Saturday, February 24, 2024

Vecchiali Shoots in Sequence

Surprise translation spotted on the internet and reproduced here with minor changes. It's from the second volume of The Cinema House and the World which we understand is currently being translated by Christine Pichini for Semiotext(e). 

Vecchiali Shoots in Sequence*   
Trous de mémoire is the title of Paul Vecchiali’s next-to-last film. He shares top billing in this strange, unfashionable “impromptu” with Françoise Lebrun. Despite appearances, a whole ars poetica
What filmmakers and cameras have in common is that they sometimes take stock**. They wonder how to “take some distance with the shots [champ]” while plonked in the middle of a field [champ]. They wonder where they stand, and with whom? How to keep focus, how to stay sane? That's when they're ripe for the impromptu. Able to shoot in a single day what a lifetime would not be too long to ponder. The impromptu is less heavy-going than the appraisal, less serious than the will. It has the slight cheek of the check-up and the half-time break. It allows us to move on to other things, to get on with things [d’enchaîner].     
Owing to the bond between Paul Vecchiali and Françoise Lebrun (and, of course, director of photography Georges Strouvé), Trous de mémoire is an impromptu. Stubborn, discontented, “untimely”, Vecchiali is one of those all too rare people who put a lot of energy into not letting themselves be trapped by any a priori form (or formula, or format). We've seen him move from feature-length films to shorts, from cinema to theatre, from television to sketches or impromptus. This freedom of movement has always been his strength. It gives others (those poor things called journalists, for example) the freedom to say, half the time, that Paul Vecchiali matters to them. Before moving on to the next thing [d’enchaîner].     
A man arranges a meeting with a woman in a green space, a field in the outskirts of the city. Four years ago, the woman left him, and each of them, as they say, "remade" their lives. He's a filmmaker (Vecchiali plays the role) and she's an editor (this is Françoise Lebrun). He says he still loves her, and he's doing everything he can to win her back. They're alone on screen, with only a bench, trees, grass and daylight as props. They're not going to win any costume Oscars, dressed like they're part of a minor news item. They'll do nothing (not even make love, much to the man's chagrin), and the day won't end until the woman has left a second time, vaguely won back and still unattainable. Each will cry in turn, and a strange emotion will engulf the spectator – even the Vecchialian – who has shared this field with them. Before this spectator, too, moves on to something else.     
Presented with such a deliberately scanty set-up (one set, two actors, some text), the viewer tends to think the film's stakes must be inversely proportional to its pared-down richness. Is it a question of whether the man will succeed in his bid to win her back? For a moment, we can see them playing battleship, like schoolboys. You can see that he's “scoring points”, that the woman might give in, and that they might both try a second “first time”. But no, that's not it. The suspense is a red herring.     
Faced with a “face-to-face” encounter, the viewer thinks all that remains is to watch for the moments when the profound truth of the characters, like a little bird caged by the camera, will inevitably emerge. In sentences, postures, slips of the tongue and silences. Are we – though in the open air and broad daylight – in a closed-door domestic setting, a game of truth?*** No, the unveiling is a red herring too. There's no time for truth.     
Then there's language. Vecchiali has always excelled at the “on the bench” genre, at bitchy tit-for-tat and home truths. Trous de mémoire is a documentary about how one man goes about things when his job (as a filmmaker) is to convince and seduce. How he goes about things with words, how he indiscriminately uses psychological interrogation, emotional harassment, blackmail and the complicity of memories. It's a catalogue of everything one can do with words to disarm the other: prepared speeches, general ideas, singular words, cries of pain, mute gestures.     
But the impromptu is a serious genre. It's an opportunity to speak your mind and define your “ars poetica”. Molière was no different. Nor were Cocteau, Giraudoux or Gabriel Fauré. There is a Vecchialian ars poetica, which is also a morality. Why did he shoot Trous de mémoire in one day and in broad daylight? Without break and without shade. Was it not to have two parallel flows, one of words (which carry desire) and one of light (which marks time)? To say that a cloud passing in the sky is the same thing as an angel passing in conversation?**** That there is no other truth than that of sequencing [l’enchaînement], that it is better to contradict oneself, like Walt Whitman, than to stop talking? We must sequence, says Lyotard in The Differend, but the code for sequencing is never necessary, it is only ever suitable or improper. (For readers who would like to know more about Vecchiali, Lyotard's book can only be beneficial).     
Vecchiali's unseemliness is not about vanishing, body and heart, into the great oceanic whole, or drowning in a second-hand “Panta rhei”. Quite the opposite, in fact. No one is more ready to fight against whatever hinders desire or prevents it from being expressed and asserted. No one is more terrified by the idea of the extinction of desire. The strongest moment in Trous de mémoire comes when the man, who knows he won't win the woman back, says that his desire is always greater than the encyclopedia of objects – seemly or not – that whet his appetite.     
We need to be able to sequence desires the way we sequence words, the way the camera sequence images and the way light sequence things: in other words, non-stop. It's nothing less than a Sadian project. To sustain the world, tirelessly, solely by getting a hard-on for reality.    
First published in Libération on 25th October 1985. Reprinted in La maison cinéma et le monde, vol 2, P.O.L., 2002. Translation by Sam WM with some corrections by me. 

* The French title, "Vecchiali enchaîne en scène", is untranslatable. It is somewhere between “Vecchiali links in scenes” and “Vecchiali links in on stage”.    

** Faire le point does mean to take stock but it also means to focus.     

*** Le Jeu de la vérité, "The Game of Truth", was a French television programme in which celebrities had to field questions from members of the public. It was often controversial, and earlier in October 1985 had featured an episode in which the singer Dalida had been submitted to a painful interrogation of her personal life.    

*** The French phrase un ange passe, "an angel is passing", is used in conversational lulls.  

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