Saturday, October 18, 2008

Itinéraire de Jean Bricard

To the NFT last night for a showing of the Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet film Itinéraire de Jean Bricard. I'm going to be lazy here and quote the BFI's description of it by Helen de Witt: 'Based on the book by Jean-Yves Petiteau, Itinéraire de Jean Bricard is the last film that Straub and Huillet made together. In it they show us the Loire in long moving takes of the river in silvery black-and-white. This is where Bricard grew up on on a river island during the German occupation. Observations of the land and the water accompany Bricard's narration (recorded by Petiteau in 1994) of the rich history of the region, from commercial fishing and farming in the 1930s, though the Occupation, the Resistance and its brutal suppression. The film is a commemoration of the lost livelihood of the earth, the lost lives of the War and to the work of two of the cinema's greatest artists.'

The film starts with a complete circuit of an island in the Loire. It is a very long take (I wasn't timing it - 15 minutes perhaps?), shot from the boat, which gives you time to contemplate the shifting grey waters and the patterns made by winter branches. It reminded me of car journeys as a child, where the rows of passing trees seemed both monotonous and hypnotic, and indeed when the narration finally begins, you realise the film is going to be about both landscape and memory. Boat journeys usually engage all the senses, but here, after a while, I came to feel the absence of wind and spray, as the austere black and white photography and hardly-varying sound of the motor reduced everything to a simple sensation of moving space and passing time.

Itinéraire de Jean Bricard was accompanied last night by Straub's most recent work, Le Genou d'Artémide, which might also be called a landscape film. It starts with the last movement of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (as discussed in a posting on Supposed Aura) and ends with a sequence of shots showing the sunlit woodland where the dialogue between Endymion and a stranger has taken place. I suspect my enduring memory of this film, over and above the music of Mahler and the words spoken by the two actors, will be of the unceasing sounds of birdsong.

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