Nicole Brenez (1961) is a French film theorist and lecturer at University Paris 3. She specializes in avant-garde cinema and has curated the avant-garde film series for the Cinémathèque Française and the À l’œuvre / At Work section for the documentary film festival Cinéma du Réel. Her works include De la Figure and General et du Corps and private (1998), Abel Ferrara (2007), Cinémas d’avant-garde (2008), Cinéma d'avant-garde mode d’emploi (2012) and Jean-Luc Godard théoricien des images (2015). Together with Philippe Grandrieux, Brenez started It May Be That Beauty Has Strengthened Our Resolve, a collection of films dedicated to forgotten revolutionary filmmakers.
Jean-Marie Straub, a fighter of images and sounds, chose a paragraph corresponding to the beginning of Bernanos’ pamphlet. He did not change a word. He used two versions of the same shot, each with full credits. At the start of the first version, twilight, a swan accompanies actor Christophe Clavert as he walks along the lake reciting Bernanos’ text, and then it disappears. At the end of the second version, brighter, a swan appears, passes the motionless actor, and drifts off to the left. The swans are among us, Nature will prevail, and the film offers this final gesture of unprecedented optimism – perhaps so that we can carry on, that is to say, fight, just a little longer.
Previously, images were in the world. Today, it is the world that is swimming in an ocean of images. Our real, material and unique world; woven from and overflowing with real, immaterial, numbered (made of numbers), innumerable images. If one wants to observe contemporary cinema one must place it in the context of this exponentially rising quantitative and qualitative power of images, question the role it has played and still plays.
Vroeger bevonden beelden zich in de wereld. Vandaag is het de wereld die baadt in een zee van beelden. Onze werkelijke, materiële en unieke wereld; geweven en overlopend van werkelijke, immateriële, genummerde (uit getallen bestaande), ontelbare beelden. De hedendaagse cinema observeren dwingt ons ertoe hem in de context te plaatsen van de exponentieel stijgende kwantitatieve en kwalitatieve macht van beelden en ons af te vragen welke rol cinema hierin heeft gespeeld en nog steeds speelt.
Auparavant, les images étaient dans le monde. Aujourd’hui, c’est le monde qui baigne dans un océan d’images. Notre monde réel, matériel et unique ; tissé et débordé d’images réelles, immatérielles, nombrées (constituées de chiffres), innombrables. Observer le cinéma contemporain oblige à inscrire celui-ci dans le contexte de cette exponentielle montée en puissance quantitative et qualitative des images, à s’interroger sur le rôle qu’il y a joué et joue encore.
Forugh Farrokhzad has never made a film nor led a team before. But she transforms all of these constraints, of this collective and intimate suffering, into a blaze of intelligence, despair and love in the fire of which a unique visual poem has been forged.
Harun Farocki, in all his works, elaborates and un folds an intensive and meditated form of encounter that we have named “visual study”. What is visual study? It is a matter of a frontal encounter, a face-to-face encounter between an existing image and a figurative project dedicated to observing It – in other words, a study of the image by means of the image itself.
Daar waren we naar op zoek: een verontrustende film, zeer verontrustend, zeer fragiel en levendig. Geen film als een boom, met een stam en takken, maar als een veld zonnebloemen, een grasveld met gras dat overal groeit. Daar situeert zich de grootste breuk: in de manier waarop de film werd geconcipieerd. Het opzet en de totstandkoming van de film werden gebaseerd op kwesties van intensiteit eerder dan psychologische relaties.
I wish to question what could be an internationalism for today, in the field of cinema – a critical internationalism that defies the powers of state, nation, administration and global economy. Almost all the examples I will cite are provided by filmmakers who are trying to help, through images, people other than their own. Thanks to the films themselves, it seems possible to consider, even very briefly, new proposals concerning the conception of history; the conception of the history of cinema; of an oeuvre; of the filmmaker; of political forms; of curating; and, finally, of spectatorship.
In 2010, with the full-length film X+, Marylène Negro takes up a new dimension of human experience: the collectivity. “A Picture of Us”. What are the aggregating forces that bring forth this drive – brusque or slow, woven from facts, simplifications and resonances that we call, always approximately, collective history? Unendlessly, the cinema records silhouettes, groups, crowds, masses – fleeting passers-by of a period they are going through, tiny extras of a zeitgeist that carries them along.
Correspondence Between Jonas Mekas and José Luis Guérin
Nicole Brenez, 2012
Between 2010 and 2011, the filmmakers and artists José Luis Guérin and Jonas Mekas exchanged nine video letters as the result of an initiative of Jordi Balló. The result was a feature-length film of infinite tenderness, assembling a personal diary, travelogues and key reflections about images. Existential cinephilia, poetic horizons, artistic kinship, elegiac sensibility, a community of views, radicalness, autonomy, all these things bring together these two “friends in cinema” (as Jonas Mekas puts it), whose respective works are characterised by the renewal of descriptive forms and the challenges of observation.
Reporter, photographer, screenwriter, producer, director, visual artist, founder of the Cultural Resistance International Film Festival, Jocelyne Saab was born and raised in Beirut. Her work has been devoted entirely to underprivileged populations, displaced peoples, exiled combatants, war-torn cities, and those in the fourth world without a voice. Her creative journey has been one of the most exemplary and profound, rooted completely in historical violence, the multiple ways in which one can participate in it and resist it, and the awareness of the gestures and images needed to document it, reflect on it and remedy it.
Every film by René Vautier constitutes a pamphlet, a shield for the oppressed and the victims of history, a little war machine for justice. And like weapons in an underground cell, these films serve, are donated, exchanged, lent, thrown away, destroyed, lost, or hidden and sometimes forgotten in their hideout for a long time. In this regard, every work by René Vautier constitutes a special case, an episode in probably the most novelistic story in the history of cinema. Full of scars though they might be, these films are of a real beauty, not only in the aesthetic and stylistic sense, but in the sense of a cinema elevated to the plenitude of its necessity and its powers.
“For It Is the Critical Faculty That Invents Fresh Forms” (Oscar Wilde)
Nicole Brenez, 2004
With a few remarkable exceptions (Jean Mitry, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Noel Burch ...), the history of cinema has mainly been recounted from the industry’s point of view. May this contribution to a history of forms help us to escape such a dominant ideology and reconsider the works and the artists from a different perspective. Today the violence of the cultural industry is so cynically triumphant that it is possible to establish a law of inverse proportions between the social visibility of a film and its real eminence.
Few theorists have been as critical of cinema as T.W. Adorno. Critical in this context implies all of the following: methodical, negative and subtle. … For [Adorno], cinema and popular or popularised music … were emblematic of how works of art had become commodified cultural products. A cultural “commodity” represents simultaneously the means of a confiscation, a mode of corruption, a simulacrum, and a sort of formal joke. … [C]inema, which arose out of techniques of recording and whose primary goal is reproduction organised into an industry, appears from the start as a powerful instrument of domination, propaganda and falsification. Adorno’s achievement consists in his having furnished us with instruments for understanding ideology as much as for defining the concept of art.