Thesis…

For those who might be interested, the thesis manuscript entitled “Figures of Dissent. Cinema of Politics / Politics of Cinema (Selected Correspondences and Conversations)” can now be found on the website of the Ghent University : HERE.

Hong Sang-soo retrospective Brussels 18/01 > 25/02/2018

HSS

“Let nothing be changed and all be different.” Of all the precepts that Robert Bresson has collected in his Notes on the Cinematograph, this riff on an often quoted historical maxim might be the one that is par excellence applicable to the films of Hong Sang-soo. Since discovering Bresson’s work triggered him to patiently carve out his own singular path through the world of cinema, the South-Korean filmmaker has continued to weave an ever subtly changing canvas of minute variations on the same narrative threads, playfully entwining themes of love, desire, deception and regret.

In Hong’s bittersweet sonatas, typically composed of multiple movements, repeated figures and modulating motives, any relationship or situation is susceptible to variability: there can always be another version, another chance, another time. Some situations present themselves as repetitions, while others accommodate a myriad of storylines that intertwine or parallel each other. Every film contains multiple stories, and is also rich in virtual ones, some yet to be told, others perhaps already told before. Yet for all the doubling, folding and mirroring in Hong’s films, what stands out from their narrative playfulness is hardly a display of virtuosity, but rather, as Jacques Aumont reminds us, a sense of idiocy. This idiocy does not only refer to the innocuous array of trite misunderstandings, misfortunes and missteps that detract characters along divergent or crossing paths, but above all to the sense that everything seems to happen without reason, without a causal or rational order that determines the relations between characters and their environment, between their present and their future. In Hong’s films, there is no particular reason why things couldn’t fall into place differently: every relation entails a multiplicity of relations.

From his feature debut The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well (1996) to The Day After (2017), the latest of four films he has released in the past year, Hong Sang-soo has continuously reinvented his explorations of the very arbitrariness and contingency of life’s connections and directions by crafting his own take on another one of Bresson’s precepts: to find without seeking. While the production of his first films was still based on a predefined screenplay, Hong has increasingly refined his working method into a both intuitive and rigorous process of writing and filming. On the morning of each shooting day, he writes out dialogue for the scenes he intends to shoot, gives his cast time to memorize their lines, determines camera angles, and then starts to shoot – most often using statically framed long takes which are only occasionally interrupted by abrupt zooms. The absence of a prefixed template and a receptivity to what transiently comes into view allows for an unravelling of the concrete everyday into unexpected patterns of visual and narrative features, opening up even the most trivial gestures and insignificant details to a web of indefinite resonances.

Stemming from a wariness of generalizations that claim to be transcendent and all-encompassing, this constant interplay between concrete presence – of the people involved and the environments they occupy – and abstract construction is what, more than anything, propels Hong Sang-soo’s singular cinematic investigations into the dynamics of repetition and difference. It might also be what brings his work, film after film, ever closer to the art of cinema as it was once devised by Bresson: as a method of discovery.

On the occasion of the retrospective of Hong Sang-soo at the Brussels CINEMATEK (January 18 to February 25, 2018), a modest publication has been compiled which aims to trace the development of Hong’s remarkable body of work through a collection of essays and interviews that were written and published between 2003 and 2017. Assembled for the first time, they give an enlightening insight into his cinematic universe, which keeps expanding as a variety of variations on an aphorism that he himself has sketched out in one of his drawings: infinite worlds are possible.

An initiative of Cinematek and Courtisane, in collaboration with the Korean Cultural Center in Brussels, Sabzian & Cinea. In the presence of Hong Sang-soo on 18>20.01. Full programme can be found on www.cinematek.be

DISSENT ! Susana de Sousa Dias

FotoCadastro

19 April 2017 20:00, STUK Leuven.

A conversation with Susana de Sousa Dias, preceded by a screening of 48 (2009, 93′, English subtitles).

“Watching the images unfold in the archive, I was thinking that these men could be my brother, my uncles, or even a son of mine. A disturbing thought that obliged me to think much more deeply about the history of my country. I came to realize that there is a reason for the colonial wars having been a kind of taboo in Portugal for the first three decades after the Revolution: the people who had been in Africa fighting in the colonies and conducting the massacres were the very same people who carried out the revolution.”

Having grown up in the wake of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution, which developed during the years following the death of António de Oliveira Salazar in 1968 and toppled his dictatorial regime in 1974, Susana de Sousa Dias became fascinated with the images taken by representatives of the regime during its forty-eight years in power. Since 2000, when she was first allowed to explore the Salazar regime’s official archives, de Sousa Dias has endeavored to find cinematic forms that can do justice to the realities of oppression within the so-called Portuguese New State (Estado Novo). Her encounter with portraits of political prisoners in the archives of the former Political Police (PIDE), as well as newsreels, war reports and documentaries that were made for the Ministry of Propaganda, has resulted in a remarkable series of films that aim to explore the workings of the authoritarian regime by way of its own images: Natureza Morta / Still Life (2005), 48 (2009) and Luz Obscura / Obscure Light (2017). How does one arrive at showing images without rendering acceptable that which they show, on this occurrence the violent machinery of a dictatorial system? How to criticize these images without reaffirming the power invested in them? The second film in this series, 48 (the title refers to the period of the dictatorship between 1926 and 1974) is perhaps the most radical response to this challenge, in that it offers nothing else but still images of faces and recordings of voices of those who were imprisoned by the regime. Mugshots taken on the moment of capture are accompanied by testimonies of survivors, relating their experience of the brutalities they endured in prison and the insidious system of oppression that kept the dictatorship in place for so long. But De Sousa Dias also manages to reframe and displace the meaning of these images by transforming what were originally small, generic images, useful for identifying enemies of the regime, into large-scale portraits that accentuate the dignity and shared humanity of these women and men whose name and age remain unknown to us. “The film tries to expand the duration of that fraction of a second, in which the pictures were taken, and in which the prisoners opposed their oppressors, face to face”, says de Sousa Dias. “The expression on their faces, this look of challenge is the last space of freedom that was left to them in this moment.”

In collaboration with STUK, Lieven Gevaert Centre and the Institute of Philosophy (KUL).

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.

DISSENT ! Haile Gerima

Bush-Mama

8 April 2017 19:30, Cinematek Brussels

Screening of
Hour Glass (1971, 13′) and Bush Mama (1975, 97′), followed by a conversation with Haile Gerima. As part of a retrospective dedicated to the work of Haile Gerima, which also includes a carte blanche program (8 April > 12 May).

“To this day when I watch Bush Mama, I’m in tears. Not because of my talent, it’s the talent of the community; but those things were real to me when I was a student. I see all my films as a staircase of emotional evolution. They have my dreams, my nightmares, my wishes, my fantasies, my rage, and so they’re never obsolete. I was responding to the time as a black man and how I felt excluded by the system that was prevailing. And many people feel that now. And so to me, it goes back into not doing movies for anybody else. Say this is a story I want to tell before I pass from this earth, and the film becomes relevant, however imperfect technically it is.”

“Play it again, Sam.” We certainly remember the catchphrase. We might even remember the song Sam is playing, just before Ilsa and Rick come to face each other for the first time since they parted ways many years before. But how much do we actually remember of Sam? What existence is this character given, besides being assigned the role of exotic sidekick? What kind of history is ascribed to him, besides having carried his piano all the way to Paris and Casablanca to accompany a love story between white folks? These were the questions that animated the debates that were held among some of the students of the University of California at Los Angeles in the late 1960s, some of whom would eventually set out to correct the distorted and orphaned representations of black people in Western cinema. Taking their cues from the wave of “Third cinema” which had emerged in Latin-America, Africa and elsewhere, these filmmakers regarded it as their mission to break free from the ideological and cinematic entrapment which tends to keep everyone in their place, tied up in their racial and social identities. One of the most diligent members of this movement, which has been branded “LA Rebellion”, is undoubtedly Haile Gerima. Born in Gondar, Ethiopia in 1946, he left for the US in 1967, where he studied theater in Chicago before enrolling in the film department of UCLA. It is there that he gave shape to his first short films, Hour Glass (1971) and Child of Resistance (1972), which were infused with the legacy of the Black Power and Black Consciousness Movements and the influence of the work of Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X and Angela Davis. The call for resistance against systemic injustice is even more pronounced in Gerima’s thesis film, Bush Mama (1975), which chronicles the political awakening of Dorothy, a welfare mother living in the Watts neighborhood, who decides to stand up against the economic, political, and social oppression that she and many others like her are subjected to. From the very start of the film, when we get to see actual footage of the LAPD harassing Gerima and his crew during the shooting, one cannot help feeling that the ongoing struggles in the US carry with them the ghosts of former struggles, and that today’s activist movements would not be the same without the politics of resistance which emerged after the Watts Rebellion of 1965. The liberationist, anti-colonial discourse that was so prominent at the time would also have a profound effect on another, equally powerful film that Gerima conceived during his time at UCLA, a film which saw him tracing back what he called “the actual footprints of my youth.” Shot during a stay of two weeks in his native Ethiopia in the tumultuous days following the overthrow of Haile Selassie, Harvest 3000 Years portrays a family’s struggle for survival under a feudalistic landowner, revealing itself as an anti-colonial allegory of class exploitation and a tribute to the collective dissent against “the harvest of centuries of oppression.” Since 1975, Gerima has tirelessly continued to explore the conditions and struggles of black existence in the US as well as the histories of oppression and empowerment in Ethiopia. His singular research has found a provisional culmination in Teza (2008), a film he started writing at UCLA, chronicling three decades in the life of an Ethiopian man who leaves his home in search for knowledge, only to find himself anguished by his country’s social and political crises.

The full program of the retrospective and the carte blanche (including films by Med Hondo, Jorge Sanjinés and Miguel Littín) can be found here. An initiative of Cinematek & Courtisane, in collaboration with the Embassy of USA, Le Jeu de Paume & Afrika Film Festival.

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG.

About DISSENT!

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.