Cinematic Arts’ Attack on Actuality

Since the 18th century, art has set itself emancipatory goals and has been at the forefront of change. The task was to change the world, or at least some part of it, so as to reopen the Real. “It is possible that reality has never appeared to anyone’s eyes,” opined the plasticien Michel Semeniako in La Chinoise in 1967. Cinema took on an impressive series of tasks:

• not presupposing what is real
• ridding itself of all scripts
• analyzing power relations
• demystifying the given
• using editing to elaborate possibilities
• showing as an invitation to debate
• thus doing the opposite of audiovisual media that rigidly calcifies history.

Cinema came to the aid of becoming.

Today, in order to briefly sum up the multiple platforms and channels through which moving images circulate, I speak of “cinematic arts.” But in this formula, what does one mean by “art”? It refers to everything which opposes the art market. It concerns, in particular, that which refuses conventional aesthetic partitions such as the mutilating divisions between reason and emotion, rationality and sensibility, and action and representation. That is why, in my eyes, the most powerful initiatives in the field of moving images, in radical opposition to orthodox opinion, are devoted to reputedly arid tasks such as the study of reasoning, analysis, presuppositions, and the establishment of facts. In the great tradition of René Vautier, Saul Landau, Emile de Antonio, Fernando Solanas, Jean-Luc Godard, Jocelyne Saab, Lionel Soukaz, and Harun Farocki, these auteurs laboriously carry the real even into the hard and unbreakable core of actuality, and into the darkest, most volatile, and problematic of zones. Lech Kowalski is exemplary in this regard, and in particular his experiment Camera War (2008 – 2009), as is Bani Khoshnoudi and her analysis of the waves of repression and revolt in Iranian history (The Silent Majority Speaks, 2010). The area where documentary film intersects with the fine arts continues to grow, and is a crucial, fertile domain in which passionate debates take place concerning definitions of the real, formal innovations, and the responsibilities of biopolitics and political history. Sharif Waked, Akram Zaatari, Ange Leccia, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Philippe Grandrieux, Mauro Andrizzi, João Tabarra, Tacita Dean, Florence Lazar, Mark Tribe, Alain Declerq, Marylène Negro, João Nisa, Mounir Fatmi, Ariane Michel, Jacques Perconte, John Skoog, Frédéric Moser and Philippe Schwinger, Travis Wilkerson, Ing K, and Tiane Doan Na Champassak and Jean Dubrel, to name just a few, succeed in renewing our relation to history, to the Real, and to phenomenal experience.

Throughout cinematic history, since at least 1913, there have been initiatives of rectification, intentional crises, attempts at “catch up,” and also attempts to resynchronize the relationships between actuality, eventfulness, and transmission. What emerges from these initiatives over the long term is the very possibility of a history that would not be reduced to a mere instrument of ideology. In the short term, however, the battle over actuality must be fought, which is to say, we must struggle to stave off forgetting before the partial and lethal selection made by the media industry. (I speak of those immense swaths of lived history which never reach cognition, in the present just as much as in the past.) The work being done by Anne-Laure de Franssu and Mory Colibaly alongside Malian immigrants (Regardez chers parents, 2009 and SouHami, 2010), Clarisse Hahn in her trilogy Notre corps est unearme (2012) or Pilar Arcila with the Romani people in France and in Switzerland (The Costel Pendulum, 2013) is all in this vein.

To the extent that counter-information occupies a space at the threshold of the intelligible and the transmissible, it offers a laboratory for the creation of forms of verbal and visual discourse. How should we think of both the deep solidarity and the disarticulations which exist between the questions that structure both artistic activity and the taking of responsibility for facts—i.e., the describable, the expressible, emblems, the organization of signs, the environment of reason, the fracturing of codes, etc.? This, for me, is what’s truly at stake for auteurs of moving images today. If one asks what this looks like visually, we will find one of the most inspiring solutions in Florence Lazar’s film Les Bosquets (2010), a brilliant and monumental retort to the policy of repression carried out in the suburban ghettos of France.

Translation by Tristan Jean


Nicole Brenez

Brenez is a film professor at the University of Paris 3 - Sorbonne Nouvelle, a historian, theorist, film programmer, and teacher, specializing in avant-garde cinema.