Supposedly unable to change the times we are in or to depart from them in any way, we continue to take them in, observing and figuring this world in which we find ourselves. We have increasingly become aware that we are mostly being fed things we already know, things we have been told so many times before and we will be told many times again. Most likely that is why so many of us, in our crucial search for a displacement of thought or a blurring of vision, tend to rely less and less on the visual evidence of this world, and look more and more toward the emotions that remain unrepresented by noisy broadcasts and unsignaled by loud headlines. This world might be impossible to capture in words or images, but they can be deployed to reveal the complexity of our contemporary experiences of disappointment and predicament, offering a sensible world that somehow responds to it. It is this sense of exploration that can be felt when looking at the work of many young filmmakers, at least for those who are willing to spend some precious time in the cinema spaces or on the festivals that choose to avoid the trodden paths and refuse the dead ends that are customarily ascribed to contemporary cinema. At the recent edition of FID Marseilles there were more than a few films that gave rise to the tantalizing feeling that cinema still has something to say about our world, for better or for worse.
It is a barren emotional state in which we find ourselves moving through the clutter of this world. In our incapacity to escape from the deepest depths of the spectacle of consumption, which now feels like the only way of living, it seems as if we can only continue to manage our suffering as something ever attached to the colonized body of our life. We are so sucked out and scared we wear it like a fashion, topped off by an acute lack of orientation. Impossible to know which way we walk, impossible to know if we walk at all upon the earth below us or if there is in fact an earth or a below upon which we might walk. Uncertain about who we are and where to go, what we know better is all that we are strange to: the radiant smiles and comforting words of those who continue to celebrate the logic of accumulation by dispossession, those who choose to join the hallucinatory dance of the global financial elites, gliding between the whirls and twirls of virtual credit and the sweeps and flows of transnational capital, surrounded by crawling governments, drunken with the maddening wine of liquid power and stealthy control, while so many are standing around in anguish, waiting for the lights to come up, roaming in the dark in wait for an all-encompassing whirlwind to put an end to this mad, ever rotating danse macabre.
And so we rage. We rage all the more because we don’t know what to do with our rage, we don’t know how to use it to make a difference, we don’t even know who or what we are raging against, causing us to feel that we ourselves might be the wrong being done to us, we who find ourselves caught up in an addictive frenzy of compulsion and frustration, at the same time spinning on the hamster wheel and stuck in the rat race, we who feel utterly confused by the dialectical ambivalence of fascination and condemnation for the swag and swank of capital, we who can’t help being mesmerized by the blinding glitter of bling-bling, drawn in by the neon melancholy of anonymous hotels and shady lounges, in awe of the slow-burning beseech of fast food chains and lifestyle brands, propelled by the mindless circulation of money flows and info bits. Isn’t it this two-faced ambivalence that is brimming in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers or, elsewhere, Kayne West’s Jeezus, two mutant fever dreams – somehow bridging the candy colored bombast that tinted the 1980’s and the shredding dystopian visions that shook up the 2000’s – that seem to lay waste to all divides between obsession and scorn for capitalism’s excesses ? And couldn’t this also have something to do with the unability of many to recognize the sense of irony that permeates Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf on Wall Street ? Our landscape of desire has never been so deranged and schizophrenic, torn as it is between seduction and repulsion, between complicity and guilt.
“Everybody’s got a hungry heart”, the Boss sings, “Lay down your money and play your part”. Cropping up at the end of Cantine / Transept, the debut film by Benjamin Klintoe & Dan Perez, the song hits you like a kick in the chest: its snappy rhythm and infectious mood can no longer obscure the bleak narrative of loss and failure contained in the lyrics. It’s a heart-wrenching clincher for a merciless take on some of those who are left dabbling in an all-consuming absence of affect, caught up in a never ending war against the urgency of their own boredom – “some kids lost in the sauce”, as the character of Joe Killer recounts, who “just want to have fun screwing the world”, who only know they “don’t want the life of others“ and count the whole world as their enemy. There is nothing to hold them while they fall into the ruins, nothing to soothe their anxiety as they plunge through the rubble in search for another high, another score, another distraction. No inhalation, no blow, no whack, no fast sex or easy take comes even close to matching the intensity of the fall, and no grunts of fury or whispers of fear can give vent to the tremendous desire burning inside, so desperately clamoring for articulation. As if the only way to not give up on desire, the only way left to exist, is to plunge ourselves into the chaos. As if the refusal to yield to the trials and tribulations of society, so uncompromising in its ambivalence, carelessness and hostility toward us, comes at the high price of becoming outcasts in our own time.
So many filmmakers seem to be drawn to the physiological and psychological chaos generated by frustration and excess, to the space of loneliness and disorder that is nourished by the frantic search for those intensities that could lead us into unknown territories where we could loose ourselves, even just for a while. Their universe is inhabited by fools, madmen, misfits and night-ark drifters roaming in Cimmerian wastelands and fluorspar twilight zones, where they often go in hiding from the yellow of gaudy urban lights that makes them feel so vulnerable and exposed. In Virgil Vernier’s Mercuriales the fractured landscapes of the Parisian banlieues are used as the hallucinatory backdrop for a twisted fairy tale on the spectres of legend futures past. Looking over these suburban landscapes are the cold shadows of the abandoned twin towers of Bagnolet, sad totem poles of an era gone by, dream residues of a world from before the future vanished from sight, when it was still conceivable to imagine a world different from the one in which we live. Guided by James Ferraro’s hypnagogic incantations and mutations of our wretched throwaway culture, like a nebula of free-floating memories slipping in and out of focus, one has a sense of plugging into the underground currents that expose the loops and fuses of past reveries and delusional fantasies. As the characters wander through a scattered world of dead end streets and cul-de-sacs, endless runways and gateways covered with bright graffiti that only seems to conceal misery and anonymity, what is laid bare is the festering wound of the present, this age of wreckage from which we need to salvage what remained unimagined, in order to fill up the void of the future.
Attempting to refuse resignation, we look for some recognition in the faces of others, reaching out in the darkly lit dream lands for other bodies, those imagined and imperceptible as well as those actual and perceivable, in the hope of transforming into animated coexistent bodies, improbably shared. But how can we, in all our reaching and touching, avoid losing our desire in the obscure mists of the nirvana principle, where all life tension dissolves into thin air ? Watching Luis López Carrasco’s El Futuro, it appears as if we can only wake up from the hangover of neo-liberalism by going right into another one, dancing and fucking the pain away until we are left dwelling in nothingness. How can we find a way to persist and insist beyond this gape into the void, against the lethargy of endless deferral and the ordeal of unliving ? How can we, sentient in our dance of death, continue to fight to come to exist, to be the future that happens ? What these films draw out, in a very tentative way, is perhaps not only an unfinished cartography of the wastelands of frozen imagination and thwarted desire, but also a map of how to perceive, amidst the darkness, this light that tries to reach us but never will. Perhaps being able to act in the present requires to live all that is left unlived.
Benjamin Klintoe & Dan Perez, Cantine / Transept (FR, 2013, 32′)
Virgil Vernier, Mercuriales (FR, 2014, 105′)
Luis López Carrasco, El Futuro (ES, 2013, 67′)
Some notes are borrowed from Rachel Levitsky’s The Story of My Accident is Ours.