This week’s agenda offers three different perspectives on how space and living relate to each other. In La vie en kit (2022), architect-filmmaker Elodie Degavre revisits three Belgian participatory housing developments created in the post-revolutionary aftermath of May ’68 and in strict collaboration with the inhabitants of the building sites. In De cierta manera (1974), Sara Gómez also set her story in a new housing district, Miraflores, built by the very people who would live there, the former residents of a shanty-town just outside Havana. This was a product of one of the first collective efforts realized immediately after the triumph of Castro’s revolution. Alongside professional actors, some of the real-life characters of Miraflores play themselves.
Grands travaux (2016) also both documents and stages that which gives shape to the lives of a group of young students of a vocational school in the center of Brussels. The title refers to the major construction works that were carried out in the capital in the fifties and sixties, turning the city into a site of perpetual demolition and construction, as it is still today. A protagonist of La vie en kit, Brussels architect Lucien Kroll (1927-2022) always denounced the excesses of urbanisation and industrialization, and fought all his life against what modernism has left us: inhuman, brutal architecture that belies history. “There is something in the construction of narration which is present in architecture too,” Degavre noted. In a city struggling to take shape, Grands Travaux is also a search for form together with the youngsters who try to organize their lives inside of it, seeking a home, work, a future, and so on. Or as James Lattimer writes about De cierta manera, “story and context are insufficient concepts anyway when they’re as hopelessly intertwined as here.”
This week’s film selection features two expeditions by truck and one work, made with undocumented migrants, that rejects any finality.
First up, we follow outlaws trucking leaky cases of nitroglycerin 218 miles through the Colombian jungle in Sorcerer (1977) by the late William Friedkin.
Our second film of the week covers 116.500 miles in 112 days. Terres brûlées (1934) by the Belgian filmmaker Charles Dekeukeleire charts the course of the first successful attempt to travel from Brussels to the Congo by lorry. Commissioned by the Belgian government to map the roads between Belgium and its colonies, this expedition was mounted in 1934 by Captain Brondeel who invited Dekeukeleire to document the expedition on film.
“Joy means not being aware that you are going from point A to point B.” This motto comes from Elie Maissin who co-directed the third film of this week together with Mieriën Coppens. Premiering as part of the Contour Biennale, Malgré tout (2023) illuminates the harrowing, compelling actuality of undocumented migrants. It’s a collection of short films that stand alone but are also part of a growing series made in collaboration with the Brussels activist collective La Voix Des Sans Papiers. Each of these films exists despite everything, malgré tout.
“Life is a long, long chain of dreams drifting into one another,” Gertrud muses in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s eponymous 1964 film. Her words sum up this week’s film selection of three reveries. Dreyer’s Gertrud is a hopeless romantic who pursues an idealized notion of love that will always elude her and who must try to come to terms with reality. The French filmmaker Jacques Rivette called it a somnambulist’s film, a telling of a dream.
Similarly, Otto Preminger considered his all-black cast musical adaptation of Georges Bizet’s Carmen as “really a fantasy, the world shown in the film doesn’t exist.” He shot Carmen Jones (1954) in pioneering Cinemascope format and Deluxe Color. Dreyer also dreamed of filming Gertrud in color. And maybe on 70 mm film, too, critic Tag Gallagher added. Carmen and Gertrud both are independent women who live by their own rules and discard the men in their lives.
Perhaps no one was more fascinated by dreamlike sensations than the Surrealists. In Marcel Mariën’s L’imitation du cinéma (1959), a young man with a strong desire to be crucified spends a night with a prostitute embellished with a dream. At the end, we literally see the cinema lights coming back on and one of the characters leaving the movie theater in plain clothes. Once in the street, he sees an image from the film: a boy reading against the background of a Tigra poster. He knocks the book out of his hands and the film is over. “During the solitary walk after the screening (heading for some café or other), the last scraps of twilight reverie are shaken off,” Herman Asselberghs wrote in his notes on Roland Barthes’s ‘Leaving the Movie Theater’.
Featuring a selection of landscape films that are haunted by death, resilience and resurrection, this week’s selection is a testimony to the power of landscape.
Together with Courtisane, Art Cinema OFFoff pays tribute to the recently deceased Jean-Marie Straub by presenting a triple bill that includes Straub’s first solo film, Le genou d’Artemide (2008). After the death of his partner Danièle Huillet in 2006, Straub continued to make more than twenty short films. They were described by Claudia Plummer as “mourning-works, acutely indebted to Huillet’s past presence and present absence.” On May 1, the date of her birth, two of these films will be shown on new 35mm prints with English subtitles.
This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2009) was shot in Lesotho, South Africa, where Mary Twala Mhlongo plays an 80-year-old widow who’s busy preparing for her own funeral after the loss of her last remaining relative until she takes up the resistance to the construction of a dam that would wipe her community and ancestral burial ground off the map. Sadly, the leading actress passed away herself shortly after finishing this film.
Travelling across three valleys and continents, from Lesotho’s Valley of Tears (Phula ea Meokho) to behind the mythical slopes of Etna in Straub-Huillet’s Schwarze Sünde, we continue onwards to cross the Americas in Gus Van Sant’s Gerry (2002). In this first part of his Death Trilogy, we get lost on a hike through Death Valley. A work of creative geography across the California desert, Argentina, and parts of Utah’s Salt Flats, Gerry will be screened in open air at De Koer in Ghent with a new live soundtrack by Ananta Roosens on violin and Mostafa Taleb on a Persian bowed string instrument called the kamancheh.
The highlight of this week is the Courtisane festival that’s taking place from Wednesday night to Sunday night. Next to our Courtisane selection, we made a regular agenda for the first half of the week with three films about labour and its global, cultural shifts.
In À nous la liberté (1931), René Clair presents an anarchist satire on monotonous factory work. An inspiration for Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), Clair’s revolutionary early sound film offers a condemnation of prison-like working conditions, Stalinism and industrial dehumanization.
A sobering, fly-on-the-wall look at the 21st-century’s globalized economy, the observational documentary American Factory (2019) offers a kind of update of À nous la liberté. Filmed over three years, direct cinema veterans Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert obtained unique access to film in a Chinese-owned windshield factory in Ohio. Cultural tensions rise between the Chinese workers and managerial staff who were brought in and the American employees, who are expected to follow Chinese labour practices.
The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is coming to Bozar in Brussels to present his latest documentary Rohingya (2021) which was, just as his previous films, refused by the major streaming platforms and film festivals such as Cannes because of interference by the Chinese authorities. A continuation of Human Flow (2017) and The Rest (2019), the film focuses on the plight of refugees, in this case the ethnic Muslim minority of the Rohingya who were forced out of Myanmar in 2017 and fled to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee camp. Shot over several months, the film observes in long, uninterrupted set-ups the community’s daily life, social rituals, routines and the camp’s unique landscapes. Working outside the camp is restricted or forbidden by the authorities in order to avoid undermining natives’ job prospects.