Antiphon (Peter Kubelka, 2012)
2012 highlights for Lumière: five unranked films, screenings or installations loosely themed on memory seen last year.
Nostalgia de la luz (Patricio Guzmán 2010)
A product of geoanthropology, astronomy and political documentary that instead of falling foul to eclecticism is indeed enriched by collaboration. Consequently its tone is of a compellingly lyrical-scientific intensity throughout. The Atacama desert, their designated common space, by virtue of its uncommon translucence to history, becomes a vector for ever-distending the dust of the present; both outwards, reaching towards the stars in deep space-time—by way of its stratovolcano-stationed telescopes and unsullied sky—as much as inwards, penetrating its rock-strewn surface—still bearing inscriptions by pre-Columbian shepherds—over unaccounted and open graves of Pinochet’s incarcerated and exiled. “I am convinced that memory has a gravitational force,” we hear. It is a proposition that grows, as we watch on, steadily more difficult to dispute.
Hello, Mr. Tree! (Han Jie 2011)
Ostensibly it makes light work of a serious topic: the defilement of the dreams and lives of rural misfits at the hands of modern China’s inexorable urbanization—as farce, as Mo Yan- esque magic realist folk tale, as delirious song and dance. By the time of the final act we find ourselves chewing somehow over still more perturbing questions concerning the nature of sanity, the contemporary and the frightful cost of grasping it. The virtually imperceptible transition in hindsight is remarkable, as is its adept handling of grand themes—recognizable hallmarks of its producer in Jia Zhangke no doubt. And for good measure is somewhere in between a rousing usage of cult band Er shou mei gui's (Second-hand Rose) generational anthem Huo che kuai kai (On the way).
Mekong Hotel (Apitchatpong Weerasethakul 2012)
It is by now a fully established tenet of Joe’s vision: eventless moments must be the most sensuous or else nothing is worthy of the senses at all. Introduce “pods,” or flesh-eating feminine spectres, to his still expanding bestiary then and we have perhaps the least conformist reimagining—albeit a low-key one, with its featurette duration of 56 minutes—of its genres (melodrama, structuralist film, family film, and horror) to date. What better gesture of intimacy could there be between a daughter pining her deceased mother than to allow her lover to host her mother’s offal-consuming ghost? There is none. And how should this precious inter-spiritual time be spent? Watching television and knitting together, of course. It’s a testimony to his brilliance that this bewildering samsaric blend not only works but feels like the only natural combination for its task.
Peter Kubelka: The essence of cinema (1955-2003) at the 56th London Film Festival
Presented on this occasion as a single uninterrupted program, like an unofficial counterpart to Frampton’s Hapax Legomena –complete with jungle rave styled ‘rewinds’ for several favourites– the full Kubelka canon never looked, sounded and felt more resplendent. Afterwards, a little dizzied and ruffled, a bitty hypothesis on film history came to me, yet I’d defend it nonetheless: yes, cinema may have begun with the Lumière brothers, but only in medias res; it wasn’t until Arnulf Rainer a century later did, insofar as this is possible, its ‘origin’ finally present itself. What else could have been expected from the last of the original modernists?
John Akomfrah: Hauntologies (2012) at Carol Fletcher, London
A vital installation—not to mention, welcomed intervention—of video works from the poet of the archive, roving diaspora, and vivid geopolitical memory—amid a city that endured, need it be reminded, a year-long assault on its landscape by feudal-nostalgic pageantry and commercially subsumptive games.
Edwin Mak (U.K.) is coeditor of Lumen and he collaborates in several publications, like MUBI Notebook.