Monday, May 2, 2011

Un lac

Philippe Grandrieux works equally with light, sound and objects (actors included) as plastic elements to create “pure” film. Writing about it is thus like Robert Graves’ frustration at describing his own poetry: the form in which it exists has been labored over to such specific perfection that reduction in another form is a disservice. These therefore are mere impressions, because Grandieux seeks to communicate before he is fully understood.

The film is set in a remote snow-covered pine forest on the shores of a mountain lake. The bare-bones Bergfilm story is almost as old as the mountains themselves, incestuous jealousy amongst a wood-chopping family and the young man who comes to work with them. The plot is not really the point, although part of the film’s project is to create the emotion tied up in the story through all means at the filmmaker’s disposal. Accompanied by a marvelously textured soundtrack almost devoid of dialogue but filled instead with the breathing of the actors, heavy to almost silent, and by the sounds of nature – wind that whispers and roars, the creaking and falling of trees, crisp rain drops on deep snow – the study of images is just gorgeous.

From heart-stopping shots of the mist-shrouded landscape, to remarkable, obscure interiors, intense close-up studies, or simply abstracted shapes, it’s pure sculpting in light and shade. Grandrieux also has a surprisingly effective way with out-of-focus, reducing exteriors to blobby abstracts and fields of light and dark (outside, it’s almost a color film in black and white) while the interiors are fuzzed with a soft fire-lit blur. It’s a splendid technique, but let’s hope it doesn’t catch on, because few could match Grandrieux’s near-faultless image judgment nor his acute sense of when to pull back to sharpness.

Growing up near one, and seeing Ivan’s Childhood at a tender age, I have always been a sucker for pine forests in movies, but Grandrieux leaves Tarkovsky in the dust with his images of the vertical ranks of trunks and the snow-laden, tendrilous crazy-lace branches; the forest study reaches its apogee when the sister and the newcomer exchange their first look of mutual understanding and their surroundings are transformed into a glorious, enchanted fairy forest. Operating the camera himself, Grandrieux starts off in a style too frequently irritating elsewhere, all jittery and waving about; there is a bit too much of it for my own taste, but it does calm down after a while. The method is quickly given a partial justification, however, so unexpectedly fitting as to be almost a joke (epi-cam), and as brother and sister dash exhilarated through the forest, it achieves a thrillingly Parajanovian euphoria.

The film falls down in one place only, when a piano accompaniment appears suddenly on the soundtrack to join the sister’s burst into song. This moment almost achieves transcendence (given the setting, the ghost of Caspar David Friedrich hovers close at hand, and we are finally treated here to a beautiful, uncanny, rendition of The Monk by the Sea) but the piano is fatally intrusive. An uncharacteristically cautious decision, perhaps, since actress Natalie Rehorova has a voice that is adequate but far from transcendent; nonetheless, the beauty of the Schumann lied carries the day. A remarkably achieved, contemplative film, it’s certainly conducive to dozing, but with a little attention the viewer will be spellbound: it is a glorious, unique achievement, astonishingly beautiful, thrillingly intimate and mesmerizingly sublime in its Romantic awe at the power of nature.

d/sc/ph Philippe Grandrieux p Catherine Jacques, Alain de la Mata ed Françoise Tourmen cast Dimitry Kubasov, Natalie Rehorova, Alexei Solonchev, Simona Huelseman, Vitaly Kishchenko, Artur Semay
(2008, Fr, 90m)
posted by tom newth at

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