Isabelle Tollenaere's Battles (2015) is exclusively playing on MUBI from March 28 - April 27, 2018 in most countries around the world.
More than anything, I love walking into a cinema uninhibited. A fragment from a synopsis, an image from the film, or the recollection of the filmmaker’s previous work, are what draw me to the cinema. I don’t want to know or see anything more beforehand, I’d rather it’d be even less. Cinema as an unannounced world which unfolds itself, a window that lights up as soon as the lights of the cinema go down.
Whenever I have to introduce Battles to an audience, I don’t reveal too much in advance. I want the spectator to dive into the darkness of the cinema equally unaware, and wake up to the universe of Battles. So that we only search for the words to express what we witnessed afterwards. However, at this instance we do not find ourselves in a movie theatre together, so let me break this pattern this once.
Battles consists of four parts and every part guides the spectator through another place, where a military past continues to leave its mark, long after the conflict is over. The film glides past patriotic commemorations, re-enactments for touristic purposes, old explosives and bunkers, new inflatable tanks, and so on. The locations aren’t explicitly specified, nor is what took place there in the past. I wanted to see past the boundaries of time and space, look past the historical facts, at how military remnants manifest themselves today. I concentrate on daily life, by filming people at work, while they eat, watch television, or indulge in small talk. The trees, the clouds, the insects. Though, it is everyday life, where something anomalous managed to sneak into. Cows take shelter in a bunker, and people’s work consist of destroying an inexhaustible supply of old explosives. This duality of the ordinary and the extraordinary fascinates me and I chose it to be at the core of Battles. The absurdity of the lasting effect of war on everyday life.
Opting for little dialogue, but instead using meticulously selected images and sounds, I constructed the universe of Battles. It might be because I use words only sparingly, that words don’t always seem adequate to introduce the film. Or maybe it is because the best introduction to the film is already present within the film itself, a sentence so accurate that it seems to obviate the need for any other words:
'When the combat ceases, that which is does not disappear, but the world turns away'
After this quote by Martin Heidegger, the first images appear: it’s nighttime. The soil is violently ploughed by an agricultural machine. Hidden away underneath layers and layers of dirt, an old and battered grenade surfaces. Nothing ever really disappears.
Battles is a film on how war never really ends, even though it's over. How the past isn’t behind us, but remains present in the current day. I searched for images and sounds that dissolve the boundaries and logic of time. A stormy night filled with thunder and lightning evokes a nocturnal airstrike. Clouds of smoke deviously spread through the woods. Paratroopers emerge from the clouds and quietly drift through the air. As is aptly chanted at the end of the film: ‘We awake to the rumble of a storm, or the echo of a past war’. Just like the grenade at the beginning of the film unveiling itself from the darkness of the earth, I want the echoes of past wars to reverberate in Battles. Cinema as something to render the invisible visible. A screen illuminating a hidden world in the dark.