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Cannes 2009: Geographic Anomalies (“Land of Madness,” Moullet)

Luc Moullet juts into the frame pointing out the southern Alps on a map of France, and tacks, labels, and a rubber band are secured in order to be even more specific, carving out a parallelogram of bloodbaths and insanity in Moullet’s new documentary, Land of Madness.  A playful gravity inflects Moullet’s half-romantic, half-appalled investigations into the shocking number of incidents of madness and murder in the region, where the director himself has a family history.  Interviewees talk of local murder and eccentricities leading to entire families being wiped out like they are passing down folklore from centuries ago, and Moullet hints that the locale of hilly, lonely hamlets, villages and small towns may in fact feature a culture of madness, a genetic predisposition that travels not just through blood but through stories.  This may or may not actually be true—Moullet, a too-often unheralded member of the French New Wave and spectacular critic for Cahiers du cinema, has such a deadpan touch it is a challenge to know what is a fact and what is false.  Regardless, if this culture of lunacy does not exist, Land of Madness calls it into being, tracing the geography, connecting the towns with the camera (panning from one village to another, one crime to the next), placing its interviewees in their own malformed landscapes, desolate, romantic, and expressionistic.  By the end, in true expressionist fashion, Land of Madness takes on its own particular quality of schizophrenia, seeing a twinkling, mirthfully droll humor in these stories—featuring plenty of speculative motives and vagueness—catching onto a madness of the cinema for the mad, for extremity of people, of landscapes, of the history of crime and passion.  No one is without some folly, and, in appropriate fashion, even the film's cineaste is mad by the film's end.

Moullet is both an “eminence gris” and a “structuring absence” of the nouvelle wague. I devoted a chapter of my book “Film: The Front Line —1984”( Arden press) to him. Absolutely anything he does is worth seeking out.
It’s “anomalies”

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