Some notes on courtisane
Twelve years, give or take. There comes a time when one has to ask what makes it worthwhile. Seeing, discussing, showing pieces of cinema, and all the while trying to make sense of them, and of ourselves in the process. We’re not in this to make a living, surely. But it has to do with living nevertheless.
Perhaps the time has come to try to put into words where we stand, or rather in which direction we are heading. We, that is: courtisane. We, that is: in all good faith siding with cinema. More of an open-ended itinerary than a well-devised directory really. To begin with, let us once again bring up the exhausted elegy bemoaning the terrible “end” of cinema we have been hearing as long as we remember: cast out by television, hollowed out by publicity, bought out by the dream machine, walked out on by its public. No doubt, cinema is not the dominant medium it once was. For sure, It is no longer the medium that captures the imagination of the masses (nor is television, for that matter); we know it is rather being captured by the logic of the market. In return this also means that the “audience” (a word that has more and more come to remind us of statistics) expects cinema to hold up a mirror, to function as an ideological resonance chamber. It’s for this sociologically defined “audience” that most films are scripted, fabricated, distributed, more as raids on the cultural market, than as forms of artistic production (all of the sudden the word “production” makes sense again).
Should we come to the rescue, knights in shining armor and all that? Certainly not: there are still plenty of more or less knowledgeable professionals out there supporting and cultivating cinema in its many forms, under its many umbrella terms. The only thing we can do, us amateurs, is to try to configure the cinematic landscape in a different way, to propose a counter-geography. For example: to get out of these all too easy and sterile sets of oppositions between “mainstream” and “experimental”, “system” and “margin”, “fiction and “documentary”. Why? Well, first of all because these opposites have more in common than it would appear; and then, because we think that the most interesting things are happening in their “inbetween”, there where the rug is pulled from under our feet, forcing us to look for other footing. Of course, there are oppositions that are even more sterile: the ones defining cinema by its negative, by what it is not, in order to point out its “specificity”. This game has been around for quite a while now, especially in the hallways and corridors of the academic world, studying cinema out of sight from everything that could possibly pollute it. An ancient debate all over again: the ”pure” against the “impure”. Words that frighten.
Naturally, we take sides with the latter (Bazin’s ghost continues to haunt us after all). But this doesn’t amount to embracing everything - an impulse gaining popularity these days, in service of the cultural “omnivore” - on the contrary, it’s about making concrete choices, exclaiming and defending them. It’s about mapping out different pathways through cinema’s heterogeneity, slicing it up, exploring its many contours from specific angles. This also implies probing the affiliations with other media and forms of expression. Nothing new here: cinema, as a “medium”, an experience of image and sound, has escaped its primary parameters a long time ago. We all know this. In fact, we have been battered with this idea so often in recent times that, paradoxically, we are more and more inclined to renegotiate some basic assumptions, or rather: some basic questions. It’s a trust issue really, boiling down to the question “what can cinema do for us?” What can it teach us, about ourselves and the world we’re living in? And this might seem overreaching, but it is really not. We just forgot about some things. Most of all, we forgot about the promise cinema once stood for: the promise to give us a place in the world. Not by holding up a mirror to ourselves, but by mapping out a space and time where we could meet the other.
You win some, you lose some. Gone is a certain naivety, a certain innocence in the light of the gravity of the spectacle cinema has to offer. But perhaps this innocence is something we all lost along the way. Abundance? Overexposure? Cynicism? These are some of the easy responses, characteristic of our times, but the truth is that we, as spectators, hardly ever feel addressed any more, at least not as human beings (all the more as cultural consumers). The truth is that it has become rather difficult to attribute a cinematic work to a desire (all the more to a whim or a strategy). So where does that leave us? How does one get out of this sphere of conformism, gloom and boredom all around? For us, taking on this challenge involves an attempt to regain this unattainable innocence, to reconsider cinema’s capacity to bewilder, make us experience the world anew, in the here and now. It involves searching out bodies of work that radically or gently question the consensus, either by redrawing the landscape, rearranging the places and paths we tend to call “reality”, or by displacing the angle of vision, revising what is seen and what can be thought about it. But we should never forget that “us” would be nothing without “you”. That is what this festival is all about: this fabric of sensations and impressions is here to be shared. In the end, there’s only one thing a festival should strive for: to become a community of sense. Alone together, at least for a while.
(And then it strikes us. All this seeing, discussing, showing: it’s here to remind us what it means to be human.)