Three films stood out from the Exercises in Film shorts program here at Rotterdam, each doing its busy best to crowd out and clutter the space cleared by Yoshida’s magnificent use of the wide frame in The 18 Roughs Who Stirred Up a Storm. Tomonari Nichikawa’s hyperactive but oddly becalming flurrying montage of leaves and branches in stark black and white, Lumphini 2552, was a standout but I had already seen in Toronto, and which Michael Sicinski wrote about here. New to me was when color came splashing in—though the correct term would actually be corroding and infecting—via Emmanuel Lefrant’s Parties visible et invisible d’un ensemble sous tension, where footage the filmmaker took of Africa in 2003 is optically printed on top of blank stock left buried in the earth to age and mold. The result is barely recognizable even as photographed material, flickering colors play like out like inkstamps as positive and negative versions of the original footage and the underground stock merge and separate as layers on the final film. Lefrant’s memories of his trip are thereby forever obscured, with the original value of his footage as records, recollections, and representations have been lost to the material fragility (and creative investigation) of film. An electronic score interferes at first, but then finds sync in the film’s tone of played and replayed attempts to personally remember Africa.
Another hand processed color search showing in the program, and undoubtedly one of the best films in the festival, is Daichi Saito’s wonderful graphic barrage of foliage, Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis. It is a pulsating sequence of vibrantly, densely colorful images of a park’s leaves, branches, and other flora, separated and blocked in the beating frames by black, empty pillars of tree truck silhouettes. The short resembles a kaleidoscopic, throbbing filmic counterpart to Benning’s monochromatic collage-effect of leaves in shot 3 of Ruhr. The rhythmic narrative explores several graphic patterns and contrasts, all stood on edge and accentuated by the recorded but improvised violin soundtrack by Malcolm Goldstein. The overall effect is of when you tightly shut your eyes after staring at a forest on a sunny day, leaving the intense rhythmic, bodily pulsing bleed of positive and negative, light and dark, bare, soft shadows and overwhelming color printed on the backs of your eyelids.
I’m not sure if it was John Price’s Sea Series #7 I saw between these two films, or if it was half-dreamed establishing shots cut from Josef von Sternberg’s The Docks of New York, but the oiled silvery glimmers of distorted ships passing through an landscape of glossy obsidian blacks and shimmering heat waves are among the most unearthly and memorable images I’ve seen here.