Resistance. If there is a single word that characterizes the work of Marcel Ophuls, this is it: resistance to every form of injustice and banalisation, resistance to the prevailing dogmas of documentary cinema. It is an attitude that is marked both by a whole-hearted abhorrence (for indifference) and by passionate love (for narrative film). The one is a response to his experiences during WW II, the other a legacy from his father, the famous director Max Ophuls. The result is an uncompromising cinema that for four decades has had no equal in blazing a trail through the 20th century’s shadowy realm: occupation and collaboration during the Vichy regime in Le Chagrin et la Pitié (1969), the Troubles in Northern Ireland in A Sense of Loss (1972), war crimes in Nancy Germany and Vietnam in The Memory of Justice (1976), the siege of Sarajevo in Veillées d’armes (1994). Time and again, like a roguish Inspector Colombo, Ophuls makes his way through the heart of the conflict zone, in search of witnesses, in search of the story. Because Ophuls’s work primarily brings to mind the fact that the word “documentary” is always followed by the word “film”. This is a cinema that places structure above content, subjectivity above objectivity, discussion above pedagogy, a cinema that recognizes that documentary always equals “fiction” – a construction, a presence, a form. It is a cinema, finally, that refuses to make a distinction between “history” with or without a capital “H”, between a politics of the commonplace and the politics of the power apparatus, because that distinction, according to Ophuls, “forms the worst escape in life itself, the avoidance of every responsibility.”
A conversation between two accomplished advocates of documentary film, about cinema and history, montage and narration, and the role and responsibility of the filmmaker. Eyal Sivan already participated in a DISSENT ! session in december 2012. Marcel Ophuls is one of the Artists in Focus on the Courtisane Festival. The talk will be preceded by a screening of The Memory of Justice and followed by a screening of A Sense of Loss.
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.