The Candle and the Screen
In 2012, in this new Filmkrant format, World Wide Angle is going to swing more over to doing what it enjoys best: film analysis. But in a 21st century way — in fragments and frame-captures, referencing the debates that circulate on the cinephile Web (the traditional terrain of this column since its inauguration in 2007) through the material details, the images, frames and cuts of audiovisual production both contemporary and not-so-contemporary.
I begin this trail with a 40-minute film made by Eugène Green in 2007 for the remarkable yearly Digital Project of the Jeonju Film Festival — a sign of how festivals are innovating in the sphere of production in order to win or retain their traditional position as exhibitors in a tough, overcrowded marketplace.
Correspondances is a medieval, courtly romance for the age of email. The ardent Virgile (François Rivière) has danced once with the sickly Blanche (Delphine Hecquet) at the Martian Rockers Ball, and is now pursuing her in the traditionally distant, epistolary manner... electronically. She resists — partly because her spirit is bound to another passionate young man who killed himself in the pains of love. As in other Green films, the dead — and the past history they represent — must be allowed to find their peace before the living can fully embrace each other.
But wait! This is the same Eugène Green, who only the previous year, in response to Kieron Corless' question in Vertigo magazine, "Would you ever make use of digital technology?", replied: "Never. What interests me most in cinema is the possibility of capturing real energy, and I find that video can't do that. For me it's always an intellectual idea of what the shot was supposed to be, but never the reality of that shot"?
Green obviously made his peace with the digital, because Correspondances manages to be both sensual and ethereal, material and intellectual. At its heart is a beguiling fusion of the old and the new, the technological and the immaterial, that is announced in its first gesture, its first image: the flickering candle that is photographed by digital means (just as Kubrick exploited then-new lenses to films in candle-light in Barry Lyndon, 1975), and then juxtaposed, in the frame, with Virgile's laptop computer.
There is an intriguing neo-medieval poetics at work in the narrative technique of this piece: what begins with shots of hands typing and 'send' keys being pressed, swiftly morphs into a lyrical and dreamlike mode. The disembodied back-and-forth voices fly over shots of faces, domestic objects, a beloved cat ... But Green has something grander than simple storytelling economy, or even Bressonian ellipsis, on his agenda here.
All of Green's work reaches out towards a magical, impossible fusion of souls (usually male and female) — sometimes across life and death itself. The highest points of this fusion in his films are paradoxical: they arrive as separated close-ups arranged as shot and counter-shot, the actors gazing straight into the camera. At the heart of the dream of fusion there exists this solid division — but Green's work strives to push past this barrier, even if only with the delicate force of its accumulated emotion.
In Correspondances, it not only the lightweight, 'abstract' digital camera that serves as the necessary intermediary, the 'third term' in this process of fusion, but the computer screen too. Virgile and Blanche 'look through' these screens and these filters, eventually to see each other — a real-life encounter that will occur beyond the end of the film, off-screen, in the sunny exterior only glimpsed in the final, liberating shot that crosses the threshold of Blanche's window and pushes through into the world.