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Locarno 2014. A Question of Language II: Damien Manivel's "Un jeune poète"

A sweet song to the courage of being young and starting a live once language has refused to hide you.

Clichés and ready-made expressions are ambushes on all sides. What can written language be when you cannot set yourself free from the heavy repertoire of images, comparisons and metaphors all languages make weigh upon you? How can one become a poet? Rémi just turned 18 and made a post-graduation decision. He wants to become a poet. In Sète, a harbour in the south west of France, famous for its cemetery where lies great French poet Paul Valéry, Rémi wanders with his notebook and a pen, looking for inspiration. "I have to write," he says to himself. Where is inspiration to be found? Rémi tries the shopping list of the "sources of inspiration": wandering in nature, exploring nighttime, meditating upon the sea, picking words casually in vocabularies, having contacts with interesting fellow humans, and drinking. Vodka being an equally lethal substitute to Verlaine's absinthe.
In one tableau-like scene after another, Rémi tries to get closer to one of the interesting human beings, pretty Léonore (love being a strong source of inspiration) and tests his verses with friend Enzo, a local fisherman. Rémi follows with implacable determination a program of "what it is to be a poet" that takes from classes of literature and a fair quantity of romantic tropes. Regularly consulting with the tomb of Paul Valéry while suffering one failure after another, Rémi writes. Clichés, fortune cookie imagery, Valentine cards romanticism or straight copycats of 19th century pompier authors. Stars, waves, despair and more starry skies. His failure with a declaration in song to Léonore may well be the last blow. In this difficult process, Rémi forgot to be a young free man with a future. But director Damien Manivel did not forget how to make an audience (of any age and vocation) share with playful empathy the wanderings and trials of a character. Before he turned to cinema, Manivel was a dancer. Rémi and himself invented the film in a few days and shot it in five (the credits list is of spectacular brevity). And the spirit of Jacques Rozier and Jacques Tati watched over Rémi's tall body, his skin that refuses to get a tan from the sun of Sète, his lovely clumsiness that can turn into fatal impetus.
Manivel's work is about arranging the right choreography of this body (with and without others) in the frame, choosing the places and landscapes with a remarkable eye for the mix of sheer beauty (the Mediterranean), impersonal ugliness and catch-all banality that is the reality of a small provincial town, composing his scenes without ever losing the sense of life. But A Young Poet does not blink at any noble influence. It presents itself with a modesty and a generosity (and a clever economy in its duration) that makes it the opposite of any program or concept. The narration is a journey in the difficult relationship between life and expression, in the vibrant light of a hot summer. And in the end, when the tomb and Paul Valéry eventually dialogs with Rémi (in the form of captions), Rémi can admit that maybe he should think again about his vocation. While he looks at the camera and expresses his doubts, the sequence becomes a subtly moving moment between person/actor and film/viewer, a sweet song to the courage of being young and starting a life once language has refused to hide you, once clichés have loosened their grip yet depriving you of easy solutions.

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