Sociology and Politics

Mannerist Cinema

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

Across a broad swath of time, cinema uses elliptical set ups of stories and episodes. The script, camera movements and editing register comedy and drama, naturalism and parody, and documentation of reality, inspiring a wide range of cinematic possibilities.

Wim Wenders
The documentary, portrait of the current Pope, "Pope Francis: A man of His Word" (Germany, 2017, colour, in Italian/Spanish/German/English, 96 mins) is directed and narrated by Wim Wenders. Quite early, Wenders points out that the subject is the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope to hail from the Americas (he was born Jorge Mario Bergoglion in 1936, in Argentina), and the first Pope to adopt the name of St Francis of Assisi. The debut of the film is a long high angle shot of the Italian village of Assisi. The frame in time-lapse cinematography conveys the timeless nature of the place. The Pope is framed in a plain medium close-up, and Wenders invites the Pope to speak his mind. Francis is an amiable and compelling figure, and shows considerable knowledge of the horrors of the modern world. Speaking with simplicity, his philosophical enquiry ponders about what the Roman Catholic Church can do to counter it.

Sincere admiration leads to a singular focus on Pope Francis. The controversial Pope is allowed to speak without argument. The portrait pulls him out of the context of debated opinions. At one point, the Pope says, "The world is mostly deaf". When travelling the world, and meeting world leaders, the Pope follows "Talk little. Listen a lot". In the film, the Pope is given a lengthy say. Scences of the Pope's travels, during which he frequently washes the feet of those who come to see him are moving. Pope Francis sheds the trappings of the papacy, and adopts relative austerity, and uses a very small car. In an approximation of silent-movie style, in black and white, with a bit of flicker in the image, Wenders has a brief attempt at depicting the life of St Francis himself.

Nazi Films
Rudiger Suchsland's "Hitler's Hollywood" (Germany, 2018, black and white, and colour, in English and German, 105 mins) is an essay film that uses clips to explore the aesthetics, attitudes and messages of German cinema, from 1933 to 1945. Joseph Goebbles strove to create a Nazi cinema, that matches Hollywood's. The character actor, Udo Kier is the narrator. The movie focuses on the details, and disregards the surface message, without losing sight of it. Influential theorists like Siegfried Kracauer, Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag are quoted. The movies in "Hittler's Hollywood" offer an alternate universe of studio film making, in which every death was happy, and even escapist musicals emphasised the fascist ideal of total synchronisation. The industry had its own imitation of Sherlock Holmes and a 1930s precursor to "Lawrence of Arabia". There were analogues for stars and directors like Marlene Dketrich and Ernst Lubitsch, who had departed Germany. In the 1930s, the German state controlled film industry also provided a training ground for Douglas Sirk, the Hollywood auteur, even though his first American production, the anti-Nazi film, "Hitler's Madman" is unacknowledged. Ingrid Bergman starred in one film in Germany, and her role in Martin Curtiz's "Casablanca" was "a sort of atonement".

While studying the aesthetics, attitudes and messages of German films from 1933 to 1945, the documentary explains how wipes and cross fades, created an unrealistic atrosphere in which everything becomes relative. Weimar cinema provided a psychological x-ray of the German people. Veit Harlans' "Kolberg" (1944) is a kitschy mirror for the crashing and burning of the Nazi's ambitions. Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" on the Berlin Olympics, remains a propaganda film. The excerpts of comedies and melodramas seduce the viewer, and reveal that artistry enabled the Third Reich.

Jean-Luc Godard
The Grandeur and Decadence of a Small Film Business (France/Switzerland, colour, in French 1985, 92 mins, DCP) by Jean-Luc Godard is an elegiac feature, which is mellow and subdued. An aging fictional film producer, Jean Almereyda's (Jean-Pierre Mocky) meets Godard by chance, sits in a car, and indulge, in relaxed, industry banter. Gliding are still photos of applicants, letters of credit from Italy, shouts and protests between the two, and a gun point to the photo of an actress. Place where catastrophes occurred become a terrible testimony of old Roman, facial security audit. Overdraft savings accounts, proletariats' victory, bank balances, bank statements, can on teller, copyright JLG Films, TVI, interviews and personal data of interviews are part of the visuals of happiness, resisting accidents, corpses and descriptions and superimpositions. 20 francs are charged for a screen test. Almereyda's wife is conducting screen tests in her office. With a tight-lipped smile Godard observes: "You get to see people". The small production company Albatross Films tries to cast a TV adaptation of a book by crime novelist James Hadlee Chase. The movie, the production team are casting, is the one Godard was supposed to be making. Godard had been commissioned to film Chase's novel for "Serie Noire", a series of made-for-TV thrillers than ran for five years on channel TFI. The video experiment stutters from the hushed to the shrill. The many casting sessions of the film, and backroom arguments belong to Gaspard (Jean-Piere Lueaud), a belligerent film maker, having to audition of himself. The last name for brutish Gaspard is "Bazin", Almereyda bears Jean Vigo's birth name, and his younger wife is Eurydice (Marie Valera). The screen tests are set to Janice Joplin's "Me and Bobby Macgee", which remain the film's great emotional set piece. The film industry is an object of scron. Godard is resentful to the production system, to which he had ambivalently returned at the start of the 1980s. Actors pouring into the film company's offices, are the sullen and sad victims of the industry. Eventually, the actors become the main sources of momentum and life. References to Jean Renoir's "Grand Illusion" expand "every picture has its shadows, and some of lights". Dream cinema is a dream factory. With texture and colours of video, interplay of surim-pressions and graphs, and evocations of the dialectic of an artist, "Grandeur and Decalence..." adopts a form ludicrous and pop, but ferocious and inventive. The candidates for the screen test pass by the chief operator Carol's (Caroline Champetier) camera, which becomes an image of the film.

Agnes Varda
Stories are told in Agnes Varda's Faces, "Places–Visages, villages" (France, colour, 2014, 89 min) without becoming an auto-portrait. The travelling chronicle presents Varda aged 89 years, and her young friend and companion JR aged 34 years, who wears dark glasses throughout, taking the road in a camera-van equipped with a photo booth, and a large format printer. JR is an artist, best known for pasting huge black and white photos onto buildings and other surfaces. The debut in animation, presents people walking, expanding to people, Agnes Varda and JR meet, who recount personal details and experiences. Social events are created through the staging of photo shoots. Testimonies arise from the modern tales told by strangers, on highways, beaches, bakeries and dance halls. The protagonists chat with framed factory workers, a cafe waitress, a postman, and JR's grandmother, who is over a hundred years old. The worker-friendly endeavour of photos, are orchestrated and pasted on buildings and bunkers. Homespun episodic encounters throw up local wisdom. Varda and JR converse lightly and seriously, and achieve a comprehensive collaboration. JR's street art combines with montage by Varda and Masime Pozzigauia and photography by Le Bonnier, Duguet, Guicheteau, and Vignet delineates memory, friendship, life and death of people, and the nature of life itself. The photo of Guy Bourdin on a bunker is washed away by a high tide, emphasising the fragility of memory. Wives of dockworkers had never been to the dock. Their photos are affixed between the cargo containers. In La Ville de Dournenez, the film makers fail to meet Jean-Luc Godard, but Godard actually participates in the film with his non-presence, through the process of editing.

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018