For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.

Friendly Melancholia

Considering the cinema of friendship between young filmmakers Gabriel Abrantes, Alexander Carver, Benjamin Crotty, and Daniel Schmidt.
One cannot but share the praises for the "imaginary friends"—filmmakers Gabriel Abrantes, Alexander Carver, Benjamin Crotty, and Daniel Schmidt—by film critics and sensitive audiences, and all the adjectives are right, from the sumptuousness of imagery to the unpredictability and boldness of their scripts. Discovering and/or returning to the films remains a constant pleasure and an uncommonly thought-provoking experience.
Going back to some of the films, and thanks to a certain distance in time and circumstances, I feel something could be said about precisely these particular relationships and the elegant tone created by the friendship's humorous and burlesque qualities.
In, for example, Palaces of Pity (2011), Ennui ennui (2013), The Unity of All Things (2013), as in La isla está encantada con ustedes (2015), families, siblings, couples and groups (more than individual "characters") go through adventures where they are all faced with the immensity of the universe, time and space, history and traces, and powers of post-industrial capitalism. They are all experimenting and searching the territories of lust, gender and identity—abysses to any human being, and certainly the resounding chaos that these young artists bravely confront.
"Friendship" is here less a cooperative-oriented praxis than a deeper (and riskier) view on how films can (and maybe should) be made today: through dialog (or maybe better: conversation) between two persons, a confrontation of ideas and hypothesis generously listened to and tried, in a mix of solidarity and mutual amazement, each one being who he is and the film being a "third term," a relation in itself.
It could seem far-fetched to evoke here the dialogs and friendship (including the very same definition of the latter) between Georges Bataille and Maurice Blanchot:
"Friendship, this relation without dependence, without episode yet that includes all the simplicity of life, exists by way of recognition of the common strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends but only to speak to them."
Well…the reading inspiring the nomad princess and the virgin librarian's ideas in Ennui ennui:
Bataille's "community of lovers" probably gives to these films a strong impetus (“What fusion brings into me is another existence”) to script and film—together yet remaining different—utopias of a mankind freed from the anthropological oppression of genders (evolution as revolution?), slowly accomplished through the liberation of all beings from utilitarian/productive sex and sensuality.
If the characters in the Cantonese family of The Unity of All Things, the sad soldiers of Palaces of Pity or even the Isla itself...
...move through the borders between genders, and walk, at times playfully, the multiform ways to pleasure, they also explore the tormented and tormenting territory common to sexuality and violence and death. In La isla, sexuality is also conquest, murder and infection set in the brutal splendor of waves and beaches and lush tropical landscapes.
This is because on this utopian horizon liberation is also a matter of dealing with the past, dealing with history. The films fight ignorance and oblivion through their non-linear narratives and their characters with blurred identities; they re-tell our world where traces and layers of the past are lost and/or neglected, in the chaos and flows of images and icons. While History, both a venomous snake and a magnificent jaguar (The Unity of All Things), may well subvert all certainties as it does most efforts towards emancipation.
All this may sound gloomy for films that so well handle the paradoxes of humor. Postmodernism oblige? Yet, as maybe The Unity of All Thins shows most clearly, something in these works bring to mind the word melancholia.  
As 40 years ago Jean-Luc Godard went to interview the mathematician of "Catastrophe Theory," René Thom, for Six fois deux (1976)1, directors Alexander Carver and Daniel Schmidt set the scene among scientists, and in particular physicists closing and reopening particle accelerators, these machines so emblematic of "postmodernity," as some may say, that should—no less—help understand matter, time and space. Later, Godard would once again borrow from scientific terms to describe "the monsters of social unconsciousness."2
Melancholia is a relationship with darkness: night time or underground obscurity may kill as much as it can unveil.
While memory, gender, family structure, past and present, feelings and knowledge, sensuality and brutality play on melancholic Super 8 mm and 16 mm film stock, this filmic fabric so brilliantly made for today recalls some interpretations of a famous engraving, the "engraving of engravings":
For Aby Warburg, Albrecht Dürer's Melencolia 1 (1514) is a comforting piece, showing the victory of a melancholic spirit upon the dark  wanderings that threatens it: the figure meditates over a problem she cannot now solve with the scientific tools of her time. For Peter-Klaus Schuster, the figure's despair is nothing Faustian nor "psychological." The picture alerts us to an effort—always to be made—to fight the crisis of melancholy and affliction (or, as in another engraving, boredom, Ennui, ennuiacedia, an incapacity to love, a door open to the Devil3) of which she bears the visible traces. Comforting, yet also a warning.4
In The Unity of All Things, emancipation and sensuality stumble across chaos and the geological, physical layers of History. Situations, characters, camerawork, colours and lightning are eroticized to avoid the "sin" of second degré and conceptualism. This is precisely what ancient philosophers called "generous melancholia."
"All the stories have been told," yet many remain hidden, forgotten, disconnected: the art of cinema reveals, reconnects, mixes and disrupts, reconstructing critically (and paradoxically, because of the continuity of the screening) and erotically (humor included) what the powers of global capitalism work to separate. In this "community of those who have no community," friendship is also a matter of language(s).
"I do like you, I don't know where you belong," says the lady physicist to her colleague in Unity. Cantonese, Japanese, Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, Farsi… Melancholia is also a questioning of language by artists of an age where meditation and expression have to deal with Babel. When films became "talkies," the malediction of Babel struck. Industrial cinema as capitalism itself solved the question in their repressive, reductive, profitable ways, and how can one not salute the way all these friendly films fight back. They visibly wish, through experience and work, to invent another type of babelism, one that is not a malediction but a generous accuracy to the stories told, a risky yet fruitful opportunity to contest the utilitarian use of language, and to eroticize—once again—languages through bodies, texts, dubbing and sound editing.
These notes do not have a conclusion: a modest tribute paid to the works of the Friends still in progress, but for the time being, I shall thank them for being so good friends to, say, João César Monteiro and Jean-Luc Godard, while being themselves, beautifully distant and different.
1. Six fois deux, 1976 - playing with his name (René = man's name + e = Renée girl's name + reborn [Re-né] man + reborn girl Re-née + s = plurality)
3. The Dream of the Doctor, Albrecht Dürer, 1498:
4. Texts in the catalog of exhibition Mélancolie, curated by Jean Clair, Grand Palais, Paris, 2006.

Please to add a new comment.

Previous Features