- A collaboration between Sabzian and Avila
On March 10th at 20:30 CET, Seuls: Short Work 1’ will premiere on Avila, a short film programme compiled by Sabzian. This selection is an adaptation of the first Seuls programme, organised by Sabzian in 2017 and screened at the KASKcinema in Ghent. Seuls. Singular Moments in Belgian Film History is a series of film programs accompanied by the publication of unique texts by Belgian filmmakers and writers on Sabzian’s website.
Filmmaker, cinema and Zen teacher Konrad Maquestieau once typified Belgian cinema anti-conformist: "This country harbours a tradition in which individuals, completely unrelated to each other, manage to make films in the most idiosyncratic way. Films that do not conform to any norm, regulation, school, fashion or theory. Their images are unique. The 'tradition' is characterised by independence, diversity, subjectivity, daring, inventiveness, audacity, and humorous subversion. Here, the inexhaustible imagination is central." The name Seuls ties in with this; it brings into focus a film culture consisting of a kinship between soloists who explore all possible mechanisms of imagination.
The short film programme reflects the diversity of Belgian cinema: Images d'Ostende (1929) by Henri Storck, a poetic portrait of Ostend; Oggi è Primavera (1988), a dramatic act in miniature by Claudio Pazienza; White Flame (1930) by Charles Dekeukeleire, about a man taking part in a demonstration at the IJzer Tower; Dimanche, a contemplation on the concept of "free time" by Edmond Bernhard from 1963; but also La chambre (1972), a self-portrait of Chantal Akerman in her bedroom, her first short film Saute ma ville (1968) and a cinematic letter by Éric Pauwels to Jean Rouch, one of the key figures of cinéma vérité in France.
Director Edmond Bernhard once told an interviewer that Belgian filmmakers experience their medium as a "remarkable instrument of ambiguity". This ambiguity and stratification mentioned by Bernhard about applies to all the films in the programme and shows similarities with surrealism, which is the theme of the next short film programme Seuls: Short Work 2’, which will be screened on Avila in April.
To celebrate this special occasion Sabzian and Avila are offering the first 250 coupons for free. When the limit of coupons has been reached, the film programme will still remain available on the Avila-platform. The online premiere is free and available for viewing in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The films with dialogue are always available with Dutch, French and/or English subtitles. The programme will be accompanied by articles in several languages.
Introduction by filmmaker and Sabzian editor Nina de Vroome:
Seuls. Singular Moments in Belgian Film History is a series of film programs accompanied by the publication of unique texts by Belgian filmmakers and writers on Sabzian’s website. It is often said that cinephiles don’t know or are rarely appreciative of their own national cinema. Film critic Adrian Martin “observe[s] a very intriguing dimension of cinephile thought: namely, the usually feisty way it negotiates a fraught relation with the cinephile’s own national cinema. Indeed, I sometimes think I can spot a cinephile by the intensity of their hatred for their national cinema.” With this series of film evenings, Sabzian aims to chart the wayward landscape of Belgian cinema with images, sounds and words, by means of an affectionate countermovement.
The films of Chantal Akerman, Charles Dekeukeleire and Edmond Bernhard were restored by CINEMATEK, the Royal Belgian Film Archive. Images d’Ostende is part of the Henri Storck Foundation catalog.
With the support of the Flemish government
Panning shots describe the space of a room as a succession of still lives: a chair, some fruit on a table, a collection of solitary, waiting objects. Sitting on the bed there is the presence of a young woman: the filmmaker herself, eating an apple.
“The problematic relation between a woman’s daily routine and her creative everyday is dramatically highlighted through the flight into a secluded room – in which the stakes of her art will be proven. It is in this room apart that Akerman performs rituals of order and disorder, as if carrying out a continuous aesthetic experiment. This room is especially charged with an obsessive quality that points to a central problematic in her films: the autonomous person.”
“Ephemeral, fleeting beauty on which the condensation of cinema imposes the living rhythm of dance. A retreating wave may leave ridges on the sand, but the wind will come and draw new geometrical forms. Storck records these forms as a moment of extreme tension, just when the wind forces a new shape to take the place of the old.”
“Without a doubt this can be called experimental. But it must also be said, that contrary to many others (pure rhythms, diagonal symphonies and mechanical ballets), in this film of Storck’s, the tendency towards abstraction does not undermine the material, dense, sensual dimension of the elements but rather exalts it by getting down to an organic, elementary, vital level. The tourist’s Ostend remains out of frame (it is winter); the wind chases away the few holidaymakers, just as the lens does all trace of humanity. All that is left is the sea.”
“De pianist leek er veel plezier in te scheppen en was steeds erg vernuftig, of hij nu improviseerde, een speciaal voor de film geschreven partituur bracht, of de voorschriften volgde die bij de kopie van de film waren gevoegd. Met de behendigheid van een aap speelde hij virtuoze slagpartijen met de naast zijn piano opgestelde objecten: neppistolen voor de revolverschoten van de passiemoord, castagnetten voor de hoeven van de paarden, voor de klank van de golven: loodkorrels die van een canvas streken, en met emmers water en sponzen bootste hij de klank van regendruppels na. Hoog in mijn kleine kamer aan de andere kant van de straat kon ik de klanken van de piano horen, waaruit ik dan kon opmaken om welk genre film het ging: een komische farce, een burgerlijk drama, een sentimentele komedie, of zelfs een geweldige storm op zee, of de galop van losgeslagen paarden. De muzikale begeleiding verrukte mijn fantasie en ik viel in slaap met een hoofd vol beelden.”
Henri Storck beschrijft zijn vroegste herinneringen aan de cinema3
« Le pianiste semblait s’amuser beaucoup, toujours très inventif, soit qu’il improvisât, soit qu’il suivît une partition écrite spécialement pour le film, ou encore qu’il jouât des airs du répertoire d’après des indications jointes à la copie du film. Adroit comme un singe, il manipulait en virtuose une batterie d’objets disposés à côté de son piano : pistolets pour les coups de revolver des crimes passionnels, castagnettes pour imiter le bruit des sabots des chevaux, graines de plomb glissant sur une toile pour le bruit des vagues, seaux d’eau et éponges pour le bruit des gouttes de pluie. Du haut de ma petite chambre située de l’autre côté de la rue, j’entendais les sons du piano, ce qui me permettait de comprendre le genre de film dont il s’agissait; une farce comique, un drame bourgeois, une comédie sentimentale ou encore une violente tempête en mer ou une galopade de chevaux emballés. L’accompagnement musical excitait mon imagination et je m’endormais la tête pleine d’images. »
Henri Storck décrivant ses premiers souvenirs du cinéma
“Dimanche was supposed to be a didactic film, intended to evoke the problem of leisure. Bernhard diverts the order and outwits the trap of the ‘thematic’ film. Without resorting to any form of commentary, making use of extraordinary images sublimating common spaces (the boredom of Sundays, the changing of the guard, children playing, a runner in the woods, a football match, …), he constructs with a nifty montage an exceptional work dealing with the sense of void and the fossilisation of the world.”
During a political demonstration at the foot of the Yser Tower, a young man working as a butcher commits an act of rebellion that is brutally suppressed by the authorities. The demonstration of the Flemish Movement at Dixmude was an actual event that Dekeukeleire incorporated into a narrative leading to a stylized account on suppression.
“Although Dekeukeleire’s fourth film is often called Flamme blanche, its actual title is in Flemish, Witte vlam. (Dekeukeleire was of Flemish ancestry, but this is the only ‘Flemish’ film of the four experimentals.) The filmmaker called this work ‘a look backward,’ since it lacks the radical experimentation of Impatience and Histoire de détective. Here instead a considerable influence from Vertov and Eisenstein is apparent, with ‘Russian’ framings and cutting dominating the non-documentary portions. The narrative concerns a peaceful demonstration by the Flemish People’s Party at Dixmude, an actual event which Dekeukeleire filmed. To this he adds a specific story line about one of the demonstrators, a butcher who is injured when police ride through the crowd. He flees to his home and is subsequently arrested while hiding in the barn. The ‘white flame’ of the title refers figuratively to the immense white banner which moves in the wind in the demonstration scene and final shot. Dekeukeleire described the title as the ‘poetic equivalent of pure revolt’.”
This film is a moving tribute to French filmmaker Jean Rouch. Pauwels, a former collaborator of Rouch, accompanies him on a trip to Japan. In this cinematic letter, which he himself calls “a journey into the memory”, Pauwels philosophises about the essence of cinema and, consequently, of life.
…a young lady in her apartment’s kitchen mops the floors, polishes her shoes, dances, cooks, drinks wine, then she duct-tapes the door, opens the gas and blows everything up – humming all along.
“Akerman has described her first film, Saute ma ville, made when she was only 18, as her attempt to do something Chaplinesque. I strongly suspect that she was thinking about Chaplin’s fourth comedy short made at Mutual, his justly celebrated One A.M. (1916), where, apart from a cab driver glimpsed briefly at the very beginning, Chaplin is the only actor in sight, his character arriving at his own home and proceeding to interact catastrophically with the various props he encounters as he tries to get upstairs and go to bed.
Chaplin’s narrative pretext for all the comic chaos engendered is his character’s extreme drunkenness. Akerman – whom we hear manically and wordlessly singing offscreen from the very outset, and is also the only character we see, arriving home and in her case restricting her activities there to a kitchen – provides no narrative context of any kind beyond a certain punklike rebellion against the various domestic rituals that she performs or pretends to perform. These are the same sort of rituals, such as cooking, eating, cleaning up, and polishing shoes that, seven years later, Jeanne Dielman will compulsively embrace, although in this case Akerman’s own frenzied and parodic enactments eventually culminate in a series of offscreen explosions from a gas stove that fulfill the film’s apocalyptic title. (The ‘cleaning up’ that she performs earlier is in such a destructive manner that it recalls the final sequence in Vera Chytilova’s radical Czech farce Daisies, released two years earlier in 1966, when the two teenage heroines pretend to ‘clean up’ after their protracted and extravagant food orgy inside a banquet room.)”
- 1. Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Chantal Akerman: The Integrity of Exile and the Everyday,” LOLA Journal.
A street with passers-by. Music. A voice reads the credits and clarifies: “This is a very violent film.” The action begins: A man crosses the street and enters his apartment. He opens the door, puts out the fire under the kettle in the kitchen and enters the living room ...