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Sunday, 23 August 2015

The skeletal aspect of cinema

This is a pre-Festival review of Tots els camins de Déu (2014)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 August

This is a pre-Festival review of Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

A long-form look at Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014) is headed This is an hard saying ; who can hear it ? (quoting John’s gospel, just after the crowd has been told that it has to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life (King James’ Version)).

That review (which is perhaps more of an essay) is available here, following the screening (and Q&A with director (and co-writer) Gemma Ferraté) on Tuesday 8 September at 8.00 p.m., and begins by quoting Dante’s Inferno (in Longfellow’s translation (as below)) :

‘Now go, for one sole will is in us both,
Thou Leader, and thou Lord, and Master, thou.’
Thus said I to him ; and, when he had moved,

I entered on the deep and savage way.

Inferno, Canto II, 139142

The Tweet tells truth, whereas with a desire not to say too much, or just (as some reviewers like to do) tell the story describing this film as Two men in a forest does not sound as though it might have significant filmic possibilities.

Yet one could say that about the essential premise of other circumscribed films such as Dial M for Murder (1954) (with Hitchcock deliberately being stagey, in the same year as Rear Window (1954)), 12 Angry Men (1957), or Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), but give the wrong impression. Also, at this time, (essentially) two-handed plays such as En attendant Godot and The Dumb Waiter were already being written by, respectively, Beckettt and Pinter*, concentrating on the skeletal aspect of drama / theatre.

For now, though, the best thing to say about Tots els camins de Déu probably lies somewhere between all the literary resonances that it brings out, such as with Dante, and these plays and films that have narrowed down to a few figures. That comes down to the notion of the dramatic and what that says to us about cinematic treatments of it, where Sokurov, before the masses employed in Russian Ark (2002), had made Father and Son (2003), and Mother and Son (1997), in the latter of which it is just those two named figures.

Both of those films by Sokurov look at a reality that is not so much distorted as curved, and where he meditates on the relationship between the two sons and the parent, through memory, and physical proximity and sleep, and dream. In Tots els camins de Déu, it is what happens between men who seem to see each other for the first time when one’s shadow falls on the face of the other, just as he is sleeping on the ground, following emotional rupture and turmoil.

We are then with them in various situations, where patience, trust and nerve are tested, and we are invited to bear with them, not on the journey that they make, as such, within the forest, but in their exploration of each other’s psyches. It is resolutely not a film that is filled with action, and it simply does not engage with the stock cinematic cliché of establishing character-types, presenting a crisis or challenge, and seeing how the character-types deal with / overcome it.

Its business is with how time allows a burden to be shared between them the cause of all that rupture and turmoil at the start of the film. But it really does do so in a way that is informed by :

* The opening of Dante’s Inferno, when he meets Virgil, also in a forest, and learns that his beloved, deceased Beatrice (already waiting to meet him in Paradiso) wants him to grasp God’s purposes, now that he is Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (Midway upon the journey of our life)

* Who one of these figures is (written about endlessly, but also by Dante and Borges), and what troubles him so

* How the burden of it whose tangible reminder is so closely related to what he did, because it is partly what he did it for alters him, so that his mood or attitude can just switch for the worse

* So there is humour, and also fun, and yet we have seen it snatched away by feelings that are heavy and painful

Ultimately, in this exact situation, we are thrown back on words such as these :

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me ; for I am meek and lowly in heart : and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11 : 28-30 (King James’ Version)


* Earlier, Strindberg and Ibsen (and others after them) could not only write works on an epic scale, and with huge casts (e.g. Strindberg’s multi-part To Damascus and Ibsen’s Peer Gynt), but also focus on a few actors : respectively, Miss Julie and A Master Builder (in the latter of which, it is, out of the cast of seven, with Solness and Hilda Wangel that the play busies itself).

** Before them, possibly most remarkably, Georg Büchner, a scientist with a fascination for Jakob Lenz (he worked on a novella called Lenz), a sort of precursor in Büchner’s extremely short life to Woyzeck.

Sixty years before Chekhov (who, as a medic, was also to be an observer of life), his Danton (in Dantons Tod (Danton’s Death)) already seemed alone in a crowd and so, despite disguising it and / or submitting to a sense of duty, do many of Chekhov’s stage characters. (Can one think of a major play of his without a gun-shot ?) It is that lostness, and the sense of being surrounded by silence, uncertainty, despair and death, that comes through into dramatists such as Beckettt and Pinter the pauses, hesitations, and the heightened awareness that language can be as a sort of reification to fill or deny the void (L'Être et le Néant ?) and which we experience here in Tots els camins de Déu.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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