Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tous les garçons et les filles

I find it curious that one of the most ambitious European film projects of the 1990s has slipped away from memory in the English-speaking world, having received scant attention and distribution here. I refer to 1994’s Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge (roughly rendered “All the Boys and Girls of Their Age”).

The project was hatched by Chantal Popaud for the television channel Arte. She commissioned films from ten directors—five women and five men—and asked them to make an autobiographical film about their teenage years. She stipulated that music must play an important role, and there must be at least one party scene.

The films in the cycle included:

U.S. Go Home (Claire Denis)
Cold Water (Olivier Assayas)
Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Brussels (Chantal Akerman)
Wild Reeds (Andre Téchiné)
Travolta and Me (Patricia Mazuy)
Infiltrate (Emilie Deleuze)
Trop de Bonheur (Cédric Kahn)
Peace and Love (Laurence Ferreira Barbosa)
Brothers (Olivier Dahan)

I’ve seen just three of these—Denis, Assayas and Téchiné—and they are all outstanding. Emilie Deleuze is the daughter of Gilles Deleuze, and the only film I’ve seen by her, Peau neuve, at TIFF '99, has long made me eager to see more. The only entry in the cycle that is currently in US distribution is the Téchiné.

James Quandt programmed the series in Toronto soon after the films came out. Looking at the program notes, I notice that only nine (not ten) films were screened. The Internet tells me that Jean-Claude Brisseau was the tenth director commissioned—but appears not to have turned in his film. (Does anyone know if this is true?)


* * *

I recently caught up with Claire Denis' terrific documentary Jacques Rivette, the Nightwatchman (1990). It is structured as a series of conversations between Rivette and critic Serge Daney. At one point, Daney asks Rivette: "Have you seen any films recently that gave you the feeling that we're seeing good, strong, unexpected things again?"

Rivette cites Patricia Mazuy (this was 4 years before she made her film in the Tous les garçons et les filles series) and her film Peaux de vaches. He describes what struck him about Mazuy's film:

From the start, you feel like the film is leading somewhere, and the more it goes on, the better it gets, the more the relationships become both more intense and also more mysterious. And we suddenly come to a scene which I found extraordinary, so shattering I went to see it again the following week both for the pleasure and also to check on that scene and see what happened and how it was filmed. The first time I almost had the feeling of those scenes that you dream, I often do that. I dream I'm in a cinema watching a film and seeing wonderful things but then I wake up and it's gone. But here it as on screen, I hadn't dreamed it!

It's Jean-François [Stevenin]'s final scene … I can't remember the character's name. (Like everyone else, I talk about films using the actors' names!) He sets off on the road. That's the first shot of the scene. In the next shot, we see Sandrine Bonnaire running towards him. She catches him up, tries to stop him, and they carry on walking and talking for a while until they fall into each other's arms and kiss. And he turns to her and says: "Bring the girl and come away with me." That's all one take, hand-held I think, fairly bumpy and following the movement. It looks good, the camera accompanies the characters. Suddenly there's this close-up of Jean-François which shocked me the first time I saw the film. Because it cuts into this wonderful long shot and shows him watching Sandrine Bonnaire after asking her. It's a short shot, followed by a reverse angle close-up on Sandrine Bonnaire, she doesn't answer, she just looks at him. Then her face begins to move, she begins to move and we understand by her movement that she's going to him but he's no longer there. We follow, the camera moves behind her, and we see Jean-François heading up the road, stopping a truck that's coming towards us and climbing aboard, all in this shot that started on her face.

It all happened, from his reaction to the fact that she didn't reply, and his leaving, all happened off camera, we only saw Sandrine Bonnaire's face, then her movement, and that's it, it's over, he's gone. It's virtually the last shot of the film. I thought it was a magical shot, very well filmed and at the same time it conveys emotion through the inventive use of the camera. You almost have to be a filmmaker to appreciate it. It was very simply done.


* * *

Links:

-- A big thank-you to the graduate students and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh for inviting me down to their conference on cinephilia a couple of weeks back. I had an absolutely delightful time!

-- There's a new issue of Experimental Conversations. Via Adrian Martin, whose monthly column at Filmkrant is called "The Beginning and the End". It begins: "Every film should have a good start — which means a definite start, not a meandering, weak one. And every film should have a good ending, no matter how open or mysterious it may be."

-- A great image-filled post on objects, locations, patterns and details in the films of Jean-Pierre Melville by scholar Roland-François Lack.

-- Film critic Elliott Stein has died. Here's a recollection by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Also: Jonathan on the Viennale in the new Film Comment; and Dennis Lim on the same festival in Artforum.

-- Jacques Rivette's Duelle has popped up on YouTube with English subs. (Via Jaime Christley.)

-- David Bordwell: "Make a movie about a possessed pre-adolescent girl who needs an exorcism, and soon we’ll have movies about possessed high-school girls, possessed dogs, possessed cars, and so on. Call it the variorum quality of popular culture—the tendency to explore, sometimes exhaustively, all the possibilities of a single premise."

-- Nice to discover that Richard T. Jameson's memorable Film Comment essay from 1980, "Style vs. 'Style': The good, the bad, and the whatever," is now available to read online.

-- Catherine Grant dedicates a post to the work of Tag Gallagher. She begins with this quote from him: "[T]here is no formula for movie criticism. Cinema is not the same cinema in Ford and Rossellini, so you don’t use the same tools to look at it. Frame enlargements can show a lot of Ford’s art -- composition, camera angles rhyming from one shot to the next, lighting – but almost nothing of Rossellini’s art, because Rossellini turns everything into motion. All the feelings, the motivations, the characters’ sense of self, even morality and philosophy are turned into motion. So I published a thousand pages about Rossellini, but I really couldn’t deal with his cinema, until I made my video about his Francesco, giullare di Dio."

-- Bill Krohn on Nicholas Ray's We Can't Go Home Again, at Andy Rector's Kinoslang.

-- At Frieze, Tom von Logue Newth talks to Leos Carax about Holy Motors.

-- Phillip Maciak on J. Hoberman and Siegfried Kracauer in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Also: several new blog posts by Hoberman at his present online home, ArtInfo.

-- Michael D. Dwyer: "In teaching my undergraduate Media Studies seminar, I often illustrate concepts that students find abstract or complex with examples from pop music, and especially music video. A few weeks ago, I was using a series of clips to run through some  dominant concepts in mid-twentieth century media studies, a funny thing happened in my classroom. I started to play this [Miley Cyrus] clip…and just as I reached to turn the sound down and start talking about QD Leavis, my students started singing. All of them. Loudly."

-- Great news: Philip Brophy's first in a series of columns exploring "sound, vision and contemporary culture" at RealTime Arts magazine (via Adrian). 

-- Yusef Sayed on Stephen Dwoskin at Little White Lies. Also: at his own website Insane Horizon, Yusef talks to composer and long-time Dwoskin collaborator Gavin Bryars.

-- Thom Andersen's new documentary is on architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. Andersen: "The difference between Porto and Los Angeles is that there isn't a compulsion to tear these things down immediately in Porto. In Porto, everywhere you look you see ruins of buildings. There's always a question of what can be done with these buildings. [...] The ruin is like a living thing that changes, something not necessarily to be preserved, but something that can be built upon."

-- Next year's Locarno film festival will feature a George Cukor retrospective.

-- At MUBI, an interview with actress Marie Rivière on working with Eric Rohmer on The Green Ray.

pic: U.S. Go Home (Claire Denis, 1994).

25 Comments:

Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I had a vague memory that some of these screened at MoMA, and indeed they did, but nothing really indicated their original context:
http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/film_screenings/4789
In this interview, Akeman briefly says that her film was not well received in France:
http://www.movingimagesource.us/articles/her-brilliant-decade-20100119
It would be interesting to know anything more about how these films were received (as a group, or individually). A bit of a mystery -- I hope others know more.

November 20, 2012 9:47 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for those links, Corey. I'd love to know more as well!

In his program notes for the series in the mid-'90s, Quandt calls Akerman's film one of her best...

November 20, 2012 9:51 AM  
Anonymous davisre said...

Chantal Akerman fittingly included a large portion of her Tous les garçon film in the self portrait she made for Cinéma, de notre temps, "Chantal Akerman par Chantal Akerman", and the scenes she showed there, even divorced from context, were fantastic. Her party scene is pivotal. ("Jacques Rivette, the Nightwatchman" is of course from the same Cinéma, de notre temps, you know, another great TV series.)

I think the way these films have slipped from consciousness probably has a lot to do with their length. At an hour, they're not shorts, not features, but instead the cinematic equivalent of a novella. I like this form, actually. Compact, but long enough to allow patient exposition and plenty of open space. Akerman hangs on a certain character's stillness in that dance scene for what seems like a long time. I'm not sure if it really is.

Even in the golden age of TV that we're living in right now, even with 500 channels, video on demand, and narrow niches, it's hard for me to imagine any of these films appearing on the small screen today, at least here in the States. Even the very best of TV -- say, the Wire -- has gone in a different direction, in part because they can sprawl across 65 epic hours, but also because they've turned away from (lost?) a kind of visual language that matured on film, it seems to me. On TV today, there's no real equivalent of that long dance in "U.S. Go Home" from a single vantage point whose paired reverse shot comes only at the end of the song. That pacing and control has no place in the step-step-step cadence of TV.

Who else has done great work at an hour? There's Kieslowski's "Dekalog," films, of course, although I guess you could argue it's ten hours instead of one. I suppose the entries of an omnibus might fall into this category, although they run shorter. IMDB tells me that Harun Farocki's "Respite" is only 40 minutes.

November 20, 2012 10:06 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Fascinating, Rob.

I envied all the New Yorkers who had the opportunity to see the CINEMA DE NOTRE TEMPS series in its entirety at the New York Film Festival this year. Perhaps it created a buzz that might result in DVD distribution deals .. but, as you point out, their awkward non-feature length makes this difficult.

Although where there is a will ... I notice that the DVD of Garrel's EMERGENCY KISSES includes the segment on him; and the one on Renoir by Rivette pops up in chopped up and excerpted form on Criterion's "Stage & Spectacle" trilogy of ELENA, GOLDEN COACH and FRENCH CAN-CAN. Also: the Cassavetes episode is on the Criterion box set.

I'm unfamiliar with current American TV to know if there is presently anything in an art-cinema stylistic idiom similar to Denis or Akerman ... I wonder if TV in other countries (Europe or Asia) is any different ...

November 20, 2012 10:52 AM  
Blogger David McDougall said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 20, 2012 11:02 AM  
Blogger David McDougall said...

Girish,
Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Brussels is a drop-dead masterpiece.

I've only seen that and U.S. Go Home (which I also like quite a bit), but if those two are any indication, music clearances are going to be wildly, prohibitively expensive.

November 20, 2012 11:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, of course, I hadn't thought of that, Dave.

November 20, 2012 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Allen said...

You may already know this, but it seems that the series title is derived from Francoise Hardy's 1960s song Tous les garçons et les filles - which would be an appropriate point of reference for the teenage years of at least some of those directors.

I would absolutely love for there to be more projects like this nowadays, maybe somewhere like HBO (or even online?).

November 20, 2012 11:11 AM  
Anonymous davisre said...

I shouldn't flat out say there's nothing in that sea of current TV like this based on anecdotal sampling. Maybe there is. I hope so.

Anyway, music clearance -- of course. Forgot about the hard (im)practical legal limits as an explanation, too.

November 20, 2012 11:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Allen, I love this VOGUE YEARS 2-CD set by Hardy, where I first discovered the tune. It has 50 tracks--and is a great bargain for $13 at Amazon.

November 20, 2012 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Yes, the title for the series must derive from Hardy's song, which begins "Tous les garçons et les filles de mon âge ..." so the series title simply shifts from "my" to "their" age. I wonder if the song in any way invokes Godard's 1957 short film (written by Rohmer), "Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick?"

November 20, 2012 11:53 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Corey, I wonder if there's a connection there--but she did make a brief cameo in MASCULIN FEMININ--and later married Jacques Dutronc (of SAUVE QUI PEUT)!

November 20, 2012 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Glenn F. said...

I saw the Denis entry in this series at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Per my request, the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle played 'Cold Water' (Assayas' first masterpiece) several years ago when a subtitled print was shown at BAM. 'Cold Water' also played on the Sundance Channel. I still have a nice copy of 'Cold Water' on videotape that I copied from one of the Sundance Channel showings. Criterion seems like a logical place to put 'Cold Water' out on dvd, but clearing the rights for the soundtrack would be very expensive.

November 20, 2012 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Since one of the guesses here is that song rights pose the problem to the international circulation of these films, does anyone have information on any of the music in the films? I've seen WILD REEDS, which is available on US DVD: it includes songs by The Beach Boys, Del Shannon, Chubby Checker, and The Platters (as well as Samuel Barber and Johann Strauss). If this was negotiated (as I assume it was), I wonder what problems the other films pose in that regard? I suspect this is a factor, but not the only one ...

November 20, 2012 3:09 PM  
Blogger David McDougall said...

I assume the music rights were cleared only for the original Belgian television airing. While I'm no expert on this, there's a solid chance that local law has some exemption for a certain kind of artistic or limited use, or that a very limited license was granted for a lesser fee.

As for the songs, U.S. Go Home features lots of songs by The Animals, Otis Redding, The Troggs, among others. Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Brussels prominently features both Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" as well as James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World."

November 20, 2012 3:27 PM  
Anonymous Filipe said...

I think the producers had a deal with some music companies to use their catalogue. If memory serves a party with popular music of the period is one of the things every director had to include.

November 20, 2012 6:29 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

Within my experience, getting access on DVD to major films produced by or for French TV has almost always been a major problem. I don't know if the reasons are bureaucratic or legal or both, but the list of those that have made it onto DVD seems to be very small. Think about such examples as Cozarinsky's One Man's War (& Citizen Langlois and Boulevards du Crepescule), Rivette's Out 1, virtually all the films of Cineastes de Notre Temps (most of which, alas, turn up as Criterion extras only after they've been severely cut, so that they're not respected as integral films--something that Andre S. Labarthe has complained about bitterly and justifiably), and, I'm sure, a great deal more.

November 20, 2012 7:05 PM  
Anonymous davisre said...

Audio-related details in US Go Home that tickle me (assuming I'm remembering them correctly): the song credits at the end refer to "Les Animaux;" the eponymous, offscreen Marines sound to me like an audio sample from Full Metal Jacket, (R. Lee Ermey saying "1-2-3-4 United States Marine Corps"), I'm 90% certain; and the closing song is Niko's "These Days."

November 20, 2012 9:55 PM  
Anonymous davisre said...

Err, Nico.

November 20, 2012 9:57 PM  
Anonymous David D. said...

Patricia Mazuy came out with a new film this year, "Sport de filles", which the Cahiers guys really liked. Still no North American distribution last time I checked.
Here is the trailer for "Sport de filles" : http://youtu.be/1R_kvgeltp8

November 21, 2012 9:02 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, everyone.

Here is Akerman's film on YouTube with English subtitles.

November 24, 2012 8:10 AM  
Anonymous Jim Gerow said...

I had a chance to see about half a dozen of the great CINEASTES, DE NOTRE TEMPS films during a hectic schedule at the recent NYFF. Cinephilia & Beyond has collected episodes on Cassavetes, Ferrara, Shirley Clarke, Truffaut, Bunuel, Scorsese, Lynch, Fuller and Ford here on one handy page:

http://cinephilearchive.tumblr.com/post/31473599078

December 17, 2012 2:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

This is great: thanks so much, Jim.

December 17, 2012 2:52 PM  
Blogger Miguel Marías said...

Hi, Girish, I've seen 6 of the TV movies included in the series "Tous les garçons et les filles...", plus several of their longer, cinema versions, which may be one of the causes (together with the music's rights) why those films do not move much around or are unfortunately little known. A pity: those by Denis, Akerman, Mazuy, Téchiné and Assayas are among their best; and the other one I've seen, Ferreira-Barbosa, was ok. I like better the TV version of Téchiné's "Les roseaux sauvages", "La Chêne et le roseau", while in other instances the longer version is (for me) better.

December 22, 2012 9:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi, Miguel: it's good to hear from you.

December 22, 2012 9:34 AM  

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