The final post from this year's Cine-City Film festival
FLEURS DU MAL (FLOWERS OF EVIL)
(Dir. David Dusa, France)
During the brutal suppression of the popular protests in Iran, Anahita is sent to the safety of Paris. Upon arrival she meets Rachid, and this film ensues...
Rachid, it would seem, likes to dance. Quite a lot. There are points where you can’t help but feel that his gyrations sum everything up. There’s long scenes of him leaping, looping and body-popping around the Parisian geography, and amid all this apparent effortlessness you sense a film straining too hard to be hip, technophilic and contemporary.
But if there's not much of a point beneath this freneticism, perhaps there's a point to it. As the film opens, Rachid wakes up, sees a traffic jam outside his window and promptly googles “traffic jams” - a search which ends up with him surfing into reading about Iran. It’s like the free association that crosses your brain as you’re waking up, only externalised onto a screen, as if inner and outer worlds are crossing.
Similarly Dusa frequently intercuts between scenes, not as some deliberate calculated act (like in Eisensteinean montage) but more like the random way the mind will flit between subjects. Sometimes a Parisian scene fades into Iran, then back into Paris to continue as if the interruption had never been. We surf through life. At the core of us there isn’t a core, just a jumble of impulses and associations. Rachid becomes exasperated by Anahita compulsively checking events back in Iran - “you’re here, but you’re not really here either!”
But which way do we take this? Is Anahita an ambassador of the young Iranian experience, or an example of the stateless rootlessness of the globalised generation, wirelessly disconnected while update-fixated? At times you wonder whether Iran isn’t simply there as something for her to worry about. Certainly its politics are presented alternately as inscrutably complicated and a simple revolt of youth against the uniforms.
Of course the role of the net in the Iranian protests was interesting, throwing up new ways in which the censoriousness of a controlling regime can be challenged. (Though much of the media excitement at the time was down to the patronising realisation that Iran was more modern than Afghanistan.) But that’s not really the subject of this film, and it doesn’t have to be. Our problems start when we begin asking what is the subject of this film...
The prevalence of brand names is interesting in itself, particularly as it’s not easy to work out whether they are being deliberately foregrounded or not. Facebook, YouTube and Twittr come across as the geography of this generation, the place they hang out in the way the swings, the park and the football field were to mine. (And films which insist on sticky-back-plastic euphemisms for corporate tags are annoying.) However, it is notable that the theocracy in Iran is up for questioning while the ubiquity of these tags is simply a given.
There’s plenty of Sixties films which were so zesty and zeitgeisty that they still feel fresh today. At times this film conjures up a similar feeling, as if it’s so of it’s era it just can film itself to make its points. But, like watching a series of YouTube videos, it doesn’t necessarily build into an overall picture. Or if its aim is simply to evoke that feeling, then wasn’t YouTube doing that already?
Ultimately the film’s upside is simultaneously its downside. It’s too embedded to work as reportage, too of its time to say too much about it. Veering on becoming its own subject, it’s like a Doctor who’s not sure he’s carrying a sickness or a cure, but won’t stop doing his hospital rounds for long enough to check himself out.
And now, as they say, for something completely different...
LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRES D’ADELE BLANC-SEC (THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC)
(Dir. Luc Besson, France)
”This pterodactyl business is getting out of hand. It could be the anarchists, up to their tricks.”
Perhaps the highest compliment I could pay this film is that it’s all apparently being made up as it goes along. Luc Besson’s adaptation of a Jacques Tardi comic passes in a whirlwind of pterodactyls, ancient Egyptian artifacts, big game hunters and other spirited nonsense.
The result isn’t exactly tidy. (One subplot isn’t resolved until half-way through the end credits, as if only just remembered.) But when there’s always fresh pieces being thrown up into the air, who cares where the discarded bits fall behind us? And fortunately, its not just as exuberant and restless as a child’s game, it also takes it’s absurdity as seriously. Though there’s gags all the way through, and it wears its heart lightly, there’s no post-modern nudging and winking.
The Belle Epoque era isn’t just nicely realised, it’s probably crucial. Stories like this never work in the present, they need that sense of innocence, of a time when you could pay the rent by adventuring alone. There’s a telling scene where an automobile driver complains his way is blocked by horses and carts. We picture that era as the point where the past and present collide, where mummies could still yawn and reawaken, and glorious sparks could ensue. A pterodactyl hatched and flying down modern Fifth Avenue is another cheesy monster movie. One flying down the Champs Elysees of century-old Paris is oddly fitting.
There’s one substantial caveat, however, to all this rip-roarin’ fun. I must confess to having only read the comic series sporadically, when some of it was serialised in 'Cheval Noir’. But even that glancing peek was enough to suggest that the whole thing would work even better as an animation. The film makes a good fist of capturing the look and feel of Tardi’s world. Characters look like Tardi characters. (Though the feisty Adele is transformed into a much more normative delicate creature, played by Louise Bourgoin.) But Tardi’s linework, his style is integral to the sense of him, just as essential as the timbre of an instrument is to a piece of music. Tardi’s rough-hewn but characterful line is like a twanging banjo, re-transcribed here to a string quartet. Yet some of us like twanging banjos...
Of course you might as well complain about the English weather, or the banks not paying back the money they borrowed off everyone, as any of this. The deal seems done that we could get a whole lot more comics adapted into films, and some of them would even be quite good, but they all had to be live action...