Sunday, July 06, 2008

Les Oignons

Marcel Hanoun is one of the rare filmmakers who tries not at all to define his work in relation to a dominant cinema. As Marx said about the future promising people who would paint (rather than "painters"), Hanoun is—like Jean-Marie Straub and the late Danièle Huillet—a filmmaker who lives. The power structure that most insists upon all cinema everywhere being a cinema for as many people (as large a market) as possible is the same power structure that benefits from the actual institution of this way of thinking about cinema. Thus, people here and there make "small" films, neither exactly amateur nor industrial, sacrificing cosmetics in order to strive in the way of aesthetics.

Je meurs de vivre (1994) is a 52-minute* dialogue-skimpy work about a priest and nun in love. Surely made for less money than a lot of student films, it is nevertheless a very powerful film: deftly edited, economical, with a giant cumulative impact. My possibly incorrect impression is that Hanoun is a political radical and an atheist, but here is another film about believers by (presumably) a nonbeliever that captures and expresses something about the emotions that course through veins, and the behaviors that corral and contain them—or try to.

An amazing passage: a shot of three onions on a plate (like most great representational filmmakers Hanoun attends to the things we ingest), which we then understand that the nun is cutting as we see her face in close-up. (I would guess she is actually cutting those same onions in her close-up.) What we have is an element of fiction, the impression of the nun's tears. At the same time we are shown directly the tools for achieving this fictional effect: the onions which will be cut. But the actuality of the onion-cutting is there, it's both indexically recorded and dramatically performed. What is causing the woman's (character's/actress') tears? We cannot say with real certainty, and this ambiguity is what makes for a palpably felt moment. The long-term internal feelings one carries with oneself over time collide, coincide with the very plain daily activities of life, and become immanent there.

Je meurs de vivre was also listed by Luc Moullet, for Film Comment, as one of his top ten best/underrated films of the 1990s.

* The ending on Hanoun's website, where I viewed the film, seemed quite abrupt but I haven't found any information on whether the running time is actually longer than the ~52 minutes it runs online and that is supplemented (copied?) by the IMDB. If someone has information to clarify things I'd love to hear it.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Something happens with the print included in Hanoun's "Ma cinémathèque"- it ends abruptly (and clashing with the rigorously clear style of the whole film, as usual very good). It runs 52 of 53 minutes, and, moreover, in the Presentation interview Hanoun himself mentions the film is dedicated to a "Jack Gajos" (that's what I hear), when you can see no "Fin" (The End), no dedication, no copyright...
Miguel Marías

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks, Miguel--yours is truly an encyclopedic intelligence among cinephiles.