month of Ozu films. He also has a very steady camera and amazingly interesting framings. If I had to say which one of these is my main influence I’d say Ray in terms of how he deals with nature. Hellman was also working with very small crews, and he had a special way of dealing with silence.”

Kelly Reichardt4

 

“Hovering in the background of Old Joy is an older, half-remembered film: Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight (1965), his personal retelling of the Falstaff tale, assembled out of bits and pieces of Shakespeare. The riots of youth have given way to the responsibilities of middle age (of fatherhood, if not of kingship) and now the leader of the revels must be dismissed, put away into an encapsulated past – the ‘old joy’ of the title. Mark is no Prince Hal; he does not have the courage to confront his own plump, bearded companion directly and tell him, ‘I know thee not, old man.’”

Dave Kehr5