Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Saturday, February 9, 2008


       As if it wasn’t obvious enough from the posts themselves, let me plainly state that I don’t really consider this blog a forum for “film criticism”. While I’ve read my fair share of Bazin and Kracauer, there are other online sites (a few of which you’ll find in the links sidebar to your right) that do a fine job of "critiquing"; better than I could, even if I were inclined to do so. That being said, the subject of this week’s post immediately brought to mind my favorite volume of scholarly cinematic lore -- Bruce Kawin’s Mindscreen. Kawin’s theories are a little difficult to summarize, but they basically boil down to the idea that some films (some of Bergman’s, like Persona, for example; almost everything by Godard; but also some less elitist fare, like Duck Amuck), present themselves to the viewer, not as a “story”; related to us as a second or third-hand account of events; but rather as a first-person representation of a mind -- as if we had a mirror held up to the consciousness, not of the filmmaker -- but of the film itself. Mind you, only certain films benefit from being regarded in this manner; but speaking for myself I can see no other way, to interpret -- or even appreciate -- a film like this week’s object of inquiry: Nuit Noire (”Black Night “).

       Nuit Noire concerns one Oscar, an entomologist at a Natural History Museum who spends his days cataloging insects. I use the word “days” figuratively here, as the film takes place in a setting where the sun shines for, at most, a few minutes -- sometimes just a few seconds -- every 24 hours. Oscar sees a therapist to deal with some troubling issues from his childhood; issues which seem to revolve around the death of a sibling (or childhood friend, perhaps?), whilst on a family outing in Africa -- although the nature of said incident is never explicitly made clear. A female museum attendant of African descent insists to Oscar that she is his sister, and one evening he arrives home to find her in his apartment, in his bed -- and ill. Fearing for her life -- and scandal -- if he attempts to move her, Oscar reluctantly allows her to stay. And that’s as much as you need know.

       The synopsis given above is a very much truncated -- and quite frankly, streamlined for purposes of clarity -- summary of the events which play out in the first third of the film. Nuit Noire is more a series of episodes that revolve around a theme (or a couple of themes, I suppose) than a traditional 3-act movie playlet. The film contains flashbacks, flash-forwards, scenes that take place only in the mind of the protagonist, and other scenes, I suspect, that only take place in the “mind” of the film itself. Like Lynch’s I N L A N D    E M P I R E, Nuit Noire isn’t really designed to be grasped on a rational level; it’s of the same genus as the work of the early surrealist filmmakers -- a kind of cinema where you’re given no answers, but the questions are so beautifully and compellingly presented, you can’t help but be mesmerized by them.

       Nuit Noire is the first feature-length film from Belgian artist Olivier Smolders. While it is available on DVD, It has, in fact never received an official theatrical release here in the U.S. -- partly because, I’m certain, it’s not really a “film”, at all. The movie was shot in HD; and rather than a murky, grainy “look” to it (as you might expect, given the dark subject matter of the piece), it has a vibrant, colorful, crisp aspect and feel to it; something I’ve come to expect -- and even look forward to -- from the many shot-on-HD movies that have been released in the last couple of years.

Some links:

The official website for the movie.

A trailer for a collection of short films by Olivier Smolders: Spiritual Exercises.

Next post -- 02/15/08


Dan Sallitt said...

I wonder if the opposition between story films and "first-person representation" films is absolute. Obviously some films are more obvious about the first-person stuff than others. But I think films with a lot of story can be regarded in a first-person way, just by a little change in perspective. And even really far-out films tend to have some throughline that one could call a story.

grigorss said...

I wonder if the opposition between story films and "first-person representation" films is absolute?

Well, no, I don't think it is -- and I believe you raise a point that has been directed towards Kawin's thesis before. You could regard any film in the manner Kawin suggests (as a kind of raw artifact of a consciousness rather than as a narrative presented within some sort of conventional genre framework) -- it just seems more fruitful to the viewer to regard certain types of very personal, unconventional films in this manner.

Nuit Noire does indeed have certain narrative "throughlines" -- but they are rendered in such a idiosyncratic manner that it actually seems more clear (at least to me...) to take in the film in the manner Kawin suggests -- rather than attempt to pigeon-hole it within some sort of standard "three-act w/ dramatic catalyst" framework.