Our first movie at the 2017 True/False Film Fest, which was an overwhelmingly great long weekend. We were among the last three people let in via the Q for this one, sat in scattered chairs and loveseats lined up in a comfy space behind a coffee shop.

Slow and dreamy visit with the residents of a Turkish retirement home, sheltered indoors while a major construction project goes up across the street (Mizrahi goes out and joins the construction workers in the final minutes of the film). Looping atmospheric sounds instead of music, patterns changing with each scene. Focused on the people, their behavior and stories, with a few great visual moments (I’m thinking of the lineup of 4-5 women sitting down watching one who gets up to leave, the same scenario repeated later in the film). Presented as a test screening, so it might be released in a different form later, though I can’t imagine it’ll get much of a commercial release in the States. Judging from the reaction to one glorious long take, it’ll have to remain in the film – two guys stand in the elevator having long conversations, pressing the buttons to go up and down repeatedly, then to their annoyance a woman in a wheelchair is rolled in, and after a long minute she looks up and grins into the camera. It’s hard to explain in words why this was so wonderful.

Memorable characters: A photographer with serious vision trouble fumbles with his camera gear speaking in helpless loops. A man with breathing problems talks in his sleep (“Merry Christmas”). A woman over 100 years old survived the Armenian genocide and is still suspicious of authority and afraid of persecution, asks to use a pseudonym on camera. And one man we revisit a few times, realizing at the end that he had a strategy all along. He reminisces about reading Lolita. He reads us one of his own erotic stories, and mentions that he prefers intimacy with a couple (no more than three!) more than the sex parties he’s attended. He boasts about the time he gave a 31 year-old woman an orgasm though he was much older at the time. Finally he proposes to the (30 year-old) director. I believe she turned him down, though we left before the Q&A, successfully sneaking into another movie.

J. Cronk:

This pairing of industrial upheaval with the burden of socio-historic tribulation can’t help but recall the docufiction experiments of China’s greatest living filmmaker, Jia Zhangke (particularly Still Life and 24 City), while Mizrahi’s formal acumen and rigorous compositional sense nod to the self-professed influence of Portugal’s Pedro Costa, whose Fontainhas trilogy similarly exposed and personified the souls of a neglected community on the brink of extinction.

“We live three times as long since man invented movies.”

First movie watched in 2017. Interweaving life stories of family members during the year grandma spent in a coma, with mirrors of behaviors and situations across generations.

NJ and daughter Ting-Ting with the happy couple:

NJ is Nien-Jen Wu (cowrote Hou Hsiao-Hsien films including City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster). He’s a reasonable, middle-aged, frowny-faced guy disillusioned with his job. He bumps into an ex, Sherry, at the wedding, then arranges to meet her in Japan while courting software developer Ota (Issei Ogata, the emperor in The Sun) for work. Having casual conversations with Ota about music and spending his days with Sherry (Su-Yun Ko also played a lead male character’s Tokyo ex in Taipei Story) gives him nostalgia flashbacks of first love, while his daughter Ting-Ting is home dealing with similar issues firsthand.

Ting-Ting starts the movie feeling guilty that she might be responsible for grandma’s stroke, and soon adds more typical teenage problems into the mix, as she picks up her new neighbor Lili’s barely-ex-boyfriend Fatty, but the two of them are nervously unsure how to be in a romantic relationship (and incidentally, he later murders the neighbor’s mom’s boyfriend).

The neighbor with Fatty, who is not fat:

Min-Min is the mom of the family (Elaine Jin, also a mom in A Brighter Summer Day), has a breakdown while trying to talk to her comatose mom then disappears to a meditation retreat for the rest of the movie. And young son Yang-Yang is a slightly offbeat kid (spotted in his room: Astro Boy, Mickey Mouse, Batman, Pikachu… and the Hindenburg) who takes photos of the backs of people’s heads (a naïve, questioning photographer/observer who shows people things they can’t see for themselves, named after the film’s director, hmm).

Yang-Yang couldn’t deal with the wedding reception food:

Newlywed astrology nut A-Di is Min-Min’s brother, can’t keep his financial or romantic act together, with his longtime ex-girlfriend Yun-Yun showing up at the wedding and baby shower and making scenes. His wife Xiao Yan threatens to leave then comes back thinking A-Di has attempted suicide – he says he just fell asleep in the tub with the gas on. And I think A-Di’s money is stolen by business partner Piggy (yes, there’s a Piggy and a Fatty).

Yang won best director at Cannes, and died of cancer seven years later without producing a follow-up, which was rumored to be an animated Jackie Chan feature.

Kent Jones:

The New Taiwan Cinema was a predominantly urban phenomenon, the better to dramatize the rapacious speed of cultural upheaval. And Yang, Hou, and the slightly younger, Malaysian-born Tsai have employed, each in his own unique way, the sights, textures, rhythms, and social configurations of city living to devastating effect … Yang has set his city symphonies in a variety of emotional keys — the doleful lament of Taipei Story, the gridlike coolness of The Terrorizer, the comic hysteria of A Confucian Confusion, the carefully modulated fury of Mahjong. In Yi Yi, he brings all of these moods together, never allowing any one of them to take precedence over another. Which is to say that this is a grand choral work, with a panoptic majesty.

Feels like it wants to be Mulholland Drive-ish, as young beautiful Elle Fanning arrives in the L.A. fashion business and experiences nightmarish visions before she’s eaten alive by her competitors. Dialogue delivered in weirdly silent rooms – I was expecting more keyboardy soundscapes, and maybe that would’ve helped get me on the wavelength of cool horror and deep mystery the movie seemed to think we were on together.

Elle is the Fanning from Super 8 and The Boxtrolls (older sister Dakota is the Fanning from Night Moves, War of the Worlds and Coraline). She arrives in town with her photographer friend, Karl Glusman from Love – another lethargic, sex-minded movie I had to struggle to keep from turning off. Elle meets makeup artist Jena Malone (the girl Donnie Darko likes) and a couple of evil models, gets work with famous photog Jack, and avoids her awful landlord (a miscast Keanu Reeves).

M. Sicinski:

Neon Demon is an inert object, mostly comprised of color-saturated tableaux and walking-dead, anti-psychological “performances” … Much like Matthew Barney’s films, The Neon Demon delivers in chunks and slabs, but never seems cognizant of cinema as a time-based art.

“There were always secrets to be uncovered in the most mundane of photographs.”

I’ve waited a long time since the great Bright Leaves with its promising ending. After spending that whole movie looking into the past, Ross shows his son Adrian playing at the beach and looks towards the future. That future is now and Adrian is graduating high school, but Ross being Ross, he retreats back into the past, using his son as an excuse to revisit some people and places from when father was the same age as son, trying to find a place for himself after graduation.

The present segments don’t work for me. Ross plays the old fogey card, telling us he can’t understand his son with all the iphones and the internets and the facebooks, dismissing technology while shooting on a digital camera. Adrian seems to be doing fine, talks to his father plenty and goes on fishing trips, is taking up videography (they help on each other’s projects), so the frame story’s attempts to tell us that the two are unable to connect seem untrue, as do Ross’s claims that his son is lost and aimless, since we see Adrian stunt-skiing, writing films and developing his own media startup.

Ross retreats to France, seeking his old photographer boss (Maurice) and his girlfriend from a few months later (Maud). He marvels at the changes that time brings, finds the late Maurice’s ex-wife and finally finds Maud. Ross and Maud each thinks that they’re the one who ended the relationship, after which she married another photographer. I’m sure it was an extremely cathartic trip for Ross, and it comes off as a reasonably pleasant trip for us, really coming together when Ross gets back home with Adrian in the last few minutes.

Isaac (Ricardo Trepa, star of Eccentricities) is called to a rich estate in the middle of the night to take final photographs of a just-deceased girl (Pilar Lopez de Ayala, star of In the City of Sylvia), whose image he falls in love with, then it starts coming to life in his photographs (if MdO can embrace digital sfx then anybody can). Isaac spends his days photographing field laborers and his nights dreaming of Angelica, to the concern of his meddling landlady Justina. Excellent shot at the end: sick Isaac rises trance-like from bed, pushes the doctor aside then collapses, as his spirit continues out to the balcony and flies away with Angelica.

Mouse-over to hallucinate like Isaac does:

There are few indications that the movie is set in any recent decade until we see cars in the last half hour. This is by design: old-fashioned, simple-living photographer Isaac seems overly interested in old-fashioned things. I’m not sure of the significance of his being Jewish, but it’s mentioned a lot.

Film Quarterly explains:

As a Jew, Isaac is a stranger to the community, but he’s fascinated by Portugal’s religion, dying agricultural traditions, and quasi-mystical, late-romantic literature. (The Strange Case of Angelica grew out of a film Oliveira wanted to make in the 1950s, dealing with Jews who migrated to Portugal after World War II.)

I didn’t spot Leonor Silveira, but trusty ol’ Luis Miguel Cintra (Inquietude, Non) stays at the same boarding house. That’s him above with Ana Maria Magalhães of The Age of the Earth.

Mouse-over to awaken Isaac from his dream:

Douro, Faina Fluvial (1931, Oliveira)

The DVD guys have kindly included Oliveira’s first short, documenting workers on the river (as Isaac documents them in the fields – but not precisely). He pulls shots in and out of focus, gets in every striking angle he can muster, edits still and motion shots together in jarring ways. Definitely some staged situations. A truck driver, distracted by a passing plane, bumps an ox cart which then runs over a young man. The man is okay, but starts beating the oxen in anger until a policeman shows up, and he and the beasts make up.

I only played a few minutes of the very good (so far) commentary, instead watched an Oliveira monologue. He is against television, pornography and violence. He is for fantasy, Melies and Avatar. He methodically lists all the well-known great filmmakers, saying they’re the ones who maintain proper separation between the private and public spheres – an ethical discussion that I didn’t follow, then methodically lists the exact same filmmakers a few minutes later as if we didn’t just go over this. Cinema as an art should be “a reflection of the more critical, richer, graver and higher aspects of the human condition.”

Part 1: The Castle

“The photo is the hunt. It’s the instinct of hunting without the desire to kill. It’s the hunt of angels… you track, you aim, you fire and–clic! Instead of a dead man, you make him eternal.”

A slideshow of photographs with a voiceover discussion about the nature of photographs, flipping rapidly all over the globe. Familiar sights: streets of Cuba, “commuter trains full of sleeping Japanese,” an owl in a flight museum, that shot I love of the Russian woman holding a turtle. Many references to things I don’t follow, but because of the great photos and the 50-minute length, this would make a great Intro to Marker – especially if there was better-quality video available.

They fawn over Russia for a while, moving to to lonely monasteries in Greece, then the first day of Algerian independence (below).

“One instant of happiness paid for with seven years of war and one million deaths. And the following day, the Castle was still there. And the poor are still there, day after day. And day after day, we continue to betray them.”

Part 2: The Garden

A montage of animal shots, then a tour of a Korea, and on to Scandinavia.

Different kinds of music, including bits of the electronic effects and percussion that would become more prominent in his later films.

“One needs to look closely at this Scandinavian man. He has everything, truly everything that nine tenths of humanity doesn’t dare to imagine in their wildest dreams. It’s for his standard of living that the Black, the Arab, the Greek, the Siberian and even the Cuban militiamen are striving. He has everything the revolutions promised. And when one shows him some Brecht – free moreover – in the Stockholm gardens, he doesn’t really get the message.”

How do you say elephant in Russian? Slon.

Then a tour of tombs and discussion of death. “I met a man who lived his own death” sounds like an alternate intro to La Jetee.

A yugoslavian hog considers the day to come:

After a wordless musical section, all fades out, but returns for a strange coda, a montage of torn posters with the sound of a screaming monkey, then final voiceover, which seems lovely when it accompanies the images, but didn’t make sense when I tried to transcribe here.

After watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, which documents the director’s experiments with visual effects and attempts to integrate them with his stories via dream sequences, then reading at the end that he later used all these effects in The Prisoner, what could I do but run straight out to watch The Prisoner.

And boy did he ever put those effect experiments to use. It is full of light and color and lines and boxes, reflections and refractions. Real tight framing and editing, very clockwork in a wonderful way, with outstanding music, acting that seems unexceptional at first, but gets better. I’ve liked all the Clouzot movies I’ve seen, but have heard nothing about this one, so figured it’d be a dull late-career entry (it was his final released film), but no, he went out with a bang.

Gilbert (Bernard Fresson of Z and Street of No Return) is an artist who specializes in mass-produceable objects with geometric patterns that cause optical illusions when you spin them round. Stan (Laurent Terzieff of The Milky Way) runs a gallery where Gil and other guys are putting on a show. And Josée (Elisabeth Wiener of Duelle) is Gil’s girl, who jealously spies her man Gil talking to a reporter in a hall of mirrors, and so strikes up a chat with leering Stan, going back to his place to look at photos of “handwriting”.

The only thing I remember of Josée’s day job is that she spends some hours looking at interview films on an editing table, commenting that she can’t understand submissiveness and masochism in women. Of course this is a setup, and when she’s at Stan’s place she “accidentally” spies a slide of a naked girl in chains, which fascinates and excites her. Oh of course, it’s just another thing Stan dabbles in, photographing nude bondage sessions, but Josée is now obsessed, insists on attending the next one. Maguy (Dany Carrel, returning from Inferno) poses, Stan photographs and Josée watches anxiously.

Josée soon agrees to be photographed herself, and starts a heated affair with Stan. This was one year after Belle de Jour (and given Clouzot’s pacing, he might have written this film before Buñuel even dreamed of his). Clouzot’s picture is both less and more extreme than Buñuel’s – it’s surely more passionate and less clinical, when considering two directors I would’ve expected the opposite. The photographic sessions, even Maguy’s first one with minimal nudity, are erotic as hell, the height of sexy editing. It may be ultimately more tame than Belle de Jour though, with overall less to say about societal norms and sexuality.

Husband vs. lover, splendidly shot through a half-reflecting window:

Stan has a more poetic penchant for suicide than did the desperate, more tragic Dominique in La Vérité:

Interesting to watch this in the same month as Lady of Burlesque (1943), From Here to Eternity (1953), Monika (1953 but released in the U.S. in ’56), The Apartment (1960), Knife in the Water (1962) and even The Girlfriend Experience (2009). Half were (or at least were intended to be) sexually progressive films when released, all seem very of-their-time, and only The Apartment and this one still seem capable of shocking anyone today.

I loved the camerawork – mobile, but always with a specific goal, a plan to paint a picture through time. Clouzot, 60 years old, a widower with heart trouble, doesn’t seem quite up to the task of smashing a complacent society and visual expectations to bits with his camera, but he has no trouble smashing his lead actress to bits with a train, something he attempted earlier in Inferno.

D. Cairns:

And as a final note of strangeness, the film ends with a woman in a hospital bed calling for the wrong man—the very same ending as Richard Lester’s seminal Petulia, released the very same year. No possibility of one film influencing the other. Instead, both films must be hooked into something, something out there in the ether. Cinema can do that.

The Bridegroom, The Comedienne, and the Pimp (1968, Straub/Huillet)
Four minutes in, it’s just been a long car ride in the rain with opera music playing (there was no sound at all for the first two minutes) and I am very suspicious.

Five minutes in, cut to a stage set, with German words on the wall and a clattering wood floor. Rivette (or Michael Snow) would be pleased. A fast-paced stagey farce follows. Blackout, next scene but the camera hasn’t moved, hasn’t even cut for all I know. Actors include Fassbinder regular Irm Hermann, composer Peer Raben, and future superstar Hanna Schygulla (who I’ve recently seen in The Edge of Heaven, Werckmeister Harmonies and 101 Nights of Simon Cinema).

Bang, cut, new location, and back out on the street. An action scene. Jimmy Powell is marrying Lilith Ungerer (star of a couple Fassbinder films). They go home, the pimp (Fassbinder himself, early in his career) is there, she shoots him and gives a speech as the music returns. All affectless acting.
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So, what was that all about? Well the title refers to the cinematic drama in the third section, that much is clear. And the actress and the pimp were in the stage play in the middle. IMDB fellow says “The film has its roots in a theatre production of a play by the Austrian playwright Ferdinand Bruckner which Straub had been asked to direct by a German theatre company. He considered the play too verbose and cut its length from several hours down to just ten minutes, and it is the production of this play which forms the centrepiece of the film.” As for the beginning, the same guy says it’s a “Munich street frequented by prostitutes.” F. Croce calls it a “mysterious, structuralist gag” and notes that “filmic subversion can prompt political revolution, and transcendence.” No revolution or transcendence here – I just thought it was a weird little movie made by an overacademic sweater-wearing type. Was only Straub’s fourth work – let’s check out his tenth, which is half as long.
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Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice (1977, Straub/Huillet)
It’s in French this time. Actors sit in a half-circle near the memorial site for the Commune members and recite a poem. I’m mistrustful of the English subtitle translation of the poem, and there’s not much in the movie besides the poem (the recitants are as expressionless as in the previous film, maybe even more so), so there’s not much of value for me here. Actors include Huillet herself, Michel Delahaye (the ethnologist in Out 1) and Marilù Parolini (writer of Duelle, Noroit, Love on the Ground), shot by William Lubtchansky and dedicated (in part) to Jacques Rivette.
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Mongoloid (1977, Bruce Conner)
Music video for a Devo song using (I’m assuming) all found footage (science films, TV ads and the like).
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Mea Culpa (1981, Bruce Conner)
Dots, cubes, light fields and… whatever this is. Conner goes abstract! The music sounds like 1981’s version of the future. Aha, it’s Byrne and Eno, so it WAS the future. I didn’t know that Conner died last year, did I?
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(nostalgia) (1971, Hollis Frampton)
of a photo of a man blowing smoke rings:
“Looking at the photography recently it reminded me, unaccountably, of a photograph of another artist squirting water out of his mouth, which is undoubtedly art. Blowing smoke rings seems more of a craft. Ordinarily, only opera singers make art with their mouths.”
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So far I really like Hollis Frampton. His Lemon and Zorns Lemma were brilliant, and now (nostalgia) is too. Anyway this is the one where Frampton films a photograph being slowly destroyed on an electric burner while Michael Snow reads narration describing the next photograph that we’ll see. It’s important to know that Snow is the uncredited narrator for a humorous bit in the middle. The movie also has a funny twist ending that I wasn’t expecting. This would be part one of Frampton’s seven-part Hapax Legomena series. I have the strange urge to remake it using photographs of my own, but I lack an electric burner and a film/video camera.

Gloria (1979, Hollis Frampton)
Remembrance of a grandmother, Frampton-style, meaning annoyingly hard to watch and strictly organized. Clip from an ancient silent film, then sixteen facts about gramma (“3. That she kept pigs in the house, but never more than one at a time. Each such pig wore a green baize tinker’s cap.”) then a too-long bagpipe song over an ugly pea-green screen, and the rest of the silent film. Or as a smartypants would put it, he “juxtaposes nineteenth-century concerns with contemporary forms through the interfacing of a work of early cinema with a videographic display of textual material.” I prefer my version.
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Prelude #1 (1996, Stan Brakhage)
I don’t think that I enjoy watching low-res faded videos of Brakhage movies. I’ll wait for the next DVD set to come out (or the next Film Love screening). As a side note, I cannot believe that Raitre plays stuff like this. Just imagine: art on television. Picture a single TV station anywhere devoted to showing art. Can you? Can you?!? I feel like screaming!!
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NYC (1976, Jeff Scher)
Shots of the city sped-up, rapidly edited, reverse printed and hand colored, two minutes long with a jazzy tune underneath. Super, and short enough to watch twice (so I watched it twice).
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Milk of Amnesia (1992, Jeff Scher)
I’m thinking it’s short scenes from film and television, rotoscoped, with every frame drawn in different colors, with some frames drawn on non-white paper (a postcard, some newspaper). Warren Sonbert is thanked in the credits. I would also like to thank Warren Sonbert.
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Yours (1997, Jeff Scher)
An obscure musical short from the 30’s or 40’s overlaid with rapidly-changing patterns and images from advertisements. Descriptions and screenshots can do these no justice.
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Frame (2002, n:ja)
Black and white linear geometry illustrating a Radian song. I can’t tell if it’s torn up by interlacing effects or it’s supposed to look that way. Give me Autechre’s Gantz Graf over this any day. Between this and Mongoloid and the Jeff Scher shorts, I’m not sure where to draw the line between short-film and music-video. Not that it’s a dreadfully important question, but I’m in enough trouble tracking all the films I have/haven’t seen without adding every music video by every band I like onto the list. Although maybe videos should be given more credit… I’m sure Chris Cunningham’s video for Squarepusher’s Come On My Selector would beat 90% of the movies I watched that year.
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Plaisir d’amour en Iran (1976)
An expanded version of Pauline and Darius’s trip to Iran in L’Une chante, l’autre pas. Pauline and a narrator comment on the sensuality of Persian architecture. I would’ve liked it if the feature had been edited more rhythmically like this short (or if the picture quality had been as good).
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Du Coté de la Côte (1958)
Fun, half-hour exploration of tourism along the coast, more gentle than Vigo’s À propos de Nice and simpler than a Marker travelogue.

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“These parks, overpopulated with merry people attracted by the Latin shore, foreshadow the dead people seeking eternal rest there. In both cases, space is limited because of its good quality. It is a well-rated coast.”

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Les Fiances du pont Mac Donald (1961)
The short within Cleo from 5 to 7 is apparently considered its own little film. “I wanted to provide a little relief for Cleo. … So I thought at the beginning of the third part of the film, where films often have a lull, a weakness, a slow-down … I would introduce something uplifting. My other goal was to show Jean-Luc Godard’s eyes. At the time, he wore very dark glasses. We were friends, and he agreed to this little story about glasses in which he must take them off and reveal his big, beautiful eyes, like Buster Keaton’s.”
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Ulysse (1982)
This was fantastic. Varda finds an old photo of hers, taken in 1954, and investigates. What was she thinking about at the time? What were the models in the photo thinking? She looks them up and asks. Agnes: “This almost painful investigation taught me so much about what an image says, what it says to each of us, and what it cannot say. It merely represents.”
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AV: “How does she see her own goat image? Without making animals talk, like in American cartoons, or defining memory as a rumination of mental images, may I suggest that there is an animal ‘eatingmagination,’ a self-predatory imagination?”
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Salut les cubains (1963)
Months after Cleo from 5 to 7 opened, Varda went to Cuba to photograph the country’s inhabitants for an exhibit which opened in Havana (introduced by Raul Castro!) before it moved to Paris. She also made this film out of the photos, narrated by Michel Piccoli. Subjects include the Castros, famous national artists, workers, dancers, posters and drawings and artworks. She creates action sequences, animating the photos, best of all with this guy dancing for the camera.
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Mentions Marker’s Cuba Si, which came out a couple years before. In her introduction, Varda says twice that “we must place it in the context of 1962,” since the Cuban dream society didn’t turn out the way the French leftists hoped it would. Interesting that she made such a happy, idealist film as this, then her next feature would be the happiness-breakdown of Le Bonheur.
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These last two were reissued in the 2004 collection Cinevardaphoto with a third, current short about a teddy bear collector, but somehow I didn’t have subtitles for that one. If Cleo from 5 to 7 and L’Une chante, l’autre pas revealed Varda’s kinship with the filmmaking of husband Jacques Demy, these shorts represent a definite (and oft-mentioned) kinship with Chris Marker, and either of them could stand alongside his best documentaries. The commentaries are more personal, less consciously witty. The images are wonderful, and the sense of investigation, of images and memory, the psychology of the films puts them on the Marienbad and La Jetee side of the new wave fence… my favorite side.
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Elsa la rose (1965)
A portrait of Elsa in the words of her husband Aragon, who has spent their entire relationship writing and publishing poems about her. Varda calls them a “famous couple and fervent communists.” Elsa is filmed as Aragon imagines and remembers her, says she repeated the exercise with her own husband for Jacquot de Nantes. In voiceover, Piccoli reads the poems as fast as he can, a hilarious idea. First movie Lubtchansky and Kurant shot for Varda.
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Elsa: “The readers of these poems expect me to be 20 years old forever. As I cannot satisfy this need for beauty and youth that the readers have, I feel guilty and it makes me unhappy. That’s what’s terrible, they’re not just for me.”

Réponse de femmes (1975)

“Women must be reinvented.”
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Agnes has a few minutes to state the case of all women, socially and politically. Lots of nudity, which she points out is not exploitative unless used to sell a product or titillate viewers.

Coming attractions (when I’ve got subtitles): Black Panthers (1968)
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