Free Cameras

By Philippe Azoury

The 57th Locarno Film Festival is marked by four exceptional films, including the shock "BORDER", which render out of date a sluggish competition, for the moment saved by the lively "Andre Valente".

How can an hour and a half of completely worn out formula compete with a burst of oxygen of twenty five minutes? It can't. And that's the first news, neither good nor bad, we bring back from Locarno. The 57th edition of the world's fourth largest film festival (after Cannes, Venice and Berlin) will be remembered for that: the split between on the one hand a mediocre cinema, produced according to the purr of the industry, speaking an insipid esperanto and displaying a glossy image, in which nothing is allowed to disturb the good taste of its humanism; and on the other hand, a few works, that use the camera in an extraordinary and subjective way. From henceforth this split is wide open.

Enigma. The "old" cinema shouldn't however be buried too quickly. For there is one film in competition in Locarno, which is an exception: Andre Valente, by the young, emerging Portuguese filmmaker Catarina Ruivo. Andre Valente is only her first film but it displays a lively confidence. Andre Valente is eight years old. He lives with his mother since his father's departure and places his desire for a father figure onto a Russian neighbour. Setting up the scenes in a dry and artful manner, the filmmaker avoids sentimentality. The scenes are raw and create the impression the film could just as well continue without us. It's power lies in hostility and enigma: nothing corresponds to the traditional rules of scriptwriting.

That's all for what's known as "official" cinema. The rest resembles a shipwreck: with Dastaneh natanam, Hassan Yektapanah, the Iranian director of the acclaimed Djomeh, has fallen into academism ; Lætitia Masson has lost herself in a mise en abyme in trying to adapt Christine Angot’s Pourquoi (pas) le Brésil and Laurence Ferreira Barbosa's Ordo fails because of a casting error (Roschdy Zem is good, the complete opposite of  Marie-Josée Croze).

On the other side of the river, however, it's a celebration every night, thanks to four unclassifiable films, which renew all idea of cinema. Paradoxically, cinema is no longer even situated at the heart of these "films". It has to share a space with art, dance, architecture, the internet. For example, for Pascal Rambert, the camera is a new tool, which allows him to perceive the bodies he has directed for the past fifteen years in the theatre in a different way. In When we were punks (Cineastes du present) we see things, we no longer notice elsewhere; the blue of a morning sky above an airport, the white in a man's eyes on his way to join his lover, the skeletal pearl of their silhouettes, when arriving at the hotel, they make love on the floor.

For Anri Sala, the prodigious Albanian artist, as for Knut Asdam, the promising Norwegian videomaker, the camera equals one eye on a shot. That of our cities, where our over small bodies bend under the weight of the architecture and where only an outburst can liberate speech (Filter City by Asdam, shot in Oslo, Cineastes du present). Cities that stink of misery and war, like Tirana, as Anri Sara perceives it, terrifying, battered, squalid, yet full of colour (Damni I colori, In Progress). It has the energy, they say, comes of despair.

Bus, stop, cargo. But the shock of the festival is the cinema of Laura Waddington, 34 years old, English, she lived illegally in New York, then spent a few years travelling with the world's exiles in the most dangerous places. Due to a plane phobia, she made these journeys on buses, cargo ships, hitchhiking. But aside from planes, Laura Waddington is afraid of nothing and her video camera carries all her courage and her conscience. Slung across her shoulder. Border is the trace of the months, she spent in Sangatte, hidden in the fields, each night, with Afghan and Iraqi refugees. Shot secretly, the shutter wide open, almost in slow motion, the images create an aesthetic experience of fear, of terror, as if fallen out of a nightmare, peopled with out of focus figures. Border links the fields of Sangatte to that terrified part of our imagination, hidden deep within all of us.

Four films, eighty minutes of projection, at the end of which, we no longer know what is cinema, or at least where the frontier lies between cinema and the rest. We know just one more thing about what art is: an ultra-sensitive predisposition, trembling at the bankruptcy of the world.

(Translated from the French)

Philippe Azoury, “Caméras Libres”, Libération, Paris, August 11, 2004