lundi 22 mars 2010

RADICAL, THE MUSICAL: reviewing the 2000 decade

Paru dans la revue Cinemascope
Mars 2010

After ten years of self-indulgent postmodernist excesses, primitive digital enlightenment and cross-cultural euphoria, I apprehended the new millennium in a suspicious state of mind, hoping that world cinema would not evolve as a two-way art, stretched between the American post-Miramax independents and Third-World Europeanisms.

How could I have known that cinema would not be reinvented (even by the new means of digital), nor amplified with the multi-quotative, taboo-imploding mayhem of the ‘90s, but rather radicalized in a wholly unexpected and attractive way? Defying the monopolized tyranny of commercial distribution, new extremists have managed to find loopholes through the festival circuit (as some films enjoys greater screening access internationally than in their own country), exhibition spaces or funding from non-film industry sources to expand their audience, giving them enough liberty to experiment with running times or narrative patterns in new ways.

While short films were invading the web, visual artists such as Wang Bing, Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Ilisa Barbash, Yang Fudong, or Philippe Parreno & Douglas Gordon saw some of their extra-long features gaining greater exposure in film-oriented venues.

As both a recording device and cultural artefact, ‘00s cinema progressively discarded the distinctions between genuineness and fabrication. While the new tools of cinema vérité such as HD pocket-sized cameras and the laptop editing suite would be appropriated by seasoned directors like Michael Mann, Jonathan Demme, Steven Soderbergh or Claude Miller as a means to regain a degree of lost street cred, in more accomplished pastures directors such as Albert Serra, Eugène Green, Zacharias Kunuk or Mariano Linás would benefit from underfinancing and lightweight gear by creating entire new worlds (mostly outdoors) in a cost-effective yet richly elaborative way that reminded us that cinema could still benefit from its literary and baroque roots.

Lisandro Alonso’s virginal micro-epic La Libertad (2001) exemplified what the new, truly independent filmmakers wanted to achieve: the regained urgency of putting the common man story on the screen with a stripped-down, distanced sense of observation, decisively backgrounding those psychological or behaviouristic tendencies that undermined many of their naturalist predecessors. (Though as we now know, this Dardenne-indebted cinema would generate a considerable number of opaque misfires, in a contrived and stubbornly dialogue-free vein, in addition to some genuine masterpieces.)

The ‘00s have been something of a golden era for more oblique filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Cristi Puiu, Benedek Fliegauf, Denis Côté, Simon Sauvé and the indecently underrated Masahiro Kobayashi. By regarding storytelling, “events,” or plots themselves as blunt artifices rather that the main focus of their works, these filmmakers established a confrontational yet enthralling method more reminiscent of J.K. Huysmans, Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and other aesthetic agitators of the nouveau roman squad than of the preceding generation of film formalists like Gus van Sant, Lars von Trier or Peter Greenaway.

Speaking of masters from previous eras, some of them (such as the aforementioned trio) touched grace again during the ‘00s, such as Aki Kaurismäki, Aleksandr Sokurov, David Lynch, Michael Haneke, Tsai Ming-liang, Stephen Frears, Ousmane Sembène, David Cronenberg, Jia Zhangke, Terrence Malick, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, to name but a few, while older icons like Werner Herzog (with 2007’s Rescue Dawn) and Francis Ford Coppola (with 2001’s Apocalypse Now Redux) challenged the notion of “auteurventionism”—and, some would say, artistic decency—by reformatting their own masterpieces beyond the bounds of the “director’s cut.”

As an art of novelty, cinema reached a point where the distinction between audacity and silliness became increasingly abstruse, a situation that 3D and other so-called improvements could likely continue to worsen in the years to come.

TOP 10 2000-2009
The Rebirth (Masahiro Kobayashi, 2007)
Honor de cavalleria (Albert Serra, 2006)
Le monde vivant (Eugène Green, 2003)
Sweetgrass (Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Ilisa Barbash, 2009)
Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest (Yang Fudong, 2003-2008)
Zidane, un portrait du XXIe siècle (Philippe Parreno & Douglas Gordon, 2007)
La Libertad (Lisandro Alonso, 2001)
Milky Way/Tejút (Benedek Fliegauf, 2007)
Jimmywork (Simon Sauvé, 2004)
M (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, 2009)